The Foreign Ministry has stalled attempts to hand over almost 8000 foreign passports to their respective High Commissions, claiming details regarding the owners whereabouts still needed to obtained by immigration authorities, local media has reported.
State Foreign Minister Hassan Saeed said the Foreign Ministry will only deliver the passports to the respective consular authorities once immigration clarifies the location of the owners, a task described as “huge” and “difficult” by Immigration Controller Dr Mohamed Ali.
Saeed claimed the number of foreigners who had not left the Maldives while on temporary travel documents was close to the number of ownerless passports held at immigration, local media reported.
“We have a number of foreigners who have left the Maldives on temporary travel documents. But if that number does not match with the passports and if we try to hand over the passports there will be complaints, and questions asked over the quantity of the passports and the whereabouts of the holders,” Saeed was quoted as telling local newspaper Haveeru.
Dr Ali told Minivan News on Tuesday that it would be a “huge task” to obtain the details needed before the passports could be handed over to the respective High Commissions.
Asked if it was realistic to expect immigration to find the whereabouts and details of the owners of all 8000 passports, Ali said such feat would be a “difficult task”.
According to local media the exact number of expatriates in the Maldives is unknown. However immigration statistics show there are 120,000 registered expatriates who regularly pay their visa fees and a further 40,000 illegal immigrants.
Ali told local media that the majority of the passports are from Bangladesh, however there were passports from India and Sri Lanka as well.
An official from the Indian High Commission said the passports should be returned to the respective governments, as they posed a security risk.
The official condemned the practice of Maldivian employers – including some government departments – withholding the passports of their employees: “Keeping someone’s passport is a threat on a private level.
“Passports should belong to the person and no one else. It is a security risk for individuals to not have their passport in their possession,” the official said.
Earlier this month, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs inaugurated an initiative targeted at raising awareness of the issue of human trafficking in the Maldives.
The Maldives has come under strong criticism internationally in recent years over its lack of effort to prevent people trafficking, with the country appearing on the US State Department’s Tier Two Watch List for Human Trafficking three years in a row.
Speaking at the recent inauguration of the Blue Ribbon Campaign Against Human Trafficking, Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Abdul Samad Abdulla stated the initiative formed part of a larger plan to try and addressing human trafficking in the Maldives.
“We have been conducting a lot of work to deal with the issue, though it may be generally a little known fact,” Samad claimed. “Our intention now is to work together with local media outlets and create more awareness about the issue. I would like to request media cooperate in this initiative.”
The Foreign Ministry also announced it had signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with multiple local media outlets in the country to conduct the Blue Ribbon Campaign.
Minivan News was awaiting a response from the Foreign Ministry at time of press.