WASHINGTON -- Five Chinese Muslims recently released from the Guantanamo Bay prison are living under increasingly dangerous conditions in Albania, the only country to let them in after the United States determined they were not ''enemy combatants," according to their lawyer.
The lawyer, Sabin Willett of Boston, asked in court papers filed yesterday that the Bush administration bring the five men to the United States for their own safety.
The men, who are members of an ethnic group known as Uighurs, were arrested in Afghanistan four years ago. A military tribunal later determined that the men had never been enemies of the United States, and ordered them released.
But because the Chinese government has a history of persecuting Uighurs, who have been seeking greater independence, the men could not be sent back to China.
Two weeks ago, on the eve of a court hearing into their fate, the military announced that it had dropped the men off in Albania, a mostly Muslim country in southeast Europe. Willett, who has been waging a court battle to get the Uighurs brought to the United States as refugees, flew to Albania.
In an affidavit filed yesterday with the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, Willett described a harrowing trip to a slum where the five men are living in a refugee processing center. He said he was able to take his clients to a restaurant and get glasses made for one of them, but since he left, they have been afraid to leave the compound.
The men's arrival has caused a sensation in Albania, he said. The Chinese government has called on Albania to extradite the men, whom it calls terrorists. Members of the Albanian parliament have vowed to send them to China. And even if the men are allowed to stay in Albania, Willett said, they would face a bleak future.
''The impoverished country where they were dumped without community, common language, family, or prospects is ill-suited to withstand the strident demands of the most powerful communist dictatorship on earth," Willett wrote. ''These men never wronged the United States in any way. What has happened is shameful."
The Bush administration has asked the court to dismiss the case on the grounds that it is now moot. A Justice Department spokeswoman did not return a call yesterday
Also yesterday, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister announced that 16 captives held at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp would be transferred to Saudi jails in coming days -- the first large-scale transfer from this isolated island prison camp in more than a year.