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The sign at the entrance to where the airport six are being held

Captives Aim to Come in From the Cold

Wednesday, February 19, 2014
PHUKET: Six young men from Syria are still waiting to hear what fate awaits them after a failed bid to find sanctuary in Sweden left them long-term captives at Phuket International Airport.

A spokesman for the six, who says they have had to buy their own meals to supplement a diet of ''maamaa'' noodles, talked to Phuketwan by telephone as they endured their 36th day in the ''Hospitality'' room at the airport.

''People arriving on Phuket for holidays can look in the window and see us as they head past the Immigration desks,'' the 20-year-old Syrian student said.

Four of the six are Syrians while the other two are Palestinians who were living in Syria when they decided to try to escape the war.

The six, travelling on fake Greek passports, attempted to seek sanctuary in Sweden by flying via Phuket and Beijing last month.

However, authorities in Beijing detected their false passports and sent them back to Phuket - standard procedure in such cases.

Since then, the six have been languishing at Phuket International Airport in conditions they say are poor.

Access to the UNHCR - the UN's refugee body - has been repeatedly denied.

UNHCR Spokesperson Vivian Tan said: ''We have followed up continuously with the authorities on our request for access to these individuals and are in touch with them on a daily basis.

''Meanwhile, we have asked to be able to provide them with basic necessities such as additional blankets and toiletries.''

Q: Is Malaysia likely to take these people?

A: I don't know of any plans for Malaysia to take them.

The young men would all like to have Sweden offer them sanctuary but they have been told that they would only be taken in if they managed to reach Sweden first.

The six have heard rumors that Malaysia could be a destination for some or all of them. But nothing has been confirmed.

''I can't go back to Syria,'' the young student said. ''Why? Because two years ago, I was hauled off the street while watching a television show. I was tortured for 10 days. They thought I was one of them [the rebels].''

The young man said friends had escaped to Sweden using the Phuket-Beijing route, which is why the six took their chances last month with the fake Greek passports.

''We are still hoping that the UNHCR can rescue us,'' he said. ''All we really want to achieve is to just be like normal people.''

He said all six young men either had university qualifications or were undergoing courses and would make ideal refugees. ''We are all well-educated,'' he said. ''There is a pharmacist, an electrical engineering graduate, and I have done two years of business administration.''

The six have been told they will be transferred to an airport in Bangkok some time this week, awaiting a decision on where they will be sent next. Their families remain in Syria, which is why they prefer to remain anonymous.

''Volunteers have helped to feed us but we are just about out of money to buy 'real' food,'' he said. ''Otherwise it's nearly always noodles.''

He said conditions in ''Hospitality'' remained difficult, with the air-conditioning very cold and showers in cold water that gave them headaches.

''Various other people have shared the rooms with us,'' he said. ''At one stage, there were 11 people in here. That was uncomfortable.''

Conditions at Phuket International Airport are believed to be much better than at Immigration headquarters in Phuket City, where the cells, toilets and bathing conditions are rudimentary.

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