Immigration department suspends exit permit regulations indefinitely

The recently introduced exit permit scheme has been suspended indefinitely after complaints about the regulation, which requires foreign workers to obtain permission from their employers before leaving the country.

Immigration Information Officer Hassan Khaleel told Minivan News today that the regulation was suspended after several complaints from different organisations, including numerous airlines and NGOs.

“The exit permit issue has been suspended from today onwards. We will consider and address every single complaint received and look at the regulation from several perspectives before re-implementing,” he explained.

The regulation, which came to effect on October 19, required expatriate workers to present a form signed by their employer at airport immigration before leaving the country.

Speaking at the time, Khaleel explained that the introduction of the exit permit system came after requests from employers concerned at the number of expatriate workers leaving the country without their employer’s permission.

He added that the immigration department believed the new regulations might help lessen the illegal practice of withholding passports – which has been described as ‘rampant’ in the Maldives by the US State Department.

Local NGO Transparency Maldives (TM) expressed concern, however, that the exit permits would exacerbate the well-documented abuses within the immigration system.

Advocacy and communications manager at TM, Aiman Rasheed, said that the regulation might have the same effect of withholding the travel documents of the worker, leading to the “employer having control over the mobility of the worker”.

“While this is an infringement on the freedom of movement for workers, it also presents opportunities for perpetuation of bondage, trafficking, etc, by limiting movement of the worker,” said Aiman.

While exact figures are unavailable, the number of expatriate workers in the Maldives has been estimated to be as high as 200,000 – equivalent to two thirds of the local population.

Long viewed as a country with a poor record on combatting human trafficking, the Maldives was this year removed from the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) watchlist.

Exit permit systems are also operated in other nations with large numbers of expatriate workers – such as the UAE and Qatar, although Qatar announced earlier this year that it was to abolish the practice after pressure from human rights groups.

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Expatriate stabbed during daytime attack in Male’

A 42 year-old Bangladesh national has been stabbed during an attack in the carnival area of Male’ yesterday afternoon (September 30), police have said.

The foreign national was taken to ADK hospital for treatment to a “long cut” sustained from their left shoulder to their chest, after they were assaulted with a sharp object at approximately 3:55pm yesterday.

Police have said investigations into the case are ongoing.

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Employers facing investigation after 75 expatriates detained for illegally working in market

The Maldives Department of Immigration and Emigration has detained 75 illegal workers this week, and is currently investigating how many are victims of corrupt employment practices.

An immigration official, who asked not to be identified, said an unspecified number of the 75 expatriate workers detained in Male’ on Tuesday (June 4) had already been released as authorities sought to clarify the exact reasons for how they had ended up working in the capital’s market area.

Foreign nationals are not permitted under Maldives law to work at the market area, according to the Immigration Department.

Despite this, a total of 57 foreign workers were seized by authorities in April this year after having been found working at the market area of Male’.

A police media official confirmed yesterday (June 5) that officers had assisted in detaining 75 “illegal aliens” from the local market area of Male’, referring all further enquiries to the country’s immigration service, which has taken responsibility for the workers.

Immigration Controller Dr Mohamed Ali was not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press to confirm how many of the detained foreigners were presently expected to be sent to the department’s “processing centre” – a gated compound on the island of Hulhumale’.  Unregistered expatriates are usually kept at the centre before being sent back to their respective countries.

Immigration Department Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Abdullah Munaaz – charged with overseeing the service’s monitoring and repatriation efforts – has meanwhile said that authorities were expecting to decide within the next 48 hours how many of the 75 expatriates may face deportation. With investigations ongoing into the case, he said that no further details on the detained workers could be made public at present, with an official announcement expected in the next few days.

The Maldives has come under increasing pressure to tackle the issue of unregistered expatriates, with the country appearing on the US State Department’s Tier Two Watch List for Human Trafficking.  The country has appeared on the list for three years in a row.

Immigration Controller Dr Ali has previously told Minivan News that while almost all foreign workers coming to the Maldives arrive under registered companies, some were finding themselves “illegally used” by employers due to “systematic abuse” of the visa system.

Earlier this year, the Immigration Department confirmed that authorities had targeted the return of 10,000 unregistered workers by the end of the year.

