Audit flags deficiencies in control of expatriate workers

An audit of the immigration department has identified deficiencies in the issuance of quotas and work permits as well as monitoring and enforcement measures.

The performance audit examined the “control of expatriate workers” in the Maldives after November 2012 and found that 68 percent of sampled quotas were issued against specified criteria.

The quota limits the number of expatriates that can be employed by a local business and is calculated based on the type of work. It is generated using an automatic formula in the ‘Xpat online system.’

“We observed the number of quota generated by the system through the use of the formula was more than were requested by the employers,” reads the audit report made public on Monday.

“Hence, the use of the formula resulted in issuing more quotas than was required. Such instances indicate that the [immigration department] did not consider the economic needs when quotas were issued.”

The audit also found that the department had not inspected all worksites before issuing quotas.

“This resulted in incorrect issuing of quotas; a police investigation report revealed issuance of quotas in respect of nineteen worksites that did not exist,” the report stated.

Of a sample of 40 quotas and employment approvals, 27 quotas and 13 approvals were issued when criteria were not met.

According to the 2014 census, there are 58,683 expatriates residing in the Maldives. However, the department of national planning has said the figure was much lower than numbers recorded by the immigration department.

NGO Transparency Maldives (TM) estimates there are 200,000 migrant workers in the Maldives – two-thirds of the country’s population.

A government report in 2011 revealed human trafficking to be the Maldives’ second most lucrative industry after tourism – worth an estimated US$123 million a year.

The Maldives ratified an Anti-Trafficking Act in December 2013, but TM says implementation, monitoring and enforcement of laws and regulations are crucial to prevent human trafficking.

Monitoring and enforcement

The department has not conducted research to determine the number of skilled and unskilled immigrant workers needed in the Maldives, the report observed, while the absence of a “sound policy framework” has resulted in a rapid increase in migrant workers.

Tackling illegal migration has since become “one of the main objectives of the department.”

The report noted that the absence of effective enforcement measures prior to 2014, after which the department “started conducting frequent investigations and they have strengthened their enforcement measures such as levying a fine on employers violating the regulations.”

“However, the [department] made slow progress in areas such as improving efficiency, staff capability quality of data and maintenance of complete data on the Xpat Online System,” it added.

The department began using the system in November 2012, but accurate information prior to then is not available as “migration of data from the labour ministry system…was not performed in a planned and systematic manner.”

“However, between 26 November 2012 and 31 December 2013 there were 9,914 expired work permits that were neither renewed nor cancelled,” it added.

As of September 2014, the department was owed MVR27.3 million in unpaid visa fees. However, apart from blacklisting the employers, the department “has not used its powers such as fining or holding passport of the employers.”

While the department implemented the US-donated PISCES border control system in August 2013, the audit observed “difficulties with entering and editing data”.

The system is not integrated with the Xpat online system, “which is hindering the achievement of the [department’s] objective in minimising illegal immigration.”

The department also failed to maintain data on workers who left under the government’s ‘Voluntary Departure Programme.’ The actual number of workers that departed under the programme is unknown.

The accuracy of the Xpat system cannot be ensured either, the report continued, as it cannot be used to trace workers who have left.

Information in travel documents “does not necessarily match with the information recorded in the system.”

“The employment approval of those leaving the country using a travel document would not be cancelled from the system,” the report noted.

Additionally, the department has not handled complaints “in a systematic manner.” The audit found that some complaints had not been attended to for over a year.

Recommendations

The auditor general’s office recommended that the department follow its standard operating procedures in issuing quotas and permits, conduct thorough checks at all stages, and take action against employers with unpaid work visa fees.

The audit also advised formulation of a framework on the number expatriate workers needed in the country.

The department should also “create a culture of serving the public,” evaluate staff capacity and workload, and recruit more staff where necessary.

A survey conducted during the audit revealed that a significant number of employers were not satisfied with the department’s services.

The department should also ensure that deposits collected from employers should only be used to deport workers. The audit office also advised revising deposit rates “at regular intervals to reflect the costs likely to be incurred.”

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Police, MNDF launch joint security operation after fatal stabbing

The Maldives Police Service (MPS) and Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) have launched a joint security operation following the fatal stabbing of a 29-year-old man in Malé last night.

A police media official told Minivan News that the victim – identified as Nooru Adam Hassanfulhu – was stabbed near Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) at around 1:30am. He died while undergoing emergency treatment around 3:25am.

