HRCM to investigate Immigration Department’s promise of mass repatriation

The Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) has expressed concern over a pledge by immigration authorities to repatriate 10,000 “illegal” expatriates on the back of wider reservations at the treatment of foreign workers potentially trafficked into the country.

HRCM member Jeehan Mahmoud has told Minivan News that the commission was concerned not just over plans to repatriate a predetermined number of unregistered workers, but also whether they were being punished for the actions of employers or agents acting outside the law.

The concerns were raised as the Department of Immigration and Emigration announced yesterday (April 30) that 1,748 foreigners found to be working illegally in the country had been repatriated – the majority by their own request – during the year so far.

Immigration officials also announced commitments to send a further 10,000 unregistered workers back to their home nations during the remainder of 2013.

Immigration Controller Dr Mohamed Ali said that the repatriated workers had either come to the Maldives with sufficient funding to afford transportation back to their home countries, or that their fares were covered through previously paid “deposits”.

Dr Ali did not however elaborate as to how the immigration department had devised the figure targeting the return of 10,000 unregistered workers to their respective countries.

He stressed that his department would be investigating and punishing employers and agencies responsible for bringing the now unregistered workers to the country if they had acted illegally.

“[The immigration department] will do that with vigour now,” he said.

Dr Ali was reported in local media as adding that 146 foreigners alleged to have involvement in criminal cases were deported this year so far, with 85 illegal workers also sent back to their respective home nations.

“More foreigners come to us voluntarily as we toughen our approach towards them. Everything will be arranged for those who come to us voluntarily. Island Aviation now has direct flights to Dhaka,” he told Sun Online, referring to the large number of Bangladesh nationals working in the country.

Dr Ali told Minivan News last week that while almost all foreign workers coming to the Maldives arrived under registered companies, some were finding themselves “illegally used” by employers due to “systematic abuse” of the visa system once here.

HRCM investigation

Responding to the immigration controller’s pledge this week, HRCM member Jeehan said that the commission itself had not been consulted by the Immigration Department over its proposed crack down on unregistered workers.

From the perspective of the HRCM, Jeehan said there was particular concern about the safety and vulnerability of the foreign workers set to be returned by authorities, particularly in the case of expatriates who were heavily in debt as a result of paying companies or agents to come to the country to find work.

“If they are working or staying here undocumented, how safe are they to be returned home,” she said. “We must consider how vulnerable some of these people are, it is different for those who request repatriation or course.”

The HRCM is now set to investigate the conditions by which these foreign workers are being repatriated, especially in regards to concerns that unregistered expatriates may have been detained as a result of the actions of agents or employers in the country.

According to Jeehan, issues also needed to be addressed over how the Immigration Department had decided to set a predetermined number of foreign workers that it would look to repatriate.

“How has the state arrived at this number? Whether it is the result of a baseline study or some other research we need to know,” she said. “Also, how is the state identifying the 10,000 workers that need to go back home and are they sure they are undocumented? Questions also need to be asked of what the state is doing with these expatriates before they are sent home. It is unfair if they are being detained as a result of the faults of others.”

Jeehan added that before any undocumented foreign workers were being repatriated, it was also important to ensure that employers had paid the salaries of all staff and were honoring their obligations to workers.

“These employees should be provided with their due wages and compensation, it is for the state to guarantee this,” she added.

Jeehan said that the HRCM was presently seeking to consult the Labour Relations Authority (LRA) over a number of issues that it said would include how unregistered workers were being sent out of the country.

“We will look to meet with the LRA first, as they are the state authority outlining employment practices, s we can see what role they may have had in outlining these policies,” she said.

Jeehan added that if the LRA has not had a role in the outlining this repatriation policy, than the HRCM might “have an issue” with the process.

When contacted by Minivan News today, LRA Assistant Director Aishath Nafa Ahmed said the body had no involvement in outlining policies on the repatriation of foreign workers since last year.

She added that although the LRA was involved in a steering committee that focused on issues surrounding the country’s foreign workforce, the authority had not had any discussions over plans to repatriate 10,000 workers this year.

Human trafficking

The Maldives has appeared on the US State Department’s Tier Two Watch List for Human Trafficking for three consecutive years. Should the Maldives drop to tier three – the worst category – then the country is expected to face significant reductions in aid and potential travel restrictions on its citizens.

Despite the government last year launching a special state program to try and draw awareness to the problems beyond human trafficking, concerns have continued to be raised by various NGOs and authorities at the scale of human trafficking in the country amidst fears of widespread corruption within the visa system.