This pledge to return a predetermined number of expatriates was criticised at the time by the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM), which raised concerns that some workers were being punished for the actions of employers and agents acting outside the law.

Worker release

The immigration source claimed that the country’s expatriate monitoring service was in the process of trying to individually identify whether the detained workers should be released, or deported.

The source said all those detained had not been registered to work in the market area, although some were suspected of being illegally made to do so by their legal employers.

“The paperwork is being done now to try to identify the people who are being put to work at these places by their employers,” the Immigration Department figure added. “These people are working in places where they are not registered to do so and we need to know why is this happening. Some of the employers are giving [the department] a different story to those provided by the expatriates.”

The anonymous source said that authorities would also be looking to take action against employers who may be supplying illegal labour.

The same source has claimed that the majority of the 75 detained workers were suspected of having absconded illegally from their Maldivian employer to seek better paid work elsewhere in the country.

Late last month, Immigration Department CEO Munaaz said his department had recently become aware of individuals posing as recruitment agents who were travelling to airports to poach foreign workers by promising them resort positions or higher pad jobs than the work they may have originally been brought to the country for.  Whether these jobs really exist is unknown.

“Now we have started to identify how this is being done and we are working to stop this,”Munaaz said at the time. “We know there are agents living here in Male’, some who are foreign nationals from the same countries, and they are bringing people over. We are in the process of breaking these rings.”

Foreign low-wage workers are often lured to the country by such brokers, paying a ‘recruitment’ fee or entering into debt – sometimes as high as several thousand dollars – that is shared between local agents and recruiters in the country of origin, most significantly Bangladesh.

In many cases the workers are then brought into the country ‘legitimately’ by a specially-created paper company, created using the ID of a complicit or unwitting Maldivian national, for the stated purpose of working on a ‘construction project’ of dubious existence.

Senior immigration sources have confided to Minivan News that almost no human verification was undertaken by authorities to ensure workers were genuinely employed once a business or construction project was approved.

Moreover, despite the size and scale of the practice, not a single recruitment agent or labour trafficker has appeared before a Maldivian court.

Human trafficking

While the government earlier this year launched a special campaign intended to raising awareness of the rights of foreign workers, NGOs and institutions continue to identify human trafficking as a significant issue needing to be addressed in the country.

Human rights groups in the Maldives have for instance continued to criticise the present and former governments for failing to pass legislation that would allow authorities to press charges against individuals directly for the offence of human trafficking.  The legal measures to do so are presently under review in parliament.

In February, former President Maldives Association of Construction Industry (MACI) Mohamed Ali Janah claimed 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.

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Indian teachers request transfer, quit posts after Kumundhoo school attack

Almost a dozen Indian teachers on Kumundhoo in Haa Dhaalu Atoll have either resigned from their posts or requested transfers to another island following the assault of a colleague on school premises last week, diplomatic officials have confirmed.

Diplomatic sources said Indian High Commissioner Rajeev Shahare was meanwhile in the process of arranging talks with Maldivian education authorities to discuss the issue of teacher safety.

The Indian High Commission in the Maldives told Minivan News it received requests from eight Indian nationals currently working as teachers on Kumundhoo to be transferred to another island over concerns about their safety.

According to the commission, two other expatriate teachers on the island have also handed in their resignation after physics teacher Neelakantan Pappukutty Subash Kumar was assaulted in the school on May 14 by an angry mob accusing him of hitting a student in the chest.

One expatriate teacher on the island, who has since handed in their resignation, was also claimed to have received minor injuries trying to prevent the assault, an Indian diplomatic official told Minivan News this week.

Despite the concerns about teacher safety, the high commission said yesterday (May 19) that the response of the education ministry had so far been “positive” in terms of their handling of the attack on the Indian national.

Kumundhoo Island Councilor Ali Anwar claimed on May 15 that islanders had destroyed a a power distribution unit outside the school to cut off its electricity, before then entering and attacking the teacher, despite efforts by staff to try and prevent the assault.

So far eight suspects are being held in police custody over the attack, police confirmed today.

