UNRWA spokesman says there are credible reports that Wael al-Sahlee will be deported back to Syria
UPDATE on 21 May: UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said in a statement early Thursday that Wael al-Sahlee is now back with his family in Jordan. Further information about Sahlee's status in the country is not currently available.
Jordan plans to deport back to Syria a Palestinian refugee who fled Damascus’ Yarmouk Camp with his son two years ago, Middle East Eye learned Wednesday.
“According to reliable reports, Wael al-Sahlee, a Palestine refugee who left Syria with his eight year old son, is being deported from Jordan back to Syria,” said Chris Gunness, spokesman for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA).
“There are serious concerns for his safety and security. UNRWA is monitoring this case and calls on all authorities to offer him protection according to international standards,” Gunness said in a statement.
UNRWA had on 14 May urged the Jordanian authorities not to deport Sahlee back to Syria.
A Western diplomatic source familiar with Sahlee’s case, speaking to MEE on the condition of anonymity, said that senior UN officials were watching Sahlee’s case closely.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Prince Zeid Raad Zeid al-Hussein and the office of UN chief Ban Ki-moon are “monitoring the case closely and expect the Jordanian and Syrian authorities to abide by their obligations under international law”, the source said.
For more than two weeks earlier in May, Sahlee was stuck in limbo in the Dubai International Airport with his nine-year-old son after they were denied entry to several Arab countries, he told MEE in an interview.
Sahlee and his son were finally sent on a plane back to Jordan on 14 May, but it was not clear whether they would be allowed to stay. The Jordanian authorities had weeks earlier forced Sahlee to leave the country after he lived there for two years without a residence permit. Jordan has a strict policy about Palestinian refugees.
Faris Shin, a member of an activist campaign to document the plight of Palestinian refugees, told MEE that a family member had contacted his organisation about Sahlee’s case earlier Wednesday.
“About eight o’clock, Wael called (his family) saying they will deport him,” Shin said. His brother Thaer told the group he “was very upset about what happened”.
Sahlee is currently being held in a Jordanian secret service office on the border with Syria, his brother had said, according to Shin.
Thaer said that if Sahlee is deported to Syria, “he will be killed. He is wanted by the Syrian regime,” Shin told MEE.
The brother told the group he fears Sahlee’s children will be deported as well. As of now, their nine-year-old son, who was stuck in the airport with Sahlee, is not being deported, he said, but he worries that could change.
“There is the threat (of deportation) on his whole family,” Shin told MEE.
Last week, when he was stuck at the airport in Dubai with his son, Sahlee told MEE he feared what would happen if the Emirati authorities sent him back to Syria.
Sahlee had been devoting his time to helping locals in Yarmouk Camp before he fled Syria in 2012, he told MEE.
"I was doing humanitarian work, giving medical attention to people [in Yarmouk Camp in Damascus], but the [Syrian] regime accused us of aiding terrorists,” Sahlee said.
“A number of my Palestinian compatriots were arrested by the regime for helping people. Many of those who were arrested died under torture in regime captivity. So I thought that I better escape after watching my friends getting killed one by one, and I myself was detained for a month.”
Activists hope that international pressure on the Jordanian government will stop Sahlee's deportation, Shin told MEE.
Wael al-Sahlee and his son, pictured at Dubai International Airport (MEE/Wael al-Sahlee)