Palestinians protest detention in Sri Lanka

Four Palestinian refugees were stopped at the Sri Lankan airport and risk being returned to Syria, rights group says.

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    The ongoing civil war in Syria has killed tens of thousands of residents and displaced millions [Reuters]
    The ongoing civil war in Syria has killed tens of thousands of residents and displaced millions [Reuters]

    Four Palestinian refugees have been detained in Sri Lanka for more than two weeks and risk being expelled back to Syria, according to a human rights group.

    The Palestinian League for Human Rights - Syria says the four men were stopped at Sri Lanka's international airport on April 26 on suspicion of presenting false passports, and transported to a detention centre in the capital Colombo.

    "They were directly taken to the military prison, where they described the treatment as inhuman," league spokesman Salim Salamah told Al Jazeera. Citing communications from the detained men, Salamah said they were being held in a cockroach-infested warehouse that heated up "like an oven" in the scorching sun.

    UNHCR will be concerned if asylum-seekers are returned to a place where their life is in danger.

    - Babar Baloch, UNHCR spokesperson

    The men, who hailed from different Palestinian refugee camps in Syria, include 22-year-old aid worker Husam al-Shihabi, along with Muhammad Hussein, 20; Ali al-Skafi, 25; and Bahaa al-Dali, 26.

    Salamah says the detainees - who were originally hoping to reach Sweden - have received conflicting information about their fate, with Sri Lankan authorities variously saying they would be tried in Sri Lanka, deported to Lebanon or returned to Syria.

    Sri Lankan border officials did not respond to Al Jazeera's repeated requests for comment.

    According to Salamah, the four men have undertaken a hunger strike to protest their conditions, and were surviving on water, salt and a beverage similar to hot chocolate.

    "The Palestinian League for Human Rights - Syria calls for deporting them to a country where their rights will be respected and where they will not be subject to any threat," Salamah said, urging the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) to step in.

    "[UNHCR] needs to start considering including the Palestinians of Syria in their mandate... Also, we call on the EU countries to take into consideration the crisis of those four young men and to offer them a safe shelter," he added.

    UNHCR declined to comment on the case, citing the organisation's confidentiality policy. "In general, those seeking asylum should have access to asylum procedures to assess their international protection needs," spokesperson Babar Baloch said. "UNHCR will be concerned if asylum-seekers are returned to a place where their life is in danger."

    The ongoing civil war in Syria has killed more than 150,000 people, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, and displaced millions.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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