MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay, March 24 (UPI) — Uruguay’s new government will no longer accept inmates from the U.S.-run Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba and decisions over Syrian refugees have been postponed.
The country accepted six former detainees — four Syrians, one Palestinian and one Tunisian — in December who were held at the camp for about 12 years. The move to accept them was made by outgoing President Jose Mujica, a decision which most Uruguayans disapprove.
“No more Guantanamo prisoners are going to come. That’s final,” Foreign Minister Rodolfo Nin Novoa said.
The former detainees were never charged with a crime for alleged links to al-Qaida.
Mujica described their detention as “an atrocious kidnapping.” There are more than 120 detainees currently in the detention camp and about half have been cleared for release.
Uruguay is the only South American nation to have taken in former detainees. The country’s decision to stop could further obstruct President Barack Obama’s wish to close the camp.
Mujica, who generally had high approval rates since becoming president in 2010, was replaced by a candidate from his same party, Tabare Vazquez, on March 1. A president cannot serve two consecutive terms in office under the Uruguayan constitution.
Abdelhadi Faraj, one of the detainees from Syria, published an open letter thanking Mujica.
“Were it not for Uruguay, I would still be in the black hole in Cuba today,” he said.
Decisions regarding accepting refugees from Syria will be postponed for the remainder of the year because the country faced “cultural and infrastructural shortcomings,” according to Minister Nin Novoa. Local media reports indicate several apparent incidents of domestic violence involving Syrian refugees.
More than 3 million people have fled Syria since the conflict began, mostly to neighboring Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan and more than 200,000 people have died in the ongoing conflict.