By Matthew Schofield | McClatchy Newspapers
TIRANA, Albania — Akhdar Qasem Basit's dark eyes never leave the floor when he talks. His walk is a strained shuffle, his voice a combination of coughs and whispers.
Basit wasn't always this way.
"Even in Guantanamo, I was strong," he said, sitting in a cafe not far from his bed in the Albanian national refugee camp. "Look up the records: I did not need doctors. But now, everything has changed. I am sick every day; I am in pain every day. It is no secret why. I have lost hope."
"I have not seen my daughter since she was 4 months old," he said in a slow, sad voice. "When I arrived, I had hope, but it is clear I will never see her again. I will never again see my wife. I have no dreams for the future."
Basit, tall and gangly, is one of five Uighurs — Chinese Muslims — who now live in a suburban Tirana refugee camp. He isn't here because he has any connection to the country or any desire to live in Albania.
After four years in the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, he was scheduled for a refugee status hearing in a U.S. court that his lawyer is convinced would have ended with him moving out of an American prison and onto U.S. soil. Days before the hearing, however, the Bush administration found a nation — not China; not Pakistan, where he was captured; not Afghanistan — that was willing to take him in.
He's one of eight former Guantanamo detainees — five Uighurs, an Egyptian, an Uzbek and an Algerian — who landed in a walled refugee camp on the outskirts of this poor capital city.
Janusz Bugajski, a European expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said the European view is that the former detainees in Albania were arrested mistakenly in the first place and taking them in was a sign that "Albania is willing to what it can to help out the U.S."
The Uighurs room together in a college dorm-like setting. Unlike at Guantanamo, where, Basit said, he was shackled except when he was locked in a cage, he's free to walk the city, to come and go as he pleases.
In Cuba, from June 2002, when he arrived, until he was released in 2006, Basit said, he knew that he was innocent. He thought there would be justice, and that gave him strength, he said. Now, he said, it's clear that he's been dumped in an out-of-the-way corner of the world where he can be forgotten easily.
He's surrounded by a culture he doesn't understand and a language that baffles him. When he was first told that he'd be released to Albania, he had to search his memory for any scrap about the place.
"All I could think was that it was communist." he said. "They told me it had changed."
What kept him going in Guantanamo, he said, was that he knew he'd be freed someday, he knew he had no links to terrorism — or even any terrorist thoughts — and he knew his captors were Americans.
"It's sad, isn't it?" he said. "We grow up believing America is the land of hope. And yet, that is who killed hope for me."