After being initially hospitalised after the assault, Kumar’s condition is not thought to be critical.  The high commission has claimed the teacher was now waiting for the Education Ministry to renew his work visa that expired last month, so that he can be returned to India for treatment.

A “mutual time” was also being sought for High Commissioner Shahare to meet with the country’s education officials to discuss the issue of “better security” for expatriate teachers.

Minivan News was awaiting a response from the Ministry of Education at time of press.

Ongoing concerns

Despite the high commission’s praise for the education ministry this week, one Indian diplomatic source said following the attack that the injured teacher’s treatment continued to highlight ongoing concerns over the Maldives’ treatment of foreign workers.

These concerns were said to be based around issues such as the retention of passports and travel documents by private and state employers.

“The fact remains that [Kumar’s] work permit has not been renewed. He was a government employee –  they should have renewed his documents before they expired, not afterwards,” the diplomatic source said last week.  ”This [issue] has been going on for over one and a half years now.”

A senior Indian doctor in the Maldives has also previously alleged that expatriate professionals regullarly  face intimidation and fraud in the country from employers and the public.

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Indian teacher attacked in Maldives requires visa renewal before travelling home for treatment

The Indian High Commission in the Maldives has said an expatriate teacher hospitalised after being attacked on the island of Kumundhoo in Haa Dhaalu Atoll is waiting on education authorities to renew his visa before he can return to India for treatment.

Physics teacher Neelakantan Pappukutty Subash Kumar, who was attacked on May 14 over allegations he hit a student in the chest, had still been working for the Ministry of Education despite his work visa having expired the previous month.  The teacher is not thought to be in a critical condition, according to diplomatic sources.

Kumundhoo Island Councilor Ali Anwar claimed Wednesday (May 15) that islanders had destroyed a a power distribution unit outside the school to cut off its electricity, before then entering and attacking the teacher, despite efforts by staff to try and prevent the assault.

“Yesterday afternoon the expat teacher hit a 13 year-old student in the chest and the child fell and couldn’t breathe and was taken to the health centre,” Anwar said. “The islanders became angry at the teacher and gathered outside the school. The security guard and school staff were unable to control them.”

Arrests

The Maldives Police Service (MPS) confirmed today that five people had now been arrested in connection to the attack on the teacher, with investigations ongoing into the matter. A police spokesperson said the teacher had since been transferred to Male’ following the attack, although the MPS had no further details about his status at time of press.

Meanwhile, the Indian High Commission told Minivan News today that although the expatriate teacher’s condition was not believed to be critical, efforts to return him to India for additional treatment had been impeded as a result of education authorities failing to renew his visa on time.

“His visa expired in April and is not yet renewed. The Education Ministry will send him back as soon as his visa is renewed,” the commission confirmed.

Education Minister Dr Asim Ahmed was not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.

An Indian diplomatic source said that it was likely Maldives authorities would have sent the expatriate back to India immediately had he been in a critical condition.

However, the same source claimed the teacher’s treatment continued to highlight ongoing concerns raised by the High Commission over the Maldives’ treatment of foreign workers, notably the retention of passports and travel documents by private and state employers.

“The fact remains that his work permit has not been renewed. He was a government employee –  they should have renewed his documents before they expired, not afterwards,” the diplomatic source said.  “This [issue] has been going on for over one and a half years now.”

A senior Indian medical with experience of working in the country previously alleged that expatriate professionals were regularly facing intimidation and fraud in the country from employers and some members of the public.

Strain

The Maldives’ relationship with India has appeared strained since President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s government took the decision last November to evict Indian infrastructure giant GMR from the country with seven days notice.

The US$511 concession agreement to develop Ibrahim Nasir International Airport was declared ‘void from the start’.  However, the government’s sudden eviction of the Indian investor did not however appear on a list of 11 grievances handed to all senior Maldivian reporters by the Indian High Commission this January.

The list of Consular issues affecting the India-Maldives relationship included a number of concerns: discrimination against Indian expatriates, the keeping of passports of Indian nationals by employers, exploitation of Indian workers and repatriation of mortal remains.

Threats towards the country’s diplomats, a disparity in visa charges between the two countries and the repatriation of salaries were also raised as issues.  The list’s release was followed by the Indian High Commission issuing a statement in early February slamming local media in the Maldives for “misrepresentation and twisting of issues”.

