Director of Somalian state Puntland’s Counter-Piracy Directorate, Abdirasak Mohamed Dirir, has travelled to the Maldives to finalise the repatriation of 40 Somalian youths currently detained in the Maldives.
Foreign Office Spokesman Ibrahim Muaz Ali has confirmed that the director had met with Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim, Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz, and Special Advisor to the President Dr Hassan Saeed.
Muaz said that Dirir had been accompanied by officials from the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
Dirrir was reported as telling local Puntland paper Garowe Online that the Somalians had been informed of their impending release and were “ecstatic”.
“Our mission was to wrap up the agreement by Puntland and Maldives to free the 40 youth who are currently being held in Maldives. Thanks to God the youth will be heading home as quick as possible,” Dirir is quoted as saying.
Muaz told Minivan News that the agreement had been finalised, with Somalian authorities granted permission to land aircraft to be used for the repatriation, with the funds to be provided by the UNODC.
“We are currently preparing a timeline – hopefully it will take around two months,” said Muiz.
The detained Somalians were apprehended after their boats drifted into Maldivian waters, with some having drifted for months at sea.
Many were found in frail health conditions due to dehydration and malnourishment, and had to undergo long treatments before being transferred to Dhoonidhoo Detention Center, where they were provided temporary refuge until negotiations on repatriation were finalised.
Repatriation was delayed owing to a lack of identification documents for the Somalians and the difficulty of negotiating with the fractious African state – Puntland itself is a semi-autonomous region within Somalia.
However, earlier this year Minivan News was informed by an anonymous government official that repatriation was being delayed due to the detainees reluctance to return to the failed state.
The official reported that, when asked by a delegation representing the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) if they wished to return home, all of the Somalians said no.
The anonymous official observed that the Maldives could not resort to the option of forced repatriation as Somalia is recognised as a unsafe state.
Maldives has not ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol citing “financial and technical capacity constraints” but the convention prohibits all states, regardless of whether they have acceded it, from returning a “refugee to a territory where his or her life or freedom is threatened”.
“So the project is now a big failure,” he concluded, adding that the Maldives can face “increasing pressures from the international community if it continue with the forced repatriation.”
March saw the first recorded hijacking of a vessel by Somali pirates in Maldivian waters.
The Maldives is situated at a strategic intersection of sea trade routes, and a significant amount of global maritime traffic passes through or near the country’s northern atolls.
The Maldives’ government first expressed concern over the growing piracy threat in 2010 after small vessels containing Somali nationals began washing up on local islands.