The government’s efforts to rehabilitate and reintegrate families repatriated from the Syrian conflict zone are progressing well, Minister of Homeland Security and Technology Ali Ihusaan has revealed. This initiative comes after the January return of 21 individuals from five families, including 15 children, who had been living in camps near the Syria-Turkey border.

The repatriated individuals, comprising five women, one man, and 15 children, have been placed in the care of the National Reintegration Centre (NRC), a facility designed to provide treatment and rehabilitation for those returning from conflict zones.

Minister Ihusaan, in a television interview, stressed the innocence of most repatriated individuals, particularly highlighting the children’s status. The government is committed to guaranteeing the rights and providing protection to these young individuals as mandated by law, he assured.

The minister also revealed that the government has received information about 100 more individuals, mostly children, seeking to return from conflict zones in Syria.

“Identifying Maldivian nationals, especially children, is challenging due to the difficulty of biometric verification in such conditions,” Minister Ihusaan noted, outlining the multi-phased approach being taken to address the situation, which starts with securing access to the locations where these individuals are currently living—a task currently being undertaken by the Foreign Ministry.

Minister Ihusaan highlighted the successful reintegration of the most recently rehabilitated family at the centre, noting their positive behaviour within the community. He praised the treatment provided by the NRC, describing it as effective and progressing well.

The NRC has four separate blocks to cater for the needs of the repatriated individuals: one for women, another for children under 18, a third for men over 18, and a final block for families. It can treat 72 individuals and five families simultaneously.

Currently, all conflict zones in Syria are classified as banned zones under the Anti-Terror Act. Individuals travelling to participate in foreign conflicts in these war zones will face jail terms of five to six years.

Reports suggest that over 100 Maldivians in Syria, including those affiliated with Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda, have expressed a desire to return home. The Maldives has faced challenges with ISIS supporters, first documented in 2014 when over 300 people protested in Malé against democracy.

The National Bureau of Economic Research has noted that one out of every 500 Maldivians has joined an extremist group in the Middle East, with the Maldives having the world’s second-highest per capita rate of people fighting for ISIS.

In response to these threats, the Maldivian government has implemented several counter-terrorism measures. In 2021, the third amendment to the Anti-Terrorism Act was ratified, enhancing police powers to investigate terrorism-related cases and detain suspects.

A Joint Interagency Operations Centre (JIOC) was established to counter terrorist attacks. Additionally, the Fifth Amendment to the Penal Code was ratified to address hate crimes, particularly those labelling individuals as non-believers or anti-Islamic based on religious views.