The Uruguayan government announced on Thursday it will not fund the return trip or to Turkey or any third country, of former Guantanamo prisoner, Jihad Ahmad Dhiab who went missing for over a month and this week turned up at the Uruguayan consulate in Caracas, Venezuela.
Dhiab is one of six former Guantanamo prisoners who were resettled in Uruguay after being released by U.S. authorities in 2014, invited by then President Jose Mujica as a humanitarian gesture.
In a brief release the Uruguayan foreign ministry said that Dhiab, who has been hosted in Uruguay since 2014 abandoned the country in mid June (apparently for the Ramadan celebration in neighboring Brazil) and has since vanished, turned up on Tuesday at the Uruguayan consulate in Caracas requesting he be sent to Turkey or a third destination, but not Uruguay, to rejoin his family.
He clearly expressed that under no circumstances he was interested in returning to Uruguay, but needed the help of our country for that purpose, said the release.
The Foreign Ministry points out that it does not correspond for Uruguay to financially support his travel to Uruguay, Turkey or any other country to rejoin his family.
Further on the ministry states that on Dhiab's request, the Consulate in Caracas facilitated phones calls to the Red Cross, his solicitor and members of his family, and later abandoned the premises of the consulate on his own means
The release adds that the Venezuelan authorities are aware of the presence of Dhiab in their territory. Likewise his legal status of refugee has not changed but only applies to Uruguayan territory. Finally the ministry points out that there is no legal impediment in the event Dhiab wishes to return or re-enter Uruguay.
In December 2014, four Syrians, a Tunisian and a Palestinian who had spent years jailed in Guantanamo, were received by Uruguay as part of a deal between then president Mujica and Barack Obama.
Mujica at first described the operation as a humanitarian gesture, but as time went on and the ex Guantanamo had trouble settling and protested Uruguay was not keeping to its side of the deal, particularly reuniting with their families, the former president exploded and said I had to take these lads in exchange for being able to sell Uruguayan oranges to the US.
Although Mujica and the US State Department later retracted, the fact is that Uruguay now has access with citrus to the US market, and the current OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, is Mujica's former foreign ministry, a diplomat considered to have insufficient credentials and experience to hold such a post.
Dhiab, who needs crouches to move around, has repeatedly expressed his unhappiness at his life in Uruguay, previously accused the government of breaking its commitment to bring his family.
Despite spending years in Guantanamo with no solid charges against him, and forcibly fed when he went on a hunger strike, Uruguayan officials have said that as a refugee he has the right to leave the country.
Dhiab had last been reported seen in small city on the Uruguay-Brazil border that is home to an Arab community. Residents said he visited one of several mosques of the local Arab club where he prayed and slept before he was reported missing.
His disappearance raised concerns, as well as questions about how closely countries that resettle former Guantanamo inmates should watch them and for how long, as the United States prepares to release more prisoners.
U.S. lawmakers trying to block President Barack Obama from closing the detention center recently scolded his administration for losing track of Dhiab. The U.S. envoy in Montevideo also expressed concerns about the lack of information on his whereabouts. Ambassador Kelly Keiderling said it was up to Uruguay to say whether Dhiab can travel, though she added that she would prefer he stay in Uruguay. When questioned at a news conference, she said Dhiab could be, yes, theoretically,'' a threat.
Colombia-based Avianca Airlines recently issued an internal alert saying Dhiab could be using a fake passport trying to enter Brazil, the site of the summer Olympics. The airline said the alert was issued based on information provided by Brazil's federal police, which had been looking for Dhiab.
The Uruguayan government has provided social services and financial support to Dhiab and the five other former detainees, but the men have struggled to adjust and have complained about not getting enough help from Uruguayan officials.
Dhiab was the most vocal about his unhappiness. Last year, he visited neighboring Argentina. In an orange jumpsuit like those Guantanamo prisoners have worn, he told news media in Buenos Aires that he planned to seek asylum for himself and the other detainees still held at the U.S. naval base in eastern Cuba.
In an interview with Uruguayan media, Dhiab said he was never a terrorist, but sympathizes with al-Qaida because of the torture that he endured in Guantanamo.
Jon Eisenberg, a U.S. lawyer who represented Dhiab while he was detained at Guantanamo, said he had not been in contact with the former prisoner since a phone call in June.
Eisenberg said Dhiab was very concerned about his wife and three children, who fled the Syrian civil war for Turkey but then had to return to their homeland for financial reasons. They were in a Syrian village that was bombed by government forces in November 2015.
The lawyer said that when he last spoke with the former prisoner, Dhiab was hopeful that his family might be brought to Uruguay. That's why I thought he wouldn't leave Uruguay,'' Eisenberg said.
Dhiab's Arab speaking official contact and counselor in Uruguay, Christian Mirza said the former prisoner told him he was going to one of the Uruguay-Brazil border towns for the Ramadan festivities, with his Arab brothers”, and would be back in early August.