By Andy Worthington
On Radio Australia’s show “Pacific Beat,” reporter Sean Dorney traveled to the small Pacific island nation of Palau to discuss an appeal to the Australian government, made by Palau’s President Johnson Toribiong, asking Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to accept for permanent resettlement six Uighurs (Muslims from China’s oppressed Xinjiang province), who were cleared for release from Guantánamo by a US court in October 2008, and given temporary residence in Palau on October 31 last year.
I have written about the Uighurs at length over the last few years (see the links at the foot of this article), and share President Toribiong’s concerns that, although they have been freed from Guantánamo, they are culturally and socially stranded in Palau, where there is no Uighur community. My hope is that the Australian government will indeed offer them permanent resettlement in Australia, where there is a 2,000-strong Uighur community, and will follow the example of Bermuda and Switzerland, which have both given Uighurs from Guantánamo a permanent home, despite opposition from the Chinese government.
I acknowledge, however, that this remains a remote possibility, given that a hundred countries contacted by the US State Department refused to take the Uighurs. Primarily, this is because of the importance of friendly relations with China to the majority of the countries involved, to which Palau — which deals with Taiwan rather than China — is immune.
Sean Dorney (voice-over): Most Australians who go to Palau do so for the spectacular diving around Palau’s hundreds and hundreds of scattered idyllic islets known as the Rock Islands. But a three-year old Australian Uighur girl, Khadecha, and her five-year old sister, Sabeha, have come to Palau to claim a new father. Their late father died in a drowning accident back in Australia.