WEDNESDAY, MAY 16: Bringing four Uyghurs to Bermuda without consultation with Government House was the worst moment of outgoing Governor Sir Richard Gozney’s near-five years in office, he said on Tuesday.
Sir Richard — due to leave the island on Sunday — added: “The most glaring low spot was June, 2009 and the arrival of the four Uyghurs from Guantanamo Bay.
“It did two things — it ran right across Bermuda’s Constitution because it was a foreign affairs matter as much as an immigration matter and the Premier of the day hadn’t consulted on it.
“His was the immigration call, but he did not have the foreign affairs call.”
The four Uyghurs were brought to Bermuda almost three years ago after an agreement between then-Premier Dr Ewart Brown and the Barack Obama administration in the US.
The four men, members of a Chinese Muslim minority group persecuted in China, were arrested in Pakistan in 2001 as part of the war on terror and detained in the US prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for seven years.
Suspected of being enemy combatants, they were later released without charge after the US accepted they were not terrorists.
They could not return to China because of fears of repression, but the US refused to settle them inside its borders, so the Obama administration struck a deal with Dr Brown.
Britain has refused to grant the men passports, leaving them stateless and unable to leave Bermuda.
Sir Richard said: “This brought four men here who have a vastly better life, but they can’t leave. I wish them well, and I hope they have a constructive life.
“But there is no legal basis for giving them any kind of travel documents. They are stuck here — that may not matter to them at the moment, but it might in the future.
“One telephone call to Government House would have told them they were coming to a wonderful island, but one they would not be able to leave. They could be removed by the people who brought them here, but that’s another matter.”
The UK is continuing to pressure the US government to find a permanent solution for the four men, who are all working in the construction industry in Bermuda.
Sir Richard added the affair — which made international headlines — had left no lingering ill will on the part of the UK government.
He said: “It’s not a question of resentment, it’s a question of not beating around the bush in terms of the consequences in terms of the damage to the Constitution and the fact that the four men can’t be given documents to travel and that really should have been thought through.”
Sir Richard’s replacement, career diplomat George Fergusson, is expected to arrive in Bermuda early next week and to be sworn in as the new Governor shortly afterwards.