Dubai // A group of Palestinians, some of whom had been stuck at Dubai International Airport for as long as 46 days, were granted permission to enter the city yesterday after local authorities intervened.
The eight men where caught in transit while awaiting permission from Egyptian officials to return to Palestine through the Rafah border.
Seven were allowed to enter Dubai after efforts by the Community Development Authority's (CDA) human rights department, Dubai Police, the Airport Authority and Palestinian consulate. However, one remains in the airport for reasons that have not been not revealed.
The Rafah crossing on the Egyptian-Gazan border has been the only access point to the Gaza Strip since the Israeli blockades began. But changes in regulations after the January 25 revolution in Egypt meant Palestinian bachelors younger than 40 were not easily issued visas. As a result, many Palestinians are now unable to reach the border.
The CDA said it would lobby Egyptian consular officials to ensure the men were granted access to the Rafah crossing, and would send members of its own staff to accompany the Palestinians as a guarantee to Egyptian authorities, if required.
The men will stay at a hotel near Dubai Airport, sponsored by Emirates Airline. The CDA has pledged them legal and financial assistance until the situation is resolved.
Until yesterday, the men were sleeping on the floor or on chairs at the airport. They had showers occasionally and wore unwashed clothes. "I personally washed my clothes with whatever available soap was in the bathrooms and hung them over the chairs to dry. But the dirt smell did not disappear," said Ghassan Shakshak, 28, who had been stranded at the airport since January 30.
The only mercy they were granted was regular meals sponsored by Emirates Airline. Many reported falling sick during the month and some went on hunger strike for several days before the CDA finally received directives from Dubai authorities and came to their aid.
Ghassan Salem, 21, was among those allowed to enter Dubai. He only arrived at the airport yesterday, and is familiar with the problem of being a Palestinian in transit, having been forced to stay at Shanghai airport for two weeks until three days ago he was given permission to travel to Amman via Dubai - only to be returned to Dubai Airport.
"When I reached here, the passport control guy was amazed as the last stamp on my passport was the exit stamp from Shanghai two days ago," he said. "He asked me if I have been hanging in the sky for two days."
Hossam Abu Ghaloun, 25, has travelled back to Egypt twice since January 27 hoping to be granted entry, only to be returned to Dubai after Egyptian authorities refused him entry. "We got information that the Egyptian authorities are giving us access so I decided to try my luck but I was returned again," he said.
"I am tired of being rejected entry everywhere I go. I am tired of the way Palestinians are treated in airports around the world. I just wish we could travel without the fear of being stranded at any time and anywhere. I wish we could enjoy freedom of movement like other human beings."
The Community Development Authority (CDA) has announced it will open a permanent office in Terminal 3 to deal with future cases of this kind. "We have been discussing the possibility of having an office there to receive and investigate human rights violation complaints. The recent incident has highlighted the urgency of establishing such an entity," said Dr Gaith al Suwaidi, the executive director of the human rights department at the CDA.
No one should go through what the men went through, he said.
The new office is expected to open by the end of the month.