“The High Commission has noted a recent trend in a section of local media to publish negative, unsubstantiated reports, while blacking out objective and positive news on Indian issues,” the commission said at the time.

Despite admitting that every country has high and lows in their bilateral relations with neighbours, the new Indian High Commissioner to the Maldives Rajeev Shahare last month emphasised what he called the country’s “unshakable” long-standing relationship with the Maldives.

“During my tenure, I will endeavour to further strengthen the relationship between India and the Maldives, which is already very strong with an unshakable foundation,” he said on April 10, shortly after his appointment.

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President Waheed calls on Maldivians to improve conditions of expatriate workers

President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik has called upon Maldivians to “do everything possible” in order to improve the working conditions of Bangladeshi expatriate workers in the Maldives.

Speaking at a function to mark the Bangladesh Independence and National Day on Tuesday (March 26), Waheed stated that Bangladeshi expatriate workers make a huge contribution to the economic growth and development of the Maldives.

Acknowledging to the fact that Bangladesh accounts for the largest group of expatriate workers in the Maldives, President Waheed stated the importance of reflecting on the conditions of foreign workers in the country.

“Let me reiterate here the government’s unfailing commitment to ensure the rights of the expatriate workers in the Maldives are fully protected in accordance with the relevant laws of the Maldives.

“I take this opportunity to appeal to my compatriots in the Maldives to reflect on this current condition and do everything possible to improve the working conditions of our brothers and sisters and to ensure that their rights are always guaranteed,” said Waheed.

In 2010, it was claimed that the exploitation of foreign workers in the Maldives rivals fishing as the most profitable sector in the Maldivian economy after tourism.

High Commissioner of Bangladesh Rear Admiral Abu Saeed Mohamed Abdul Awal said that the commission was working closely with the Maldives government to address the issue.

Awal stated that the commission is dedicated to ensuring the treatment of expatriate workers by Maldivian employers, adding that the working conditions and rights of the employees need to be protected.

Last month, the head of Maldives Association of Construction Industry Mohamed Ali Janah alleged that almost half of all foreign employees in the construction industry were thought not to be legally registered.

A report on human trafficking in the Maldives saw the country remain on Tier 2 of the US State Department’s Watch List for Human Trafficking for the third year in a row, only narrowly avoiding a decent to Tier 3 – the most severe category.

Various government ministries claim to have stepped up efforts to address the problem in the past few months in the build up to this year’s human trafficking categorisation by the US State Department.

In January, President Waheed expressed concern about the rising number immigrants in the Maldives, claiming that the “foreign influence” threatens the country’s “Maldivianness”.

In regard to a potential decent to Tier 3 of the US State Department’s human-trafficking watch list this year, Waheed warned that the Maldives would face difficulties in seeking foreign assistance should it slip to the most severe category.

Speaking at the function on Tuesday night, President Waheed said that in order to become a modern democracy, Maldives must follow the “democratic experience” of Bangladesh and other developing countries in order to learn from their experience.

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Maldives no longer “tolerable” for foreign doctors, expatriate medical officer claims

Expatriate medical professionals working in the Maldives regularly face intimidation, fraud and “substandard” treatment from patients, health authorities, local staff and the country’s courts, a foreign medical officer working in the country has revealed.

The expatriate medical professional, who has worked in several posts across the country since 2009, revealed that along with widespread reneging on contracts and failing to deal with intimidation of expatriate medical staff, health officials had, in certain cases, not even checked whether foreign doctors were registered to practice medicine.

“Earlier there was a system of asking doctors for the registration of their basic medical degree (graduation degree) in their own country so as to register them in Maldives,” he told Minivan News. “This law was so compromised over the last two years that in one atoll alone, four unregistered doctors are to my knowledge still practising their absent skills here. Frankly speaking, they can kill anybody just by their lack of knowledge, but some get caught on occasion.”

Medical authorities have claimed they were aware of a number of concerns regarding doctor registration, a situation currently being reviewed in conjunction with the Maldives Medical Council. However, the Ministry of Health and Family denied that a fall in the number of doctors coming from India to practice in the Maldives was related to alleged treatment by authorities and patients on islands – instead noting improved pay rates currently offered in their home country.

