On average one hundred workers are registering for the Department of Immigration and Emigration’s ongoing voluntary repatriation program for undocumented migrant workers each day, the department has said.
Speaking to Minivan News today, Deputy CEO of of the department Abdulla Munaz said although response had been low initially, more workers are registering now with more than 250 workers requesting for registration by Monday afternoon.
The voluntary repatriation program was designed to provide an opportunity for undocumented migrant workers to return to Maldives within six months and arrange their travel documents with ease.
If undocumented workers are deported they would not be allowed to return for ten years.
The program started on 23 December and will continue till 31 December 2013, and will reopen from 5 – 6 January 2014. Registration will go on from 0900hrs – 1700hrs on these days at Dharumavantha School, Male’.
Workers will be sent back to their countries within two days of registration. Repatriation under this program is voluntary and on the workers’ own expense. The government expects to repatriate between 5,000 – 10,000 workers.
Munaz said there are some undocumented workers who are in that situation because they were mistreated by local employers, and the department will start more rigorous monitoring and taking action against locals who employ and harbor undocumented workers.
“Our goal is not to take action against as many people, but this is a national issue and we will do whatever it takes to tackle this.” Munaz said.
He said that starting from January 2014, action will be taken against employers who are reported for not paying salaries for two consecutive months.
Instead of blacklisting agencies for malpractices, the department will start to ban the person responsible for such activity from future recruitment and will work with the Labor Relations Authority and Maldives Police Service to take all necessary action against such individuals.
The Immigration Act empowers the department to fine anyone who contravenes the act with an amount not exceeding MVR 50,000/- and the Controller of Immigration is given the authority of with \holding such a person’s passport.
Under the “Work Visa Regulation” the Controller of Immigration and Emigration has the authority to deport all migrant workers employed by an employer who contravenes the regulation. And with the Anti Human Trafficking Act coming to power, agencies and employers involved in acts of trafficking, exploitation and debt bondage will face criminal charges.
A connection between increasing number of undocumented migrant workers have been suggested by the Human Right Commission of the Maldives and the US State Department who have put Maldives on their Tier Two Watch List for Human Trafficking for the fourth consecutive time this year.
The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives earlier this year expressed concern over a mass repatriation program, saying that the state should provide such workers with their due wages and compensation before sending them off. A Labor Relations Authority and a Employment Tribunal was established under the Employment Act created to address such issues.