Government reaffirms commitment to protect migrant workers

Speaking at the ‘Workshop on Migration Processes and Policies in the Maldives’ held yesterday (August 21) in Malé, Minister of Foreign Affairs Dunya Maumoon emphasised the importance of addressing the gaps in the law and issues in its implementation.

The minister reiterated the commitment of President Abdulla Yameen, to address the issues and challenges with regard to migration management in the Maldives.

She thanked the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) Development Fund for its assistance in protecting the rights of migrant workers and welcomed the recommendations detailed in the initial findings report, “A Review of Migration Management Processes and Policies in the Maldives”.

Ahmed Amjad of the Friendship Association of India and Maldives told Minivan News that the seminars hosted by IOM in January had been very effective.

Speaking at the event, Dunya stressed the importance of striking the right balance between excessive permeability of the borders, with excessively regulated migrant labour markets and having safeguards to prevent exploitation of the system by both employers and migrant workers.

Furthermore, Dunya emphasised the importance of distinguishing illegal migrants and undocumented workers, and orienting policies accordingly.

Highlighting the fact that the majority of migrant workers in the Maldives are from Bangladesh, Dunya stated that the study tour to Bangladesh, conducted in May this year for Maldivian Government officials, contributed immensely towards the work of the government with regards to migration management.

Earlier this year the Department of Immigration and Emigration deported 6,400 migrant workers between January and July and was holding 159 workers in detention as of July 22.

According to the department, barring a handful arrested on criminal offenses, all were undocumented – some having worked illegally for up to 12 years.

The current special operation to deport undocumented workers was announced on April 24, with Minister of Defence and National Security Mohamed Nazim – also in charge of the immigration department – promising “the whole [of] Malé will be cleaned [of migrant workers]” within three weeks.

The 2014 US State Department’s Trafficking In Persons Report highlighted lack of procedures to identify victims among vulnerable populations, and inadequate training for officials.

The report stated that “the government penalized some victims for offenses committed as a result of being trafficked and also deported thousands of migrants without adequately screening for indications of forced labor.”


Criminal Court denies ordering deportation of Pakistanis arrested in 24kg drug haul

The Criminal Court has denied ordering the deportation of two Pakistani nationals arrested in connection with the smuggling of 24kg of heroin in March.

Citing police, local media reported this week that the court had ordered the deportation of the pair.

The Criminal Court however refuted the claims in a press statement released yesterday (July 2), noting that ordering the deportation of foreign nationals was outside the court’s jurisdiction.

Media reports to the contrary were “based on false information,” the court said.

The statement explained that a court order extending the remand detention of the Pakistani suspects to 15 days had instructed the police to transfer the pair to the the custody of the Department of Immigration.

Police had stated at the remand hearing that the Prosecutor General’s Office had decided to deport the suspects, the statement noted.

The media reports referred to by the Criminal Court were based on a news item published on the police website on Tuesday (July 1).

Out of 18 suspects arrested in the case, police explained that 15 were held in pre-trial detention, including three Bangladeshis, four Maldivians, and eight Pakistanis.

Six of the Pakistani nationals had since been released while the Criminal Court ordered the release of two Bangladeshis on June 24.

On the same day, one of the Maldivian suspects was transferred to house arrest due to poor health. The suspect had earlier suffered burns to 45 percent of his body in a fire accident, police noted.

“The detention period of a Maldivian involved in the case was extended to seven days today [Tuesday]. Additionally, the detention period of three Maldivians and a Bangladeshi will be up on July 4,” the police news item read.

“The court has asked for the two Pakistanis involved in the case to be deported.”

Minivan News was awaiting a response from the police media official at the time of press. The official told newspaper Haveeru yesterday that police were looking into the matter.

Record haul

Four Maldivians, three Bangladeshis, and 11 Pakistanis were taken into custody on March 10 with 24kg of heroin, which police said was “the largest amount of drugs seized in a police operation conducted in the Maldives so far.”

The drugs were transported in a vessel named ‘Hormooz’ registered in Iran, Superintendent Mohamed Rasheed, head of the Drug Enforcement Department (DED), revealed at a press briefing on March 12.

