UAE threatens to repatriate 18 former Guantánamo detainees to Yemen



Katie Taylor

Human rights group Reprieve has condemned the United Arab Emirates’ threat to forcibly repatriate 18 Yemeni former Guantánamo detainees - which has been confirmed by multiple sources who spoke to the Associated Press.

Forced disappearance and torture are rife in Yemen, as the UN recently reported. Detainees’ families have told Reprieve that they fear for their loved ones’ lives should they be repatriated.

Between 2015 and 2017, the US transferred 23 former Guantánamo detainees to the UAE for resettlement on the basis that they could not safely be repatriated to their home countries. These included 18 Yemeni nationals, four Afghans and a Russian.

None had been charged with a crime, and all were cleared for transfer by representatives of every major US security agency. Their families were told that they would be able to resume their lives as free men in the UAE after an initial 6-12 month period in a residential rehabilitation centre.

However, rather than facilitating the men’s rehabilitation and reintegration, UAE authorities imprisoned the men in secret detention facilities without charge, trial, or access to lawyers. The men were held incommunicado with the exception of short, infrequent and heavily-monitored conversations with their families. Family members reported to Reprieve that the men were held in inhumane conditions, physically abused by guards, deprived of food and denied essential medical treatment. At least one of the men went on hunger strike.

In December 2019, more than four years after the first former prisoners from Guantánamo arrived in the UAE to be resettled, the UAE began forcibly repatriating detainees. The four Afghans were repatriated to Afghanistan: within months, one had died. His family attributed his death to years of medical neglect and abuse at Guantanamo and in UAE detention.

Reprieve deputy director Katie Taylor said: “It is sickening that these 18 men—who have never been charged with a crime—are being threatened with a dangerous forced repatriation, instead of being released and allowed to resume their lives.

“Most were sold for bounties and held on the basis of discredited torture ‘evidence’ - and the USA’s security agencies unanimously concluded they pose no threat. Flying them to Yemen would put their lives in danger and violate International law. The UAE and the US are both responsible for what happens next.”