EU discusses security concerns over Guantanamo inmates
Inmates released from the infamous Guantanamo prison camp would have to undergo security tests before being allowed into the European Union, under proposals being debated by the bloc's interior ministers Thursday.
Moreover, several ministers are expected to ask that inmates who arrive in one member state be prevented from travelling to another EU country.
"Nobody can force anyone to accept someone from Guantanamo. On the other hand, everybody has the right to have all the information," said Czech Interior Minister Ivan Langer, whose country holds the EU rotating presidency.
Of the about 250 inmates still being detained at the United States' prison camp in Cuba, around 60 are eligible for release but are refusing to be sent back to their country of origin for fear of being persecuted.
This group includes, Chinese, Egyptians, Syrians and Libyans.
US President Barack Obama signed an order to close the camp within a year after taking office last month and is now expected to ask Europe to host some its inmates.
To date, only nine EU countries have said they are willing to please Obama.
Among them is France, whose interior minister Eric Besson said Thursday that any candidate would have to show a willingness to live in France and demonstrate that he has ties with the country.
France would also need to ensure that he does not pose a security threat, Besson said.
And since most EU countries have joined the free-movement Schengen area and have abolished systematic border checks, some ministers were expected to ask for measures to ensure he remains in his new hosting nation, the French minister said.
Human rights groups urged EU ministers ahead of the meeting to be generous and help close "this dark chapter of history."
"It is important to step away from this misconception that the detainees are terrorists simply because they were held in Guantanamo," said Camilla Jelbart of Amnesty International.
"These people are desperate to start rebuilding their lives and would be grateful to any country that took them in," said Irena Sabic of the Centre for Constitutional Rights, a New York-based rights group.
Diplomats said Thursday's discussions would be largely technical, since the US has still not spelled out how many inmates it wants Europe to host.
The EU's top justice official, European Commissioner Jacques Barrot, plans to raise the issue when he travels to Washington with the Czech interior minister on March 16.