Arrival: It was a Bermuda Sun world exclusive photograph when we ran this picture on our website of the Uyghurs at Bermuda’s airport.
Arrival: It was a Bermuda Sun world exclusive photograph when we ran this picture on our website of the Uyghurs at Bermuda’s airport.

It was in the dead of night when a private plane touched down in Bermuda carrying four bearded men who hailed from a remote region of northwest China.

Only two senior officials in Bermuda knew what was going on — and the Governor wasn’t one of them.

The four passengers had been released from the notorious Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba — and then-Premier Dr Ewart Brown and his National Security Minister David Burch had brought them to Bermuda to find refuge.

The secretive nature of the mission sparked a firestorm of protest, both here and abroad.

Now, almost four years later, Dr Brown still believes it was a good idea to bring the men here.

Asked what their likely fate will be, Dr Brown told us: “I believe that these stateless men will eventually find a home and that they will be able to live normal lives.

“The ball is in the hands of British government, which can do, as we have seen, what it wishes to do.

“This is the same government that suspended the constitution of the Turks and Caicos Island so I have no doubt they have the authority to settle the issue of these four men.”

The four men, Abdul Nasser, Huzaifa Parhat, Abdul Semet and Jalal Jalaladi, are Chinese Muslims called Uyghurs.

They have all married and two have children.

Their arrival sparked an outcry.

Former Opposition Leader Kim Swan led a vote of no confidence in the House of Assembly just weeks later — it failed — and Cabinet Minister Dale Butler resigned.

There were also pubic protests.

Asked if he still believes bringing them here was a good decision, Dr Brown said: “Absolutely. I have never felt otherwise.

“And when I was asked by our most important trading partner, friend, and nation to do this [The United States], I didn’t have to think about it long.

“When you strip away the local politics, it stands on its own as a humanitarian gesture.”

Status

Last month, the Uyghurs’ local lawyer, Richard Horseman, sent a letter to Premier Craig Cannonier arguing that they should receive Bermudian status. He also alleged they were promised citizenship and Bermudian passports after being on island for a year.

The four men are unable to travel because they have no passports and in a recent article complained about the high cost of living Bermuda — while also expressing gratitude for the kindness shown to them here.

Dr Brown and Col Burch issued a joint statement in reply to the letter in which they categorically denied assuring the men that they would be given status and suggesting that, notwithstanding the uncertainty about their standing, surely life in Bermuda is better than in a prison camp. n