Families whose homes will be demolished to make way for an airport in Kulhudhuffushi have yet to be told about relocation plans.
A list of 18 houses was circulated on social media, but the government has not contacted the residents or told them about a formal plan for relocation and compensation. Speaking to the Maldives Independent, which went door to door in the area, 15 families confirmed they had not received any relocation information. The remaining four properties are currently unoccupied. The Maldives Independent estimates around 80 people live across the properties.
Work has already started on the controversial airport project on the island after fast-tracked environmental regulatory processes. President Abdulla Yameen will officially inaugurate the project on November 12.
Developing an airport on Kulhudhuffushi, the main population hub in the northern atolls, was a campaign pledge he made in August 2013.
“We saw the list of the houses being passed around on Facebook or Viber. Then we heard about it on the news. But no one in a position of authority from the government or the council contacted us to date,” said 51-year old Ali Ismail from Daisy Villa, the most densely populated property on the list with nine family members.
It was the same story in the other 13 houses. Some people have checked noticeboards outside shops, the council and schools for information. Others have asked the council, but all are uncertain about the future.
“They pledged this (airport) in 2013,” said Ali Ismail. “Now they promise to finish the airport in 18 months. All we do is worry about this. Living without knowing what’s going to happen is hard. We have to think about it every time we want to build this house. We added two extra rooms and built an outer wall this year. We have to live, don’t we? If there’s more people in the house, we’ll need to add rooms. We’ve spent for this out of our own pockets. We barely get by.”
Last week council president Abdul Latheef Hassan told the Maldives Independent that families affected by the airport reconstruction could get in touch with any concerns or complaints they had.
“We didn’t know about that,” said Shareefa Hassan.
“We shouldn’t have to go to the council for information. They have to come to us,” said another resident Fathmath Abdul Rahman.
People have accepted the relocation despite having lived at the airport site for more than 20 years. But the hope is for adequate compensation.
“Our concern is the first thing they should do when building an airport is to decide on compensation and where they’re going to give land from. They haven’t asked for our opinion at all. They can’t just decide without asking,” said 27-year old Mohamed Ali. “I heard the council walked around to decide which houses to move, but they didn’t even enter this house. If they’re compensating, they should know what they’re giving it for.”
“We want an equal compensation. The government can do whatever it wants, but it shouldn’t be aniyaaveri (cruel). We don’t mind which land they move us to,” said Abdul Sattar, aged 47. “There is no problem taking these houses if they’re building the airport here, otherwise we’ll be its backyard.”
“This project is a government project, so only the government can provide information regarding it,” said Abdul Latheef Hassan. “We have not received any official word on when they’re going to do it.
“It’s most likely that the families are compensated with money and land, but not houses,” he added. “It’s the government’s decision in the end. They will have to talk to the families and decide.”
Officials from the Housing Ministry visited the houses once in 2014 to identify “rooms and toilets” for compensation.
The island council also said it was unclear whose mandate the airport project falls under. Regional Airports, under the Tourism Ministry, is currently in charge of the project.
But the council coordinated with the Housing Ministry for a preliminary survey in 2014 about which homes were to be relocated.
Housing Ministry officials were unavailable for comment.