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Australia is being urged to accept a group of Muslim Uighurs who have been given temporary asylum in the Pacific island nation of Palau. The United States released the men recently from the prison at Guantanamo Bay after they were cleared of any involvement in terrorism. But they can not return to their native China for fear of persecution.
The six Uighur men were incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay for seven years after being captured in Afghanistan. Just over a year ago the United States determined that none of them were enemy combatants and a long search began to find the detainees a new home.
Unable to return to their home in western China because of fears of repression and persecution, the Uighurs arrived last week in the Pacific nation of Palau. The country is east of the Philippines and has a population of just 20,000 people, most of whom are Christians.
President Johnson Toribiong agreed to the U.S. request that the men be allowed to live in Palau.
He thinks their stay will be temporary and is calling on Australia to give the men a permanent home because of its large Uighur community.
"Therefore it's a humanitarian gesture to at least give them freedom and allow them to regain their self-confidence and to give them freedom in a new society," the president said. "They can't go back to China, it's a problem. They have to find a place which agrees to accept them with a Uighur community in place, like in Australia."
Beijing had wanted the six sent back to China. Chinese officials accuse the men of being separatists and terrorists. The government has publicly expressed anger over the move to Palau.
Turkic-speaking Uighurs are the largest ethnic group in China's Xinjiang region, where there have been violent protests against Chinese rule. Most Uighurs are Muslims, and many complain of discrimination by China's Han majority and of government restrictions on their religious practices.
Human rights activists say Australia would be an ideal place for the men who were sent to Palau, given the large Uighur communities in Sydney and Melbourne.
A foreign affairs spokesman in Canberra says Australia will consider requests case by case in accordance with the country's immigration policies.