The government is trying to bring back the Maldivian women and children held in Syrian refugee camps, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih has announced.
Speaking at a press conference on Thursday Solih said the government does not know exactly how many Maldivians are being held in Syrian camps.
“We have been able to collect some information about the Maldivians at the camps through their families and with the help of international organisations,” Solih said. “We don’t know the actual number of Maldivians in these camps. I don’t think any country knows exact information about the people in the camps.”
Solih said some of the Maldivian women and children in the camps were taken to Syria against their will.
“We are working with the UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] and other organisations to bring the Maldivian women and children [back] from the camps. We believe some of them were taken to Syria forcefully. The government is looking into possible ways of getting them out of the camps as soon as possible,” he said.
Solih described the refugee camps in Syria as “lawless and stateless” and suggested that it might be a dangerous mission to get the women and children out of the camps.
“The war in Syria is not a civil war. It was terror groups that waged war in Syria. However, the terrorists are now defeated and held in various camps. No country in the world has control over these camps,” he told reporters.
“Some countries have taken their people from these camps through various means. Some countries have even smuggled their people out of the camps.”
The president said the government is planning to remove the Maldivians from the camps and send them to a friendly nation before bringing them back to the Maldives. He, however, said they will be deradicalised in the Maldives.
“The UNHCR and other organisations have warned that releasing the refugees into the community would be dangerous. After bringing them to the Maldives we have to deradicalise them. There are things we must do before they are released into the community. We are currently building a rehabilitation centre,” he said.
Solih’s announcement is in contrast to parliament speaker and former president Mohamed Nasheed’s earlier comments.
Speaking to the Sri Lankan press last month Nasheed said the Maldivians in Syria had to be deradicalised abroad before being allowed to return to the Maldives.
“I think the international community should join together and decide what we should do to the returnees. Hopefully, there is an international arrangement where they are first received, not necessarily [in] their countries of origin or nationality,” he said.
Nasheed said the Maldives did not have the capacity to rehabilitate radicalised refugees.
“We do not know the situation they have gone through. We don’t have the capacity to rehabilitate these people to the extent that they will not have a further impact on society,” Nasheed was quoted as saying in Wion.