40 Somali castaways sent back home after four years

Police have said that 40 Somali castaways that were found in the Maldivian EEZ on different occasions since December 2009 have been sent back to their country.

The police said that all these people were accommodated in Dhoonidhoo Police Custodial remand centre under police charge during their time in the Maldives.

Police said that the Somalis were successfully sent back after cooperation between the government and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

A joint operation was conducted with police Serious and Organized Crime Department, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Aviation Security to send them back, police said.

According to police, the Somalis were sent in a chartered flight and were accompanied with security officers.

The police said that the 40 Somalis included seven castaways rescued on December 2009, another five castaways rescued in the same month.

In 2010, authorities rescued seven Somali nationals on May 26, six were rescued on June 5, two on July 2, seven on November 28. Three more were rescued on 30 November 2010 and another three castaways rescued on December 2011.

In March 2012, a then-senior government official told Minivan News that the castaways under the custody of Maldivian authorities had refused to return home despite arrangements that were made for their safe repatriation.

According to the 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.

A delegation from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) delegation arrived in the Maldives in 2012 to confirm the Somali’s preferences as no refugee can be repatriated without consent under the international conventions.

The Maldives cannot resort to the option of forced repatriation as Somalia is recognised as an 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”.


Repatriation of castaways delayed by lack of documents

Police Sergeant Abdul Muhusin has said police are holding 25 castaways in police custody in Dhoonidhoo, while waiting for their respective countries to identify them and provide necessary documents.

Muhusin said that all the castaways would be repatriated when they are identified by their countries.

”The latest castaways (six Somalians) who were rescued on May 16 are currently being kept in Dhoonidhoo custodial,” Muhusin said. ”They were brought there after they were discharged from hospital.”

Muhusin said that many of the castaways carried no passport or identity cards, or any document clarifying who they were and where they were from.

”That’s why it’s taking some time to repatriate them,” Muhusin said.

Police said that the 25 castaways included seven people who were saved on December 1 last year, five people rescued on December 5, seven people saved on May 12 this year and the six men recently discovered in a dinghy near Makunudhoo.

”Police are investigating everyone,” Muhusin said. ”They have claimed that they were out for fishing.”

”They have not been arrested,” Muhusin emphasised.

State Home Minister Ahmed Adil said the investigation of the castaways was still ongoing and he had no idea when they could be repatriated.

State Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem said that the Somalian government and Maldivian government together were trying to identify all the men who claimed to be Somalians.

”We have sent the Somalian government pictures of the castaways,” Naseem said.

He said he had no information about the Iranian vessel which was found in Maldivian waters in May, referring Minivan News to the home ministry

However, Adil said he had no information about Iranian vessel.

In May the Maldives Coastguard rescued an Iranian fishing vessel in Maldivian territorial waters, discovering that the crew have been deprived of water and food for several days.

Another Somalian boat was found with a crew of six men on board drifting near the island of Makunudhoo in Haadhaalu Atoll.

Makunudhoo islanders who rescued the men said it appeared they had been drifting in the tiny 12-15 foot vessel for three months without food or water.