x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Palestinian detainees told to go

One of four men who spent a month waiting at Dubai airport has already left while the other three wait for their visas for Egypt

Mohammed al Khatib, Hani abu Sha'ar, Ghassan Shakshak and Ghassan Salem have been stranded at Dubai airport for more than a month.
Mohammed al Khatib, Hani abu Sha'ar, Ghassan Shakshak and Ghassan Salem have been stranded at Dubai airport for more than a month.

DUBAI // Four Palestinians who went on a hunger strike at Dubai airport after a failed asylum bid are being deported. The men claim their lives are in danger if they return to Gaza.

One of the men was put on a flight to Egypt late yesterday and the other three were held in the airport detention centre.

"Authorities are saying that we have to leave the airport soon," said Mohammed al Khatib, 28. He was speaking from the detention centre after visas to Egypt had been arranged.

The four men went on a hunger strike on Wednesday night in protest at their departure, saying they would be killed if they returned home. The men, members of an original group of nine, were stranded at Dubai airport for more than a month after Egyptian officials refused them entry to Egypt.

Initially the group was allowed to enter Dubai with the help of the Community Development Authority (CDA) on humanitarian grounds. However, they were returned to the airport after a failed attempt to seek asylum in Sweden, Canada or Australia. The men have remained at the airport since March 22.

Dr Gaith al Suwaidi, executive director of the CDA's human rights department, said visas to Egypt had been arranged and the men were in the process of being deported. "They were allowed to stay in the airport because they were denied access to Egypt," he said.

"Now that we have arranged for their entry there is no reason for their stay here and they are to be considered illegally in the country if they refuse to leave. If they refuse, airport security will have to deal with them. We have done everything we can to help them."

Dr al Suwaidi said the CDA would send representatives with the men to ensure they arrived safely at Rafah on the Egyptian-Gaza border. The crossing has been the only access point to the Gaza Strip since Israeli blockades were imposed in 2007.

Changes in regulations after the January 25 uprising in Egypt meant unmarried Palestinian men below the age of 40 had difficulty gaining visas. As a result, many Palestinians are now unable to reach the border.

Five of the original group of nine returned back to Gaza voluntarily after the CDA arranged for their visas. However, the remaining four refused to have their papers processed and said conditions in the Gaza Strip were unbearable.

"I have been detained twice by Hamas and if I go back, I really want to live anywhere where I can feel safe," said Mr al Khatib, who is a member of the Fatah party. There have been widespread accusations of political persecution between Hamas and Fatah, the main Palestinian political groups, since factional fighting began in 2007.

The four men contacted the Swedish, Australian and Canadian embassies in a bid to seek asylum. However, officials from those countries said asylum applications must be processed by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).

"If the men consider they are unable to return to their home country because they fear persecution, they should contact the nearest office of UNHCR to discuss their concerns," a spokesman for the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship said.

The Swedish Migration Board said that Sweden cooperated with the UNHCR to provide protection for refugees within the framework of a special refugee quota intended mainly for people who needed protection. The UNHCR presents such cases when all other options have been exhausted.

The four men were critical of the UNHCR, claiming that the agency did not even bother to look into their case. The UNHCR office in Abu Dhabi was unavailable for comment.

wissa@thenational.ae