Palestinian refugee family to remain in Maldives while authorities assist with resettlement

Four Palestinian refugees who arrived in the Maldives on July 9 will remain on the airport island of Hulhule’ until authorities can resettle the group in another country, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has announced.

The Palestinian nationals, who Minivan News understands had previously fled to Syria, arrived in the country earlier this month on a flight from Dubai with a “questionable” travel document supplied by Syrian authorities.

The arrival of the refugees to the Maldives has been described by former Maldives Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed as a relatively unprecedented development for the nation, which has never previously entertained asylum seekers or refugees – mainly due to a lack of individuals seeking such a status.

“There does not appear to be an official mechanism to deal with such claims either,” Dr Shaheed explained today.

“However, those who have drifted into the Maldives by sea have been repatriated to their home countries, and it is only those whose nationality has not been identified who have remained in limbo in Maldives, sometimes under detention, as the case with some alleged Somali pirates.”

In a statement issued today, the foreign ministry said that under local laws, individuals travelling to the Maldives with false documentation were to be refused entry to the country.

However, the ministry said it had been informed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on July 14 that the Palestinian family were believed to be registered as refugees. The family has also told government authorities that they are listed with the United Nations Relief and Works Agencies for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).

The Foreign Ministry said it understood the Palestinian nationals had been living until recently in Syria, before seeking to leave the country due escalation of conflict between government and rebel forces.

“Upon receiving request from UNHCR, the ministry intervened and requested the Department of Immigration and Emigration to allow the family to remain in the Maldives, as returning the family from the same route as they came in would leave to high probability of the family being returned to war-torn Syria,” read the foreign ministry statement.

“[Returning the family to Syria] is not acceptable to the government of the Maldives.”

Citing involvement with the case “purely on a humanitarian basis”, senior officials in the government have since met with the family, who have said they had no intention of staying in the Maldives indefinitely.

According to the Foreign Ministry, the Palestinian nationals have sought relocation to Europe, where other members of their family are already believed to have settled.

“Deputy Chief of Mission of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Mr Hans Friedrich Schodder and Mr Abid Mohudin, Interviewing Officer, arrived in the Maldives on July 23 2013, and have met with the family,” the ministry stated.

“UNHCR officials have already gathered information from the family on refugee status determination and has assisted in the resettlement submission.”

Government authorities are now working with the UNHCR to try and help the family resettle in Europe in collaboration with the Palestinian Embassy in Colombo also assisting.

According to the Foreign Ministry, the embassy had already provided assurances that all necessary travel documents would be provided to the family once the UNHCR has resolved the process of their resettlement.

Meanwhile, the family continue to be held at an unspecified location on the airport island, with authorities pledging to provide food, medical assistance and other necessary facilities, the Foreign Ministry has said.

Immigration Controller Dr Mohamed Ali was on leave when contacted for a comment today, forwarding request for further information to department Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Abdullah Munaaz.

Munaaz was not responding to calls at time of press.

International rules

Former Former Minister Dr Shaheed, who has served in the role under the governments of both former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and Mohamed Nasheed, said international rules on refugees were governed by the 1951 Refugees Convention and the 1967 Protocol to the Refugee Convention.

He added that the Maldives was not a party to such treaties. However, Dr Shaheed said that certain requirements in dealing with refugees were included in customary international law, requiring all nations to abide by them.

“The most important such customary international law principle is that of non-refoulement, whereby an asylum seeker should not be sent back to a country where he or she would face threats to his/her life or freedom,” he said.