Australia will likely reject a US request to accept detainees freed from the Guantanamo Bay military prison, the acting prime minister said on Friday.
Julia Gillard said US President George W Bush’s administration made the request in early December after President-elect Barack Obama announced he planned to close the prison. Obama has not made such a request, she said.
Australia had rejected a similar request to resettle “a small group of detainees” in early 2008, said Gillard, who is filling in for Prime Minister Kevin Rudd while he is on vacation.
“Australia, as an ally of the United States, is examining this second request,” Gillard said in a statement. “Notwithstanding that, it is unlikely Australia would accept these detainees.”
Rudd’s centre-left Labour Party, which came to power in 2007, had criticised the detention camp at the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba, as unjust and had demanded the repatriation of two Australians held there.
David Hicks, who was held at Guantanamo for five and a half years without trial, was sent back in 2007 after pleading guilty to supporting terrorism as a Taliban soldier in Afghanistan. He served a nine-month sentence in Australia. Mamdouh Habib, an Egyptian-born immigrant who was arrested in Pakistan in 2001, was returned to Australia in 2005. No charges were ever filed against him.
Habib said on Friday that Australia should not accept the detainees because their histories were unknown.
“It is a big risk to the country to bring [these] people here,” he told Network Nine television news in Sydney.
Obama has pledged to close the prison and American officials have expressed concern that some detainees might be persecuted if returned to their home countries.
Many European nations – which had long been loath to accept detainees from the prison – more recently indicated a willingness to resettle inmates.
Officials from France, Germany, Portugal and Switzerland have all said they are looking into accepting detainees from the US prison.
Australia’s opposition leader, Malcolm Turnbull, said the country should not accept any of the Guantanamo detainees, saying there are many other people already seeking to enter the country.
“It would be difficult to imagine the circumstances in which any claims on humanitarian grounds should take priority over the many applicants for humanitarian entry currently awaiting approval,” he added.