The Immigration Department is awaiting the resolution of 11 Syrian political refugees who were detained at the airport when boarding a flight to Switzerland with forged documents.
The Syrians had come to the Maldives for an alleged vacation on November 1 with forged documents claiming Turkish nationality. They are said to have stayed at a guest house before attempting to leave two weeks later.
Claiming relations in Berlin, they next attempted to leave for Germany on forged documents.
“The tip-off was that they had no visa into Switzerland, or into Germany, upon attempted departure,” said Immigration Controller Abdulla Shahid. “This process, it’s a typical trick of people seeking political asylum.”
Syria has been rocked by political unrest since March, when residents of a southern town protested the torture of students who had put up anti-government graffiti.
President Bashar al-Assad lifted Syria’s decades-old state of emergency in April, only to send tanks and allow security forces to open fire on unarmed demonstrators days later.
Protestors have rejected Assad’s offers of reform as much as his crackdown. As a result, the violence has persisted to the point that the Arab League imposed economic sanctions on the country on November 27, an act decried by Syria’s foreign minister Walid al-Moallem as “economic war.”
Sanctions had also been issued by the United States and the European Union.
A recent UN report identified actions by security forces as “crimes against humanity.”
“A panel of independent experts says at least 256 children were killed by government forces as of early November, with some boys sexually tortured and a 2-year-old girl shot to death just to prevent her from growing up to be a demonstrator,” the Washington Post reported yesterday.
In light of Syria’s ongoing political unrest, Shahid said the Syrian nationals will not be forcibly evicted from the Maldives. “They have talked of violence being done to some relatives at home, so they will not be departing to Syria,” he explained.
He added that the group has said they will not take a route that involves transit in any Middle Eastern country. “They are very paranoid right now, and I’m not sure if they’re aware of international norms,” Shahid observed. “The situation has already gotten very bad, and it’s going to take a long time to resolve.”
Syrians have been reported seeking political asylum in various parts of Europe and the Middle East. A 2008 report by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada found that many Syrians who are deported back to Syria after being denied asylum risk imprisonment and even torture.
The group of refugees includes two children, two youth, two couples and several cousins. The family is currently staying in a local residence until they can make arrangements with their legitimate documents, which have been obtained.
According to Shahid, the Syrian refugees will now face sharp scrutiny when taking international flights.
“All airlines have a mechanism to share information about passengers who forge documents,” he said. “Most won’t take them now unless they have a proper visa for their destination.”
The situation in the Maldives is being handled exclusively by the Immigration Department.
Officials at the Presidents Office and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs had not responded to phone calls at time of press.