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Gitmo Detainees Transferred To Uruguay Say Life Isn't Much Better

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

The small South American country of Uruguay took in a group of former Guantanamo detainees last year. The country's president, Jose Mujica, said he felt solidarity with the men who'd been held for years without charge in the U.S.-run prison. He himself was detained for years under a previous government in Uruguay. But since the Guantanamo detainees release, things have not been going well for them. NPR's South America correspondent, Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, reports.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: Since they arrived in Uruguay, the six former detainees haven't been seen all that much. But a few days ago, two of the men gave interviews to Uruguayan television, and what they said wasn't exactly glowing. This is Ali al-Shaaban, who was detained when he was 19 and was held for 13 years without charge. He says he doesn't know what his legal status in Uruguay is. And he said he wants his family to come and live with him but...

ALI AL-SHAABAN: I, myself - I cannot provide for them. I cannot provide for myself right now. So unless the government helps me with this issue I don't think I will be able to bring my family here. Give or take almost half of my age has been spent in a prison. To ask me to support myself and to be independent from the first week or the first month or two months, that's quite unreasonable, I mean.

ABU WAEL DHIAB: (Foreign language spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Abu Wael Dhiab, speaking in Arabic but dubbed into Spanish on this recording, said that many former detainees in countries around the world were in similar situations, quote, "we feel we have left one prison to be put into another." The Uruguayan government says it has given the men a residential facility to study Spanish. The local union claims the men have been offered work in the construction industry, but have turned it down.

President Pepe Mujica, the architect of their resettlement in Uruguay, drove up in his famous beat up VW and sat down to talk to the men. Then he came out on the radio and said if these people were humble people of the desert, poor people, they'd surely be stronger and more primitive, but they're not. Through their hands, features and family histories, it seems to me that they're middle-class. Local press reports today say that the government is providing the men with passports so they can leave the country if they wish. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Buenos Aires. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.