DUBAI // Four of the eight Palestinians who were allowed into Dubai after being stranded more than a month at the airport have requested asylum in the west, telling authorities their lives would be in danger if they returned to Gaza.
The men, part of a group of eight who had been stuck in transit for up to 46 days after Egyptian officials refused them entry to Egypt, returned to Dubai International Airport's terminal one on Monday, spending the night sleeping on the floor.
"We were asked to return to the airport because we said we cannot go back to Gaza," said Ibrahim Abu Sultan, 24.
Three of the men said they hoped to be granted asylum in countries such as Canada, Australia or Sweden, saying conditions in the Gaza Strip were unbearable, and their lives would be at risk if they returned.
"In Gaza, we do not live like human beings. We do not even get the same treatment as animals in other parts of the world. I am not asking for much - I just want to live like any human being without fear of being persecuted," said Mohammed Mohammed al Khatib, 28, another of the group.
They are appealing to international human rights organisations to help them secure a life outside Gaza.
Dr Gaith al Suwaidi, the executive director of the human rights department at the Community Development Authority (CDA), said the four men were returned to the airport at their own request after they refused to complete the visa procedures.
"We did not know about their intentions of seeking asylum. They have recently expressed this issue, and we were working to get them visas with which they can return home. However, we will contact the UN refugee agency and co-ordinate with them to look into their claims of having their lives in danger," Dr al Suwaidi said.
Another option the four men said they might consider was finding a job in the UAE so they could stay. "Initially, they said they wanted to find a job and stay in the UAE, and we told them we are not a recruitment agency but will try to help," Dr al Suwaidi said.
Mr al Khatib said apart from harsh living conditions that are a daily reality for every Gazan, he has received death threats and been arrested several times by the Hamas government as he is a member of the rival Fatah party.
Accusations of political persecution between the two main Palestinian political factions have been ongoing since internal fighting broke out in the summer of 2007. Political persecution was also the reason given by two of the other stranded men, while Hossam Abu Ghaloun, 25, a former Gaza market trader, cited poor economic prospects for not wanting to return, saying he could no longer earn a living in Gaza.
A total of eight Palestinians were stuck in transit while awaiting permission from Egyptian officials to return to the Palestinian Territories through the Rafah border. The Rafah crossing on the Egyptian-Gazan border has been the only access point to the Gaza Strip since Israeli blockades were imposed.
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.
Seven of the men were allowed into Dubai on March 15, where they were told they could stay until their situations were resolved with the help of the CDA's human rights department. The eighth man was allowed in a few days later.
The other four men are staying in a Dubai hotel until their situation is resolved and they can return home. The CDA and Emirates Airline are providing financial support for them.