Erica Virtue, Senior Gleaner Writer
The future of a Syrian couple seeking asylum in Jamaica since August is now under consideration by the Refugee Eligibility Committee and a decision is expected by the end of September, according to the Ministry of National Security.
The couple, identified as Fadi Al Lababidi and Hayat Hejazi, arrived in Jamaica from The Cayman Islands, en route to the United States in early August, but were denied landing permission by immigration authorities after suspicions were raised about travel documents.
Jamaican immigration officials became suspicious after the two were found to be carrying Syrian passports and sharing the same January 1 birthday. They claimed to have had reservations at a Kingston hotel and would be visiting the island for two weeks, but when the hotel was contacted, there was no record of those reservations.
They were unable to say how they would fund their purported two-week stay.
They were refused entry and told that they would be returned to The Cayman Islands and were to depart Jamaica on Monday, August 6.
However, they stated they would seek asylum in Jamaica as they would not be going back to Syria.
"The intervention of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees was sought, and a representative, along with an interpreter and immigration officials, interviewed the couple who expressed fear for their lives if they are returned to Syria," said the national security ministry.
Last week, the Ministry of National Security said a decision was expected by the end of September.
"The committee which is examining the case of the two Syrians who have requested refugee status in Jamaica is deliberating the facts in order to make a recommendation to the Minister of National Security, who should be able to make a decision by the end of September," stated a response from that ministry to The Sunday Gleaner last week.
FOLLOWING UN GUIDELINES
According to the release, "The Syrians are being accommodated in accordance with the required stipulations of the United Nations."
The ministry explained that: "The process to grant refugee status to anyone is a lengthy one; however, as a party to the various United Nations Conventions on Refugees, Jamaica is living up to its obligations in processing refugees in accordance with international requirements and within internationally accepted time limits."
The couple's itinerary indicated that they "travelled from Syria to Beirut (Lebanon), Moscow (Russia), Havana (Cuba), and Grand Cayman to Kingston. They stated that they did not seek asylum in Lebanon or Russia because they felt these countries were friendly with the Syrian government".