However, raising concerns over a “deterioration” in the quality of healthcare being provided in some atolls during the last two years, the expatriate medical officer – who asked not to be identified – also detailed a number of issues over the treatment of foreign workers in the country.

According to the whistle-blower, there were growing concerns among skilled expatriates working in medicine and education in the Maldives that was losing the country its reputation as a “tolerable working place”.

Fewer doctors from India were coming to the Maldives year-on-year, the source observed, in part to what he called “public intolerance” of an imported non-Muslim work force.

“The overall behaviour of the Maldives Ministry of Health and Family and government has been negative. [There is also] an lack of availability of US dollars and the Bank of Maldives (BML) has banned issuing international ATM cards to expatriates,” he said. “Meanwhile, there has been an increase in the exchange rate of the US dollar, but no increase in the salary structure in Maldivian rufiya (MVR), meaning salaries are less than before. There are also instances in which the lawlessness of this country has led to the lack of punishment of Maldivian nationals even for heinous crimes like rape if the victim is an expatriate.”

“Violence”

Taking the example of Gaafu Alif (GA) Atoll, where the medical professional has had experience of working, he alleged “constant fear” and intimidation were regularly experienced by foreign healthcare professionals.

“Increasing instances of violence against expatriates is being reported from everywhere in Maldives,” he said.

On the island of GA Villingili, the medical professional claimed that one paediatrician from Pakistan working on the island was physically assaulted after failing to provide a referral letter demanded by some of his patients.

“I myself was on duty, so we had to make the legal documents for him. Afterwards nothing happened and [the doctor] left after just two days without the intention of continuing their contract. [The doctor] is still working in the Maldives, but somewhere else now,” he said.

“[Another doctor] from Uzebikstan also left GA Atoll because some local teenagers beat her two children. The matter became worse when she and her husband reacted with anger towards these boys. People were singing ‘We will kill you…’ on the roads whenever they came out. Ultimately [the doctor] requested for a transfer and is now working in Faafu Nilandhoo Atoll.”

The medical officer added that from his own experiences, skilled expatriate workers across the Maldives faced intimidation and sexual harassment on the islands, with cases such as expatriate teachers having to defend themselves in their own homes.

“I myself have heard some patients calling me or my colleagues their servants and threatening to do what he/she tells to, or else,” he said. “Interestingly, local staff never help in these situation a because they think we they will not be affected much because we don’t know Dhivehi. The situation becomes much more painful as many of us understand the language quite well. These are just glimpses only. And only of [GA] Atoll. Imagine what will happen if we collect together all the things which have gone wrong across the Maldives.”

The medical professional claimed there were also concerns about how authorities were treating doctors in the country, particularly in regards to contractual obligations such as agreements on wages and accommodation.

According to the source, a number of doctors had shared concerns about amendments made to their contractual agreements without their consent or knowledge once they arrive in the country – both in terms of salary and housing.

“When a doctor lands in Male’, only then [do authorities] reveal to him or her that actually this offer letter is an old one and now the salary structure is a little different. It is always like that. So many times they have done it that now people know about it unofficially and openly and make fun of it,” he claimed.

“Authorities write in their offer letter about free residence while working here. It is mentioned in this form of providing free residence or as much rufiya through a housing allowance, plus their people will help you find a place. They don’t, of course,” he said.

The medical officer claimed that he was personally provided with a housing allowance of MVR 3,000 ruifiya (US$195), assistance in finding accommodation had not been given.

However even upon finding accommodation, a former expatriate paediatrician from South Asia, who was living and working in GA atoll, was alleged to have been evicted from a property on one island by its owners with less than 24 hours notice after they found a tenant willing to pay better rent for the accommodation. The doctor left the island he was assigned after a month and a half due to being unable to find accommodation.

The medical officer added that authorities were ultimately failing to support skilled expatriate workers in favour of local staff who often had no medical or management training.

“It is an everyday story in this hospital and everywhere else in Maldives. Even at Indira Gandhi Memorial Hosptial (IGMH) [in Male’],” he claimed. “Far lower qualified local staff are working with a salary on par with far better qualified expatriate staff, and doing nothing on duty. It frustrates expatriates every single minute. It is not justifiable but local administration support it.”

