Rising numbers of refugees seeking to use the Maldives as a transit point has laid bare the country’s need to review its immigration procedures, says the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM).
“The government needs to bring policies into line with human rights conventions,” said HRCM member Jeehan Mahmood.
“The current procedures do not ensure the refugee’s safety – this is not correct, this is not right. The government needs to review and re-visit procedures to ensure its actions to not violate human rights.”
The most recent example of the government’s inconsistent approach to the issue involved a Syrian Palestinian man named Ubaid* who travelled with his family from Dubai, arriving in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
A family member told Minivan News that Ubaid had travelled to the Maldives after seeing media reports of another family who had been granted asylum in Sweden after seeking transit via the Maldives.
The family source explained that Ubaid was a third generation refugee, with a United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)-issued refugee card which shows he was formerly resident in the Yarmook camp, just outside of Damascus.
“He was injured while in his home at that camp/suburb and so his left arm is somewhat paralyzed with 20 metal screws and metal plates holding remnants of his bones together, and lots of pain-killers. He does have x-rays to show those metal screws and plates.”
“His concern is that if the Maldivian authorities do what they said they would do – send him and his family back to Dubai – then Dubai would send him directly to Syria. And with an injury like what he has, the government would suspect him of being with the rebels, which he is not. He’s too old to be fighting,” the source continued.
The previous Palestinian refugees arriving in the Maldives were eventually granted asylum in Sweden after an appeal from the UNCHR.
Despite having legitimate travel documents, Ubaid’s family was kept in detention at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport before being flown back to Dubai.
HRCM member Jeehan argued that the government’s current inconsistency was resulting in discriminatory practices inappropriate to a country aspiring to uphold its human rights obligations.
Problem in transit
Local lawyer Abulla Shaairu – who took up the family’s case – described their return to Dubai as “one of the saddest days in my career.”
Shaairu has argued the Criminal Court had denied the family was in detention, making them ineligible for the constitutional right to appear before a judge within 24 hours.
“Detention is defined as restrictions on the freedom of movement – they had no freedom of movement,” said Abdulla Shaairu – an argument that was echoed by Jeehan.
Shaairu stressed that the party had not been seeking asylum in the Maldives, but were hoping for transit to Switzerland.
He claimed that he had been denied their right to meet with him, and that the Criminal Court had refused to provide a written response detailing its decision.
“There are no specific regulations to deal with the situation. People in this type of situation don’t know how they will be treated,” he said.
“I think at this moment it is very necessary – so many people arrive because of civil war.”
The extent of the recent fallout from the Syrian civil war on arrivals to the Maldives has been revealed in a leaked document from the department of immigration.
The confidential document details the cases of 12 Syrian nationals arriving in the country since mid-July, with the document revealing that all but four have been immediately sent back to their last point of departure.
As a tourist hub granting tourist visas upon arrival – and with a large number of flights to and from the EU every day – the Maldives is increasingly attractive as a transit destination, the document revealed.
The powers of the Immigration Controller do not override the constitution, nor human rights law, argued Jeehan.
“These people are just searching for a safer place for their family and children.”
*name has been changed