Just last month, a source working within the immigration department alleged that companies across the Maldives were freely abusing visa regulations by generating fictitious labour demand to directly profit from trafficking foreign workers into the Maldives.

The source told Minivan News that almost no human verification was being undertaken by authorities to ensure workers were genuinely employed once a business or construction project was approved in the country.

In theory, a Maldivian company could submit design plans for an existing structure such as Manchester United’s 75,811 seat Old Trafford Stadium – and then be assigned a computer-generated quota of foreign workers, the same source claimed.

One former Bangladesh High Commissioner in the Maldives alleged back in 2010 that the exploitation of foreign workers in the country rivalled fishing as the most profitable sector in the national economy after tourism.

Addressing the current scope of unregistered foreign labour, Maldives Association of Construction Industry (MACI) former President Mohamed Ali Janah said earlier this year that an estimated 40 percent of the foreign employees in the sector were thought not to be legally registered.

Considering these numbers, Janah said he could not rule out the involvement of organised crime in certain employment agencies, which supply a large amount of foreign labour to building sites in the Maldives.


10 thoughts on “HRCM to investigate Immigration Department’s promise of mass repatriation”

  1. "Responding to the immigration controller’s pledge this week, HRCM member Jeehan said that the commission itself had not been consulted by the Immigration Department over its proposed crack down on unregistered workers."

    Is that a problem? I don't think so. The Immigration Controller has no obligation to "consult" the HRCM (I'm not sure exactly what these people do), in disbursing his legal duties.

    "From the perspective of the HRCM, Jeehan said there was particular concern about the safety and vulnerability of the foreign workers set to be returned by authorities..."

    From the perspective of a sovereign nation and it's duty and care for its own security, the country has no obligation whatsoever for any individual who have come here voluntarily as economic migrants. Economic migrants all over the world know the risks that they are taking and the host countries have no obligations to them.

    The UN charter on refugees provide protection for those under threat. These people aren't refugees nor are they seeking asylum here. So, first and foremost in the interests of this country, it's imperative that they are returned back to their countries. It's also in their own interest.

    I'm not sure what page the Maldivian HRCM are reading from or what book if any.

  2. They are completely justified in objecting to the expulsion of 10 000 workers without giving them a road to registration in the first place, for the crimes of their employers.

    For all we know we are throwing them out into a world where they will die.

    Maldivian type of racism at it's finest. Apathy and an inability to empathise with people who are different to them. This is 10 000 individual people we are talking about folks.

  3. y do they need a road to registration? they r queuing up begging immigration to facilitate a way for them to leave this concrete hell

  4. Passing the buck cannot undo events that ultimately have brought us to this spot!

    And no amount of pointing fingers can undo the damage that is already done!

    It is up to the executives to deal with this in the most appropriate way! Those who have wronged these expatriates must be identified and should face consequences.

    The tax payer and expatriate should not be made to suffer because of their wrongdoings!

  5. Seriously minivan, you should stop dragging these people down. What a pity!

  6. HRCM need stop meddling this issue and let immigration repatriate those illegal workers.

    HRCM is acting as a poltical wing here in Maldives. Why these idiots are not doing their so called investigation before and then bring the the people who are living here illegally and then ask immigration to repatriate them.

    Now these idiots are trying to stop immigration work on these illegal workers just because something is moving on the right direction now.

  7. Once a corrupt gov always a corrupt gov. Maybe they would be now willing to receive the just punishment due from us to them- willingly. It ends never.

  8. @Stop dragging us down on Wed, 1st May 2013 8:09 PM

    "For all we know we are throwing them out into a world where they will die."

    Death is the one thing that's guaranteed in this life. No escape there. They will die here or in Dhaka or wherever else they came from.

    Like I've said before, we do not have any obligations to them, legally or on humanitarian grounds. These are not refugees. They came here on their own accord as economic migrants. I also presume they had a fixed length work permit, which upon expiry required them to leave this country.

    So, if they have flouted our laws by staying illegally, then there is only one door open and that's the exit.

  9. at least this government is doing something to resolve this huge national issue.

    If executive really try to enforce this, this will give a strong message to those illegal workers to come into system.

  10. Many maldivians have racist tendencies, whether they are in mdp, drp, ppm, whatever. I have observed in comments i have put in another website (as the majority put dislike) when I write things involving foreigners as my wife is a foreigner. I feel very sad.


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