Happy at work: The Uyghurs at Port Royal. *File photo
Happy at work: The Uyghurs at Port Royal. *File photo

They’ve lost their jobs, they’ve been told they won’t get passports or refugee status and their principal patron is quitting politics. Suddenly freedom isn’t looking so sweet for Bermuda’s four Uyghurs.

The refugees, who arrived here from Guantanamo Bay last June after being wrongfully imprisoned for seven years, yesterday spoke of their disappointment at being let go from their jobs at Port Royal Golf Course.

One of the four, Khalil Mamut, said the men – hailed as model employees by their boss — were anxious to work and to be able to travel so they could have more chance of meeting wives and starting families.

Their lawyer Sabin Willett said the continuing saga over their status and the loss of their jobs had been a major blow to the men.

He called on the U.K. to put their differences with the U.S. aside and pave the way for the Uyghurs to have their ‘status resolved’.

“When they arrived they received such a warm welcome from everybody. Now all of a sudden they lose their jobs and the British won’t cooperate over status. It has been a double whammy and it has really hurt them. I feel so bad for them.”

Premier Dr. Ewart Brown and Immigration Minister Colonel David Burch were working to find new employment for the men yesterday, a spokesman said.

But with both politicians — the two men most intimately involved with the Uyghur deal — expected to leave office in October, it is unclear who will be left to fight their cause politically in the long term.

Mr. Willett said it was crucial for the men got their status resolved to allow them to travel and potentially to meet future wives. He called on the British to put their frustrations aside and do the right thing. We have got to get their status resolved. We’ve been trying for quite some time now and we are not getting any cooperation out of Britain to get travel documents or to regularise their status.

“It is pretty hard for Americans to criticise anyone in this mess given that my country itself has been so unaccommodating. But the fact is they are in Bermuda now and they need to have their status regularised.

“If the British are frustrated with the Americans they ought to work it out on some other level instead of taking it out on these men.”

But the U.K. is unlikely to alter its stance — meaning the Uyghurs are likely to be confined to Bermuda for the foreseeable future.

Governor Sir Richard Gozney said he was sympathetic to the plight of the four. But he insisted there was no flexibility within U.K. law to grant the men British passports. And he said there was no provision in Bermudian law to allow them to apply for refugee status: “They are not eligible for any British status, without which they cannot apply for U.K. passports.

“As I understand them Bermuda’s own laws preclude Bermudian status for the four Uyghurs which would be one of the prerequisites. And they are not eligible, in Bermuda, to apply for refugee status from Bermuda or the U.K.

“A single telephone call to Government House would have confirmed this before the Premier extended his invitation to bring the four men here.”

He added: “The four Uyghurs have no present entitlement to British nationality of any type, including British citizenship or British Overseas Territories citizenship.

“Under the provisions of the British Nationality Act 1981 (which are also affected by the provisions of Bermuda’s immigration law) they are not eligible for British passports. Whatever personal sympathies people may feel for the four Uyghur men, this is British law.”

He added that the 1951 Refugee Convention was not currently extended to Bermuda, meaning the Uyghurs could not seek travel documents under that convention.

Premier Dr Ewart Brown said at Monday’s media round table that the decision to bring the Uyghurs to Bermuda has been the right thing to do. He insisted he had made a tough decision for humanitarian reasons and would live with the consequences.

Asked yesterday about their current plight and who would look out for the four men once he and potentially Colonel David Burch leave office, his press secretary said he could not comment.

In a brief statement Jamahl Simmons confirmed that the Premier and Minister of Immigration were in discussions regarding their future employment.

The Uyghurs have spoken of their disappointment at being let go from their jobs at Port Royal Golf Course.

The four men — refugees from Guantanamo Bay — were told on Friday that their contracts would be terminated because of budget constraints.

Bosses at the course said they were happy with their work and their immediate superior Steve Johnson said he would give a glowing recommendation to any future employer about their work ethic.

Khalil Mamut, speaking on behalf of the four men, said the men were disappointed but had no choice but to accept the decision.

 “The job is good – we want to stay. We have no option we have to talk to Government and see what job we can find. We want to work and earn money. We wanted to stay here but they decided, so what can we do? We are new here, we are without family, it is difficult but what can we do? We are good workers, taking care of the bunkers and the greens. We enjoy it and we work hard but I think now there is no option for us to stay.”

The men’s lawyer Sabin Willett said he was surprised and disappointed at the decision.

“I struggle to understand why this has happened. I met their employer when I was on the island in June and he was full of praise for them. It seemed like such a good outcome for everyone. I was pretty shocked to learn of this. It is very disappointing.”

He said getting ‘laid off’ was part of western culture and they would have to live with it. And he said he had every confidence that Premier Dr. Ewart Brown and Colonel David Burch would continue to “be as good as their word” and find new work for the men.

“I believe Government will provide a replacement position under their guest worker status. I think if someone in the private sector — a landscaping company, a golf course, a factory — stepped up and offered them a job that could be a good solution too,” he added.

He said the issue highlighted the urgency of sorting out their status to help them live normal lives —rather than be dependent on the Government: “We have got to get their status resolved. They need to be able to travel. The issue is to do with trying to settle down and get married. They feel a really urgent desire to find a wife and travel and meet her to bring her home.”

He said one of the men had already met a woman from Europe on the internet but couldn’t go to meet her because of the travel restrictions. The Uyghurs are strict Muslims and traditionally marry within their own religion and culture.

“They deserve to have a normal life and to have families,” Mr. Willett said. “If you are established as a refugee you have the right to bring family here,” he added.

The Premier did not comment on the ‘status’ issue yesterday, when asked by the Bermuda Sun. But his spokesman did confirm that Dr. Brown and Minister Burch were working to find new jobs for the Uyghurs.

Richard Horseman, their legal representative in Bermuda, said he planned to meet with the Government to clarify the guidelines for their future employment given their “unique” circumstances.

“We are hopeful that the Bermuda Government will try to assist in securing new employment. They want to express their gratitude for the opportunity to work at Port Royal They enjoyed their time there but moving forward they are anxious to secure new employment.”

We were unable to reach Wendell Brown, head of the board of trustees at Port Royal, yesterday.

Steve Johnson, the Uyghurs immediate boss, said the decision to let them go had come solely from the trustees. He said they had been great workers who had got on with everyone.

“I’ll be happy to give a recommendation to any employer that wants to hire them.”