World exclusive: The Bermuda Sun&rsquo;s picture of the Uyghurs, led by Ablikim Turahun, as they arrived at L.F. Wade International airport last June. <em>*File photo</em>
World exclusive: The Bermuda Sun’s picture of the Uyghurs, led by Ablikim Turahun, as they arrived at L.F. Wade International airport last June. *File photo
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The four freed Guantanamo Bay prisoners have sent a message of thanks to the Bermudian people on the anniversary of their release.

The Uyghur refugees, wrongly imprisoned for seven years at the U.S. terror camp in Cuba, are still relishing their freedom 12 months after being let go.

“It has been a wonderful year,” said Khalil Mamut, the best English speaker of the four and the group’s unofficial spokesman.

“A year ago we were in Guantanamo Bay but this year, praise be to God, we are here.

“We have a lot of friends — some Muslims, some Christians — and they treat us as if we are Bermudian.”

The unique attractions of Bermuda — swimming in the Atlantic, riding to work on scooters and their jobs on a majestic ocean-side golf course — are just part of the appeal.

The real joy of the first 12 months has been in the simple pleasures of being free.

Attention

Salahidin Abdulahad said: “In our country Muslims cannot practice their religion, cannot pray together otherwise the Government oppresses them.

“Here we can meet with other Muslims and practice our religion in peace.”

When they first arrived in Bermuda a year ago, the four Uyghurs were the centre of attention.

Bleary-eyed and sporting thick beards, they looked startled and bemused as they surveyed their new surroundings.

Now they carry on their lives in peace. The beards have gone and with their long shorts and wrap-around shades, they do not stand out from the crowd.

Their description of their lives in Bermuda, too, will sound familiar to locals and expatriates alike.

Mr. Mamut said: “We work hard, we pray, we rest. We play a friendly soccer game on Sundays at Port Royal and after we like to swim in the ocean. Sometimes we have friends over for a barbecue.”

The adjustment to life on a small island after seven years in prison has not been without difficulty.

They are still struggling to learn the language and adjust to a culture so markedly different from their own.

Mr. Abdulahad said: “We are still unfamiliar with the culture of Bermuda, we still need help and support. We are adapting but it is difficult.

“We grew up in a big country, we moved around a lot – now we move only from Dockyard to St. George’s,”

The four hope to be able to travel beyond these shores soon. They are still awaiting news on whether they will be granted travel documents.

Abdullah Abdulqadir, who has a sister in Montreal, Canada, is especially keen to visit the nieces and nephews he has never met.

During their first six years in Guantanamo, the Uyghurs were not allowed any contact with the outside world.

Only when he moved to Bermuda did Mr. Abdulqadir finally get to see his nieces and nephews, who were born while he was in prison, on Skype.

He said: “At first I was like a stranger, now they call me uncle.

“If I am talking to their parents they come and they want to talk to their uncle.” He speaks with his sister and her family two or three times a week and hopes, one day, to visit her in Canada.

In the long-term, the men hope to stay in Bermuda and start families of their own.

Mr. Mamut said: “None of us have girlfriends but in the future who knows?

“We are all older than 30 and to have a family is very important to us.”

For the moment they are just grateful to be free and in Bermuda.

Mr. Mamut said: “We are so happy that Bermuda gave a helping hand to us and we ask God to give a peaceful life.”