Additional reporting by Neil Merrett
Indian and Maldivian authorities have both denied media reports that an agreement has been reached on relaxing visa restrictions for Maldivians entering India.
The Indian High Commission in the Maldives today said it has not been made aware of any new agreements with Maldives authorities over amending visa restrictions, despite discussions continuing between the two nations to address “consular concerns”.
Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali also stressed that he was unaware of any official agreement being made to address the concerns raised by Indian officials.
Local media reported today that the Maldives had “agreed” to conditions set out by India in order to relax the conditions recently imposed on Maldivian nationals wishing to obtain a visa.
A spokesperson for the High Commission confirmed to Minivan News that discussions were being held with the Maldives Ministry of Foreign Affairs to address respective concerns raised by both nations.
The Indian High Commission maintained that these discussions with Maldivian officials were “not about conditions”, but rather working to address concerns held by both sides.
“We have a long and cordial relationship with the Maldives that is not based on conditions,” a source at the commission said.
State Foreign Minister Hassan Saeed, speaking during parliament’s Government Accountability Committee on Monday (January 28), said cabinet had decided to find a resolution to issues put forward by India.
“[India] had asked to resolve seven issues. Mostly they highlighted the issues faced by the 30,000 Indians in the Maldives,” he said.
“After the discussions at the President’s Office, we are currently trying to solve these issues,” Hassan was quoted as saying in local media.
During the committee meeting, Foreign Minister Abdul Samad Abdulla said Indian government officials had hinted at the relaxation of the present visa restrictions should the Maldives government agree to extradite its Indian prisoners.
“We have received various signals that the visa issue can be resolved if an agreement can be reached over the Indian prisoners in Maldives,” Samad told local media.
“Moreover, when the Indian media reports on the Indian prisoners in our jails, the officials in the Maldives High Commission in India face various pressures.”
Speaking during India’s Republic Day ceremony in Male’ on Friday, Indian High Commissioner Dnyaneshwar M Mulay pointedly conveyed greetings “to those Indian expatriates who are in Maldivian jails”.
Amd rising diplomatic tensions with its neighbour, Maldivian nationals have found themselves queuing outside the Indian High Commission in Male’ to obtain medical and other visas for travel to India.
The Indian High Commission in the Maldives said among the concerns raised with the government were 11 consular issues relating to the treatment of Indian expatriates in the Maldives.
These included discrimination against Indian expatriates, the keeping of passports of Indian nationals by employers and government agencies, and the exploitation of Indian workers.
“Discussions on addressing these matters are ongoing and we do hope to find resolutions from both sides soon,” said a spokesperson for the commission.
Indian authorities late last month said tightened restrictions imposed at the time on providing medical visas to Maldivians were a “signal” for the country’s government to address concerns about the nation’s treatment of migrant workers.
The Maldives has been on the US State Department’s Tier 2 watch list for human trafficking three years in a row, only narrowly avoiding tier 3 in 2011 due to promises by the former government to resolve the matter.
A lapsed police investigation into labour trafficking in the Maldives in July 2011 uncovered an industry worth an estimated US$123 million, eclipsing fishing (US$46 million in 2007) as the second greatest contributor of foreign currency to the Maldivian economy after tourism.