Forty Somali castaways under the custody of Maldivian authorities have recently refused to return home despite arrangements that were made for their safe repatriation, Minivan News has learned.
According to a top government official, who spoke to Minivan News on condition of total anonymity, the government had devoted “immeasurable amount of time and effort” over the past three years to safely repatriate several Somali nationals who have been discovered in Maldivian waters in dinghies lost 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.
“However, after all their identities were verified, passports and a chartered flight was arranged for their safe transportation, they refused to go back to Somalia,” said the source, who has worked closely with the case.
“The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)’s delegation arrived in Maldives to confirm their preference because no refugee can be repatriated without consent under the international conventions,” he said. “So the delegation asked them one question – Are you willing to go? All of them said ‘no!'” he recalled.
He observed that the Maldives cannot 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.”
Minivan News could not get a comment from the foreign ministry at the time of press on how the state intends to move forward in solving the repatriation block.
Authorities have earlier echoed concerns over the increased financial burden to the state in providing shelter to the Somalis, who are said to be now in good health and actively involved in prison-based agricultural projects.
A Maldivian expert on combating human trafficking meanwhile noted in an interview to Minivan News that “if repatriation does not work out, the only legal solution would be for Maldives to sign the international conventions on refugees and Rights of Migrant Workers Families and accept the Somalis as refugees, and provide necessary protection granted under these conventions.”
“The Maldives will be pressured to sign the conventions. But, the question is are we ready to face that? We are already in a crisis with the current 100,000 expatriate population in the country which accounts to one third of the Malidives population. If these conventions are passed, it means, the expat population will be doubled or tripled,” he warned. “Are Maldivians willing to become a minority in their own country?” he asked.