Maldives off US State Department trafficking watchlist

The Maldives has been removed from the US State Department’s Tier 2 watch list for human trafficking following the introduction of legislation last December.

This year’s 2014 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report – regarded as the key global measure of anti-trafficking efforts – sees the Maldives avoid relegation to Tier 3 along with the accompanying sanctions.

“The Government of Maldives does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so,” read the report.

The report – released yesterday (June 20) – saw Venezuela, Malaysia, and Thailand join 20 other countries deemed to be making no significant efforts to reduce trafficking.

Other states on Tier 3 include Zimbabwe, North Korea, Russia, Eritrea, and Saudi Arabia.

While the introduction of the Anti-trafficking Act in the Maldives was lauded, as well as the opening of the Maldives’ first shelter for trafficking victims and the first conviction for the offence, the report made a number of recommendations for further improvement.

“Serious problems in anti-trafficking law enforcement and victim protection remained,” said the TIP report, which noted that an unknown number of the approximately 200,000 expatriate workers in the country experienced forced labour.

Among the advice given in the report was the development of guidelines for public officials to “proactively identify” victims, noting that thousands of migrants have been deported recently without adequate screening for indications of trafficking.

A voluntary repatriation programme started last December for undocumented workers, while the government has pledged to detain and deport all undocumented workers in the capital Malé over the coming months.

The report called for greater efforts to ensure victims are not penalised for acts committed as a result of being trafficked as well as a systematic procedures for referring victims to care providers.

Recruitment and prosecution

It was noted that the newly introduced legislation made progress towards victim protection – including health care, shelter, counselling, and translation services, in addition to a 90-day in which victims can decide whether to assist authorities in criminal cases.

However, the report’s researchers observed that “victims were often afraid of making statements to the police because they did not believe effective action would be taken on their behalf.”

Blacklisted recruitment agencies – who often recruit migrant workers for up to US$4000 for non-existent jobs – often re-emerged under different names, the report explained.

A government report in 2011 revealed human trafficking to be the Maldives’ second most lucrative industry after tourism – worth an estimated US$ 123 million a year

“Observers reported that Maldivian firms could recruit large numbers of workers without authorities verifying the need for the number requested; this led to an oversupply of workers,” said the State Department report.

Minister of Defence and National Security Mohamed Nazim – also in charge of the Immigration Department – has previously announced that, within twelve months, recruitment quotas will only be issued to agencies rather than individuals.

Immigration Controller Hassan Ali was unavailable for comment at the time of publication.

It was also noted in the US report that authorities had again failed to criminally prosecute any labour recruitment agents or firms for fraudulent practices.

“Passport confiscation was a rampant practice by private employers and government ministries, who withheld the passports of foreign employees and victim witnesses in trafficking prosecutions the government did not prosecute any employers or officials for this offence.”

Furthermore, the State Department received reports of organised crime groups – some of whom were said to run prostitution rings – receiving political support.

Yesterday’s report also reiterated suggestions previously given to Minivan News by government officials regarding the disruption caused by the transfer of anti-trafficking efforts to the Ministry of Youth and Sports.

Questions over the state’s ability to implement the landmark legislation were evident throughout the Maldives country profile, as was the law’s failure to distinguish between smuggling and trafficking.

“Observers noted that trafficking-specific training was needed government-wide, especially for investigators, prosecutors and judges,” read the report.

The report’s final recommendation was that the Maldives acced to the UN Trafficking in Persons Protocol which supplements the 2000 Convention against Transnational Organised Crime.