The expatriate healthcare worker pointed to his own experiences in an atoll hospital, where he claimed trained nurses were having to clean the nappies of elderly patients due to the refusal of local sanitation staff – known as sweepers – to do so.

“This work is for local sweepers, but they often refuse to do it, forcing the staff nurses through equally arrogant management to perform the actions,” he claimed. “They don’t understand that a staff nurse, who has to administer injections and medicines to patients, will get their dress soiled by the excrement if they clean the stool of these patients, and in turn some patient only is going to receive it in returb as a hospital born infection.”

Healthcare provision

Beyond the treatment of expatriate health professionals, the medical officer highlighted a number of concerns about the operations of the nation’s hospitals, such as the impact of the launch earlier this year of the Aasandha universal health scheme.

The medical officer claimed that Aasandha had in fact led to a growing trend of pharmacies bringing in low cost “garbage” medicine to the country, on the grounds that the Aasandha budget was insufficient to acquire medicines from what the medical officer called “standard companies”.

“This in turn is is playing with the health of people by bringing introducing antibiotic resistance or uncompensated chronic diseases due to irregular and uncontrolled dosing of drugs,” he said.

“With the pricing of drugs, we write the number of tablets to be 12. The pharmacy gives seven or eight. Patients don’t know about these things. And as a result they come back to us with partial recovery and antibiotic resistance.”

The medical officer said that in order to try and overcome the limitation, doctors were having to recommend larger prescriptions to ensure a sufficient number of tablets were provided by the pharmacy, before asking patients to return to them to amend the amount they should be taking.

“This way the patient gets the needed amount of medicine, the dosing of which I correct myself after calling him/her back to me with the medicines. This practice is risky but at least I succeeded in managing my patients successfully,” he said.

According to the medical officer another key problem with Aasandha was the lack of public understanding concerning the scheme and entitlements of the public.

“They become very angry when we tell them that this or that medical condition is not covered by Aasandha. A lot of times they force the management to force us to fabricate a medical condition just to get Aasandha approval,” he revealed.

Soon after the scheme had been launched in January this year, Health Minister Dr Ahmed Jamsheed – then Chief Operating Officer at Male’s ADK hospital – said limited information on Aasandha’s financial structure had led the public to exaggerate their medical needs. He urged for a greater sense of public responsibility to prevent overwhelming the country’s health service.

However, calls to limit Aassandha have so far proved divisive in parliament and the present coalition government. Ahmed Thasmeen Ali, head of the government-aligned Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), has previously been an outspoken critic of limiting the provision of universal healthcare at private premises.

The medical officer added that national healthcare provision had also been affected by the launch during the previous government of seven provincial health corporations designed to try and decentralise health care and budgets.

According to the expatriate medical officer, the establishment of the corporations was seen as an attempt by the former government to ensure the work of the Health Ministry was being controlled by government rather than opposition supporters already working within healthcare.

“Splitting the [work] of the Health Ministry into corporations was not a bad idea although it was more motivated by ability to acquire financial control rather than anything else,” he claimed. “The local governance had one thing positive; we could at least address our problems with our employers easily. They were accessible. Although they seldom made any difference, at least there was no frustration that I could not even talk to the authorities. Nowadays, no one can talk to the Mnistry of Health people as most of the time either they simply don’t pick the phone or you cannot connect to them.”

The medical officer said a growing sense of frustration and the shared of experiences of expatriates and healthcare professionals from across the South Asia region had seen the Maldives’ reputation as place to practice medicine tarnished in recent years.

“All these stories do reach [places like] India and I don’t feel that people will tolerate this much more. That’s why there is a constant decline in the number of people coming from somewhere like India to work here in whatever form,” he observed.

Indian High Commission concerned

Earlier this year, Indian High Commissioner Dynaneshwar Mulay raised concerns over the treatment of expatriates from across the South Asia region – particularly by the country’s police and judiciary.

