Tunisia will soon send a mission to the United States to plead for the repatriation of its five remaining citizens held at the Guantanamo Bay detention center, a Justice Ministry representative said Wednesday.
Kamel Belhassen was addressing a conference sponsored by a British organization to raise awareness about the detainees. The gathering comes as Tunisians are striving to move forward following a popular uprising that ousted dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January.
"The state is now taking up the cause of its nationals in Guantanamo," Belhassen said.
Of the 775 detainees that passed through the gates of the Guantanamo facility since its opening in 2002, 12 were Tunisians. Of those, five were repatriated to third countries and two others were returned to Tunisia in 2007 and imprisoned.
According to the group Reprieve, which seeks to defend the human rights of Guantanamo detainees, one of the barriers to the repatriation of the remaining Tunisians was the previous government's reputation for torture and human rights abuses.
The group's legal director, American attorney Cori Crider, said Tunisia's willingness now to accept the detainees should pave the way for their release.
Mokhtar Trifi, the former president of Tunisia's League for the Defense of Human Rights, said his group now supports the repatriation of the Guantanamo detainees. "Before, we were against their return, and we sought a safe place to go. Now that place is Tunisia," he said.
Mehrezia Ben Shaaban, 70, cried as she said she just wanted to see her detained son, Hisham Sliti, home again.
"His father and I are praying for Hisham to return after such a long absence and live at home with his family," she told the Associated Press.