Seven years after the Uyghurs, an oppressed Muslim minority group in the west of China, were detained, they are still in Guantánamo prison. They should have never been there in the first place. Although it was apparent in 2001 that the Uyghurs only enemy was the Chinese government, they were considered suspected enemy combatants. 5 of the 22 Uyghurs were cleared in the 2004 to 2005 Combatant Status Review Tribunals and were sent to Albania in 2006, the only country that would take them. The remaining 17 were cleared of enemy combatant status in September 2008 and ordered sent to supporters in the United States. The Bush administration turned to the U.S. Court of Appeals. The Court has yet to make decision.

To U.S. credit, 18 of the Uyghurs were in alleged training camps in Tora Bora directly after 9-11 and were caught in U.S. bombing. Given that Tora Bora was the area that U.S. forces were targeting in their search for enemy combatants, it makes since that the Uyghurs would be detained for questioning. However, it was clear from the beginning that they were in Tora Bora seeking refuge from and training to combat Chinese oppression–if shooting a single AK-47 can count as training. They should have been released then.

Instead, they have lived a life of oppression under the Chinese, a life of squalor in Tora Bora and a life of abuse in Guantánamo prison. Those in Albania live in a refugee camp where armed guards patrol the parameters, and where they have said they find life much worse than in Guantánamo. Those in Guantánamo wait for their case to be reviewed, again, under the Obama administration. Their lawyers have said there is “literally” nothing left to review.

It all has to end soon, but the only question is “Where will they go?” China wants them back, but that is a no-go due to their oppressive record. No third country has stepped forward to volunteer to take them. And the U.S. has yet to step forward and make good on the September order. I just hope that they end up somewhere better than where they have been—and soon.

For more information on the Uyghurs in China, visit the Uyghur Human Rights Projectwhere you will also find information on the Uyghurs in Guantánamo. For more information on the Uyghurs in Guantánamo, please see author and journalist Andy Worthington’s article.

Update: La Nacion, an Argentinean newspaper, has just published a piece on Abu Bakker Qassim, one of the five Uyghur men sent to Albania in 2006. You can read the translated version here. It’s an interesting, brief article on conditions in Guantanamo and the Uyghurs’ views on Obama.

Written by Adair Fincher