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Bill Zuill: So what does Bermuda get out of it?


Two days ago, very few Bermudans had even heard of the Uighurs, let alone point to their corner of Central Asia on a map. All that has now changed. Few stories in recent memory have evoked so much reaction so quickly – much of it negative.

Many locals are struggling to understand why Bermuda has joined Palau and Albania as the only countries in the world to accept ex-Guantanamo inmates. "What's it got to do with us?" they chorus.

The US Attorney General's statement that transferring the detainees will make America safer has also raised hackles. If America is safer, Bermudans are asking themselves, doesn't that mean Bermuda, by extension, is less safe?

There is also irritation among the large expatriate community, many of whom are British. Bermuda has one of the strictest immigration policies in the world so expats are none too pleased that while they have no chance of getting a permanent visa, the four Uighurs are set to spend the rest of their days under the Bermudan sun.

The extreme secrecy surrounding their transfer only adds to the intrigue. Most cabinet ministers and the majority of MPs were out of the loop. The British Governor said he didn't know anything until after the Uighurs had actually landed on Bermudan soil.

The question everyone wants answered is what Bermuda is getting in return for its hospitality. All sides maintain the deal was done on "humanitarian grounds", the result of Washington and Hamilton's 200-year friendship. No one is buying that. The Pacific island of Palau is reportedly in line for $200m (£120m) of US aid, but a similar deal with Bermuda seems redundant. The country's GDP was $5.85bn in 2007, or $91,477 per capita, making it one of the wealthiest in the world.

However, there is a bill wending its way through the US Congress that would curtail the thriving insurance and reinsurance sector, which is estimated to hold $440bn worth of assets in the off-shore financial territory. Although no promises have been forthcoming, White House help on that legislation would be greatly appreciated.

The author is the editor of The Royal Gazette, Bermuda's only daily newspaper