Mulay claimed that alongside concerns about the treatment of some Indian expatriates in relation to the law, there were significant issues relating to “basic human rights” that needed to be addressed concerning immigrant workers from countries including Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

Addressing the claims, Zaufishaan Abdulla Kamaludeen, Director of Human Resources for the Health Services Corporations, which is currently run under the Ministry of Health, said that while expatriate doctors had traditionally been sourced from India, it had become increasingly difficult to bring them to the Maldives.

Kamaludeen stressed that this change appeared mainly to be a result of more competitive rates of pay for medical staff in India compared to the Maldives

“There have been spikes in the salary packages being offered to doctors from India. This is maybe a reason why since about March 2012, when I joined the Health Ministry, we have been having difficulty getting Indian doctors to work here,” she claimed. “We have been getting many applications from doctors from Pakistan,” she added, stressing that medical personnel were also being sourced from countries like Myanmar to cover demand in the country.

Kamaludeen added that it was traditionally difficult to place expatriate doctors on islands in the country’s outer atolls, a situation he claimed was complicated by the tendency of healthcare professionals to network about their experiences.

However, she denied that the difficulties and complaints recevied staff were a result of intimidation or the attitudes of local staff and patients to foreign workers. Kamaludeen claimed that requests for transfers for most often related to “personal issues”.

“Mainly we get requests for transfer from islands relating to personal problems. These vary on a number of issues such as the availability of vegetarian food,” she claimed. “We also get requests from doctors wishing to work close with other doctors, so they don’t feel isolated on arrival.”

Kamaludeen added that another challenge with placing doctors had come from the set up of certain health corporations to pay skilled medical staff more than if they worked in another region.

“Doctors at times would demand to work for the corporations offering the highest pay,” she said. “Right now, a board has been established to try and harmonise salaries for staff working in different atolls.”

Addressing allegations that there had been issues with the registration of some expatriate medical staff to practice in the Maldives, Kamaludeen said that the ministry had been made aware of instances of doctors working with improper registration.

However, she said that in such cases the Maldives Medical Council had been immediately informed and a review was presently taking place on the issue.

Kamaudeen claimed the issue appeared to have arisen over a lack of awareness of the type of licensing required to practice n the Maldives.

“We have understood this to the result of a lack of information being provided from recruitment groups and agencies,” she said.

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Foreign hotel and resort workers concerned over financial changes

Expatriate resort workers have expressed confusion over new regulations restricting monthly remittances to 100 percent of workers’ salaries, which they fear may may leave them unable to take supplementary income, such as tips and service charges, out of the country.

The government has said the decision, published in mid-May in the government gazette, was intended to reduce the amount of money sent overseas by those working in the country illegally, either without a work permit or by taking jobs ‘on the side’.

Workers exceeding the limit, and organisations providing the transfer facility, would face a fine.

However, in many of the country’s resorts, service charges and ‘unofficial’ tips can amount to up to 70 percent of a worker’s total income.

“If the transfers are limited to salaries then the tips and service charges will be considered illegal money,” one foreign worker, a guest relations officer (GRO), told Minivan News. “For me that is 75 percent of my income.”

The GRO added that due to the isolation of some resort properties, workers would be unable to reach a bank every month to send their income home.

“There is one ferry a week [to an island with a bank], but not my home branch. To go to Male’ the flight costs US$200 – I can’t transfer money every month, and I can’t spend all my money in the Maldives,” she said.

A lack of information outside local media reports in Dhivehi meant that many foreign staff were in the dark over the pending changes.

“Nobody is sure what is going on. This [lack of confidence] may encourage people to take their money out of the system altogether,” she predicted.

Several foreign workers Minivan News spoke to at a hotel near Male’ also expressed confusion and frustration over what they feared could be a financial impracticality to continuing to work in the Maldives. They noted that the hotel was to begin paying all staff in rufiya, following the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA)’s recent announcement that it would enforce transactions in the country’s legal tender.

Minivan News contacted a range of authorities dealing with monetary policy, but was unable to get a clear indication of what the regulations would mean for foreign workers.

State Minister for Finance Ahmed Assad and Minister for Economic Development Mahmoud Razee both said they were not in a position to clarify the matter and referred Minivan News to the MMA.

