Maldivian border control faces an uncertain future and a potential reversion to a ‘pen and paper’ system, an informed immigration source has warned.
The warning follows the donation of a passenger information system by the Indian government, in a bid to strengthen the Maldives’ ability to monitor arrivals.
The new Advance Passenger Information System (APIS), which is designed to provide passport information and other details of incoming travellers before their arrival, was formally handed to Maldivian officials on Sunday (March 17) by outgoing Indian High Commissioner Dnyaneshwar Mulay.
The system has been in place at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) for the last few months and is one of a number of components used by immigration officials.
According to the Indian High Commission, the system was requested by the previous government and installed by a special technical team to ensure it functions correctly.
The APIS technology is not however a direct replacement for the existing border control system, provided by Malaysia-based Nexbis, authorities in the country have said.
Nexbis is currently involved in legal wrangling over whether the country’s Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has the power to compulsorily request the government to cease all work in relation to the border control system agreement.
The Nexbis border control system is still presently in use by immigration officials at INIA, after the Supreme Court issued an injunction halting the scrapping of the controversial system by parliament.
However, a source with knowledge of current immigration practices said no alternative border control system was available should the government terminate its concession agreement with Nexbis’.
“So far we don’t have any alternative to the [Nexbis] system going forward. We are using the system and waiting for the courts to decide. However, if the court decides [in favour of the ACC], we will need a new system in place,” the source told Minivan News. “Without [an alternative], the system would go haywire. A replacement would have to be found. We cannot go back to the 1970s and just use books and paper.”
The Indian APIS system will speed up the processing of arrivals through the immigration gates, as well as improve wider resources available to immigration officials, the source said.
APIS system is an internationally recognised means of collecting passenger data before an individual arrives at their destination, designed to allow immigration authorities to know if anyone on an incoming service is included on a watch-list or travel ban, authorities have said.
“Use of the system is mandatory for some countries, though not for the Maldives yet,” the source added. “Before they arrive, the system can identify if a passenger is on a watch-list and spot them. This process can be done much quicker now [by immigration officials].”
The data included within the APIS is provided by two of the world’s largest air authorities including the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
Although its use is mandatory for all services into Europe, the service is not at present required for all flight services to the Maldives, according to the source.
“Now we need a mandatory legal framework to make airlines coming into the country comply,” added the source. “There is a heavy charge for using this software, but I don’t think we have to pay at the moment as India has donated the technology.”
Despite legal wrangling over the future of the controversial border control agreement with Nexbis, the same source added that APIS would be compatible with any system used by authorities.
Immigration Controller Dr Mohamed Ali was not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.
While refuting allegations of any corruption or wrongdoing in being awarded a contract under the previous government to install and operate a border control system for the Maldives, Nexbis earlier this year said it would not rule out criminal involvement behind attempts to “sabotage” its contract with the government.
Immigration control has become a massive issue for the Maldives in recent years with the country appearing on the US State Department’s Tier Two Watch List for Human Trafficking for three years in a row.
Back in January this year, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs inaugurated an initiative targeted at raising awareness of human trafficking issues in the Maldives.
Despite these commitments, the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) has accused state and private sector employers in the country of lacking consistency in their efforts to address human trafficking in recent years, preventing “real” change in controlling illegal migration.
Speaking back in February 2013, HRCM member Jeehan Mahmoud told Minivan News that despite attempts under the present government to try and introduce new legislation, the Maldives had made little progress towards improving the treatment and rights of foreign workers over the last four years.
Addressing the current scope of unregistered foreign labour, Maldives Association of Construction Industry (MACI) President Mohamed Ali Janah said an estimated 40 percent of the foreign employees in the sector were thought not to be legally registered.
Considering these numbers, Janah said he too could not rule out the involvement of organised crime within some of the country’s employment agencies, which supply a large amount of foreign labour to building sites in the Maldives.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the Supreme Court was set to rule on whether Nexbis’ agreement with the Maldivian government to install and operate a border control system was legal. The court case is actually being held to decide on whether the ACC has the power to order a halt to the project. Minivan News has corrected the error.