The 11 Pakistani nationals were the crew and captain of the Iranian boat. Local media reported in April that the Iranian vessel was allowed to leave the country while six crew members were also released.

The drugs were allegedly collected by the four Maldivians and three Bangladeshis 30 nautical miles off the coast of Alif Alif Mathiveri, Rasheed had explained, after which it was concealed under fibre boards in a dinghy.

Two of the suspects were seized by police after arriving on the dinghy in Hulhumale’ while their dhoni waited in the harbour.

The Iranian vessel was meanwhile captured at sea with coastguard assistance between Alif Alif and Baa atolls, Rasheed said.

Asked by reporters whether a police sergeant and a Maldivian man – Abdulla Shaffath – arrested in connection with the Artur brothers’ case last year were among the 18 suspects, Rasheed had said he could not disclose details as it could hamper the investigation.

Rasheed, however, confirmed that a police officer had been arrested in connection with the drug haul while two of the Maldivian suspects had prior records for drug-related offences.

While the street value of the drugs was estimated to be MVR36 million (US$2.2 million), Superintendent Rasheed noted that the drugs would likely be laced with “other powders” to increase its volume “two or threefold” before being sold.

The additional volume could potentially raise its street value to almost MVR100 million (US$6.5 million), he said.


Sri Lankan govt distances itself from minister’s “deportation” comments

The government of Sri Lanka has distanced itself from the comments of a Sri Lankan minister who called for the deportation of Maldivian asylum seekers.

On Friday (March 15), Minister of Technology, Research and Atomic Energy Patali Champika Ranawaka called on the Sri Lankan government to take action against Maldivians who are converging in areas in the country.

Sri Lanka’s Presidential Spokesperson Mohan Samaranayake told local media on Tuesday (March 19) that Minister Champika’s comments had been made in the minister’s own personal capacity, and did not reflect the views of the government.

The Presidential Spokesperson added that Maldivians living in the country did not pose a problem for the government and had yet to cause any difficulties.

Sri Lankan media reported last week that Champika had called for the government to carry out a census of all Maldivians living in the country and subsequently arrange for the deportation of those seeking asylum.

Speaking to Minivan News on Monday (March 18), Minister Champika attempted to clarify his previous comments, claiming that he was only referring to Maldivians living in Sri Lanka illegally.

“There are roughly 18,000 students studying in Sri Lanka and they pose no problem. However the guardians of the students then decide to come over too, their parents and brothers are now residing here.

“The problem is when these guardians start trying to permanently settle down within this country illegally,” Champika claimed.

According to Sri Lankan media, minister Champika alleged that “thousands” of Maldivians were seeking political protection within the country due to internal tension within the Maldives.

“Thousands of its citizens are now in areas such as Dehiwela, Ratmalana, Nugegoda, and they are seeking political protection and [it] would be a tremendous problem to Sri Lanka in the near future,” the Minister was quoted as saying by Sri Lankan-based publication the ‘Mirror’.

Despite the Minister’s comments, Maldives High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Hussain Shihab told local newspaper Haveeru that relations between the two countries were at an “all time high”.

Furthermore, Shihab claimed Sri Lanka was receiving large economic benefits from Maldivians living in the country, stating “[Sri] Lanka acknowledges the benefits they get from Maldivians.”

In regard to Minister Champika’s comments, the High Commissioner claimed that they could have been based on some “wrong” information, further stressing that the sentiment was not shared by the Sri Lankan government.

“If the Sri Lanka government was concerned, why would they ease the visa process for Maldivians? [Sri] Lanka has facilitated the visa of Maldivians coming here for medical treatment. So there is no policy to implement any restrictions on Maldivians,” he was quoted as saying.

Minister Champika’s comments were made in light of proliferation of Saudi ‘madrassas’ – religious teachers – who are accused of propagating extremist Islamic ideas in Sri Lanka.

The minister stated that there are roughly 700 madrassas currently teaching in religious schools in the country, and it had been established that the religious teachers had been connected to recent disputes within Sri Lanka.