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Syrian couple seeks asylum in Jamaica - Refugee Eligibility Committee to decide their fate

Published:Sunday | August 11, 2013 | 12:00 AM

Erica Virtue, Senior Gleaner Writer

A Syrian couple who arrived from the Cayman Islands, en route to the United States early August, has asked for asylum in Jamaica.

Responding to queries from The Sunday Gleaner, the Ministry of National Security last week identified the couple as Fadi Al Lababidi and Hayat Hejazi.

"They arrived in Jamaica from the Cayman Islands on Sunday, August 4, but were denied permission to land," the ministry said.

The Sunday Gleaner understands that Jamaican immigration officials became suspicious after the two were found to be carrying Syrian passports, with both having the same January 1 birthday.

Under questioning, they claimed they had reservations at a Kingston hotel and would be visiting the island for two weeks.

No reservation

When the hotel was contacted, no reservation was there for the couple and they did could not say how they would fund their purported two-week stay.

"The couple told them (immigration officials) they came to Jamaica for vacation; however checks revealed they did not have a reservation with a hotel, and they had limited funds and no credit or debit card to sustain their stay in Jamaica," said the security ministry.

"The immigration authorities also said there were discrepancies with the issue date of the visa for Ms Hejazi," added the ministry.

The two were refused entry and told that they would be returned to the Caymans Island.

They were scheduled to depart Jamaica on Monday, August 6, back to the Cayman Islands. However, they stated they would seek asylum in Jamaica as they would not be going back to Syria.

Broke down in tears

The Sunday Gleaner understands that the two broke down in tears as they announced that they were seeking asylum here.

"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 security ministry.

A meeting of government officials and officials of the Refugee Eligibility Committee is to be convened shortly to determine if the "Syrian couple will be granted refugee status in Jamaica, or will be sent back to their country".

According to the ministry, the couple's itinerary indicated that they "travelled from Syria to Beirut, Moscow, Havana, and Grand Cayman and from there 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".

The ministry said arrangements have been made to accommodate the couple while the Refugee Eligibility Committee makes the determination of their status.