Assad suggested that while the Ministry published official notices in Dhivehi, employers had a duty to keep their foreign employees informed of the implications of any changes to policy.

Assistant Manager of the MMA’s Monetary Policy and Research Division, Ibrahim Ameer, told Minivan News that he understood the regulations were currently pending with the Ministry of Human Resources and that income from resort workers would be taken into consideration, however he noted claims in media reports on the regulation that only basic salaries could be remitted.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Human Resources meanwhile referred Minivan News to Deputy Minister Hussain Ismail, who was not responding at time of press.

Head of the Tourism Employee Association of the Maldives (TEAM) and Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ahmed Easa told Minivan News that the organisation had met with the MMA when the regulations were being drafted and that he understood workers would be able to send their full incomes overseas on presentation of their work visa to the bank.

“The idea is to stop illegal workers from remitting money,” he said. “I think it is tied to income rather than salary, as long as the proper documents are provided. It should not be a problem so long as workers have a work permit. That’s what I have been told, and I haven’t received any complaints yet.”

However, earlier reports on the regulation have suggested it would encompass not just illegal workers, but those taking on ‘unofficial’ extra work – a common practice for many of Male’s expatriate workers, some of whom are paid as little as US$70 a month for full-time construction work. In many cases, this is despite reported promises of salaries of up to US$400 by unscrupulous employment brokers, who charge poor and illiterate people in countries such as Bangladesh fees of between US$3000-4000 to come and work in the Maldives.

The dollar crisis in the Maldives has brought to the fore the remitting of salaries by expatriate workers.  In a recent report, Ameer from the MMA noted that “each expatriate worker will on average remit US$100 per month to their countries. That is US$8 million per month and US$96 million a year. This is an amount that can and should be mitigated.”

Easa told Minivan News that the Human Resources Ministry, “to be honest, has nothing to explain. The Maldives can’t afford this, and we have to have rules to stop the existing open environment.”

The Immigration Department meanwhile reported that the number of expatriates in the country would reach 100,000 by June, after increasing by 10,000 in just three months. The report came as the Ministry of Human Resources published regulation permitting the recruitment of domestic servants without a quota.

The payment of salaries to foreign workers in rufiya is also a concern raised by foreign workers, concerned at their inability to convert the local currency to dollars.

“It may be difficult at this time, but the MMA is reinforcing a law from the early 1980s,” Easa noted. “All these years the MMA has not enforced the law. Right now we have a shortage of foreign exchange, and [expatriates] might face difficultly for a couple of months. But the country doesn’t have a choice.”

TEAM’s Vice President Mauroof Zakir acknowledged receiving concerns from resort workers regarding payment in rufiya.

“We received complaints where workers wanted salary in dollars in instances where the business is earning dollars,” he said, adding that this was already the case for many executive staff who had money paid into accounts outside the Maldives.

Furthermore, Zakir noted complaints from staff who’s wages were now being paid at a rate of Rf 10.42 to the dollar – the minimum rate following the government’s float of the rufiya within a 20 percent band of a pegged Rf12.85 – despite bank rates sitting at Rf 15.42.

“They don’t know the rate at which management is getting dollars,” he said. “I think it is a big concern that the government is not doing anything to raise awareness [for expatriate workers], apart from releasing statements to local media in Dhivehi.”

During a recent interview with Finance Minister Ahmed Inaz, Minivan News questioned the enforcement of rufiya at a time when there was doubt as to whether this could be exchanged into dollars, and the impact this would have on confidence in the Maldivian economy.

“We believe the market is currently unstable because of the changes we have brought, and that these changes will take three months for the various variables to work,” Inaz acknowledged.

“There will be a lot of low confidence and instability, and that will not only be felt by the expatriates. All our imports and consumables, medicine, education – is imported. But we are confident we can get through this.”

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Expatriate arrested after alleged abuse of five year-old girl

Police have arrested a expatriate worker suspected of abusing a five year-old girl on Thoddu in Alif Alif Atoll, reports Haveeru.

The man was discovered hiding in the ceiling of an abandoned house on the island, escaping after he was brought before the island secretariat on Saturday and allegedly beaten.

Haveeru cited sources as saying that the man had been living on the island for three years and was employed in construction.

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