LUXEMBOURG — European Union countries are likely to take in "several dozen" former prisoners from the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, an EU official said Thursday.
Czech Interior Minister Martin Pecina, who chaired a meeting of the 27-nation bloc's interior ministers, said it will be up to each national government to decide whether to participate. He added the EU will coordinate security measures to make sure the former detainees do not pose a threat once they arrive.
"It's hard to give numbers because that is up to member states, but I think several dozen people" could be admitted, Pecina said.
President Barack Obama has ordered Guantanamo to be closed within a year and up to 60 inmates cannot return to their homelands as they could face abuse, imprisonment or death there. The U.S. has asked EU countries to take in some of those cases.
France has already taken in a 43-year-old Algerian earlier this month who had been held for seven years at the U.S. prison, and several other EU countries have said they are willing to take in prisoners.
But Germany has led calls by many that most of the detainees should be resettled in the United States.
"If none of the U.S. states are ready to take in Guantanamo inmates, then you will have to explain to the European public why the rules for Europe should be different from those in the U.S.," German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said.
About 250 detainees are still held _ some without charge _ at the Guantanamo Bay prison, which was set up after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to hold those accused of links to the al-Qaida terror network or the Taliban, the religious militia in Afghanistan.
Taking inmates poses a security headache for the EU because 23 of its members, plus non-members Switzerland, Norway and Iceland, share a common passport-free "Schengen" zone, meaning that if one of them admits a prisoner with a criminal record, all others will have to be alerted.
Once settled in one of the so-called Schengen countries, the ex-prisoners have the right to move freely from one EU country to another like other residents.
To ease concerns, EU officials have drafted new security guidelines that require EU countries which take in former detainees to share information on their past and issue notices on the former inmates' whereabouts.
The ministers are expected to adopt those guidelines Thursday.
"We want to check who these people are, we want to clarify the security aspects," said Swiss justice minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, who also attended the meeting.
EU officials said that national authorities could issue temporary bans-on-entry on detainees deemed to be a security risk, similar to rules used to keep out sports hooligans.