x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Tamil refugees sheltering in UAE granted asylum in the USA and Europe

Two of the four refugees will begin new lives in the USA, with the others moving to Sweden and Finland.

Eleven of the Sri Lankan refugees at Dubai airport before flying out to their new homes in the US last month. Photo courtesy Red Crescent Authority
Eleven of the Sri Lankan refugees at Dubai airport before flying out to their new homes in the US last month. Photo courtesy Red Crescent Authority

DUBAI // Four Sri Lankan refugees sheltered in the UAE for seven months have been granted asylum in the United States, Sweden and Finland.

They were among 45 Tamils who fled their home last October to seek asylum in Australia.

But when their boat ran into trouble they had to be rescued by the Singaporean ship Pinnacle Bliss, which was on its way to Dubai.

"We received new updates of additional four persons accepted for resettlement to the US, Sweden and Finland," said Babar Baloch, a spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. "Arrangements are now on the way for their departure."

The refugees, two of whom will move to the US and the others to Sweden and Finland, said yesterday they were looking forward to starting their new lives.

"I am very happy I am leaving for Finland," said one woman, who asked not to be named. "I have a cousin there. I am waiting to go. The date of our departure has not been fixed.

"The first thing I will do is try to learn the language. Then I hope to sponsor my mother, who is in India."

Although the UAE is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention so is not legally obliged to allow refugees to stay, the group were allowed to disembark at Jebel Ali.

The authorities granted the UN refugee agency access to determine the legitimacy of their claims for asylum.

Of the 45 who arrived in Dubai, seven were sent back by the UN because they were deemed not to need international protection.

The remaining 38 were recognised as refugees and 20 were resettled in Sweden and the US.

One of the refugees gave birth after arriving in the UAE, which brought the total waiting for new citizenship to 19 before the latest batch of asylum requests were approved.

The 15 Tamils left in the country are waiting for their asylum requests to be processed, with the UNHCR due to reassess their refugee status this week.

"They said they will put forth the same questions they asked us when we landed," said one man.

"Our minds were clear when we landed. But the anxiety of the last seven months and fear of deportation has impacted our minds.

"We are worried if we are no longer recognised as refugees we could be deported back to Sri Lanka."

His application has been rejected by three countries, with one nation citing security concerns.

The group was first interviewed by UNHCR officials in November last year.

Kulasegaram Geetharthanan, a lawyer with Jein Solicitors in Britain, who has submitted asylum documentation on their behalf to several countries, said the worry of being deported was apparent during conversations with the group.

"They break down when I talk to them and cannot give prompt answers."

One refugee said the fear of being deported back to Sri Lanka was weighing heavy on the group's minds.

"We are always afraid of being deported. If any country accepts our application before the UN review, then we wont be interviewed."

The UNHCR would not comment on the review but said it "continues exploring durable solutions for the remaining 15 people".

pkannan@thenational.ae

rtalwar@thenational.ae