Local media reported eyewitnesses as saying that Adam was stabbed in the neck and ribs by two men who drove by on a motorcycle.

In a separate incident, a 23-year-old man was assaulted around 11:45pm near the Euro Store on Chandhanee Magu.

Police said the victim was released last night after treatment at IGMH.

“No arrests have been made so far related to last night’s stabbings. However, the investigation team has started investigating all of the stabbings,” said the media official.

The fatal stabbing last night follows a spike in violence against expatriates last week that saw two Bangladeshis murdered and four expatriates stabbed.

Adam’s death marked the fifth murder this year. A 23-year-old was stabbed to death outside his home in the Henveiru ward of Malé on February 21, whilst a 29-year-old was killed in Laamu Mundoo on March 20.

The MNDF meanwhile announced today that soldiers would be assisting the police in a special operation launched tonight to ensure peace and security in Malé and other regions across the country.

The security operation – launched at 6:00pm – involves checking vehicles at land, conducting inspections of vessels at sea, and stopping and searching individuals, MNDF said.

After expressing concern over the deteriorating security situation in capital Malé, the home ministry last night cancelled the annual Earth Hour activities.

The ministry asked the public not to switch off lights and cancelled two music shows.

The Ministry of Economic Development meanwhile changed the closing time of shops and restaurants to 10:00pm and 12:00am, respectively.

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India-Maldives friendship association to conduct seminar on expatriate workers

The Friendship Association of India and Maldives (FAIM) will conduct its second ‘Let’s talk’ seminar this Friday, this time covering the topic of expatriates in the Maldives.

The seminar will take place at 8:30pm this Friday (August 15) at the CHSE hall in Malé. Officials from the high commissions of India and Sri Lanka, and the consulate of the Philippines will participate in the panel discussion.

Questions tackled during the discussion will include: do we need to employ expatriates in the Maldives, does expatriate skill and labour contribute to the wellbeing of the Maldives, and does the presence of expatriates enrich the society of the Maldives?

Government estimates of the Maldives’ expatriate work report around 88,175, growing from less than 30,000 in the year 2000.

Local NGO Transparency Maldives, however, has suggested that overall figure may be closer to 200,000 and has called for greater awareness of the abuses and poor conditions many workers are facing.

The FAIM invites members of the public to attend and join the debate.

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Comment: Bangladesh and Maldives – A fractured link

Professor Selina Mohsin was Bangladesh’s High Commissioner to the Maldives between 2008 and 2010.

This article was first published in the Dhaka Tribune. Republished with permission.

In a sudden move, Maldives is closing its mission in Bangladesh on April 1. This is not an April fool’s joke but a final closure. Closure was earlier threatened in 2009, during that time, as the high commissioner of Bangladesh to Maldives, I was able to persuade the then President Nasheed to keep the mission open.

He appreciated the importance of such a bilateral link. A bond was strengthened. It is surprising that because there is a financial crunch in Maldives now, the new government is to close its mission in Bangladesh, which supplies so many migrant workers, while the one in Pakistan remains open although they supply none.

The archipelago of Maldives, renowned for its natural beauty and fabulous water villas on ultramarine blue lagoons, makes it one of the finest tourist destinations. But, behind these remarkable villas lie a dark story of the blood, sweat, tears and death of numerous workers, mostly Bangladeshis. They construct them under hazardous conditions and their lives seem dispensable. Tourism provides 28% of the GDP and 65% of the foreign exchange. It also generates 90% of the revenue from import duties.

Bangladesh has over 70,000 migrant workers in the Maldives – more than from India or Sri Lanka. They face dubious recruitment procedures, their passports are seized by unscrupulous brokers on arrival, and often wages are withheld. The work is arduous and the danger of death is quite prevalent. The situation is dreadful.

As high commissioner (2008-2010) I found that on an average one Bangladeshi worker died each week. For instance one died from poisonous fumes while cleaning a well. He was just 22 years of age. While Bangladeshi labourers were constructing a resort villa, over a lagoon, a wooden pole fell over one of them and he died from head injury. Such events occurred regularly.

There was no legal requirement for compensation but as the bodies of the deceased could not be buried without clearance from the Bangladesh mission, we were able to negotiate with the employers. It was sometimes possible to get an employer to remit $500 to the family of the deceased – a small price to pay for a human life.

It was also possible to legalise over 17,000 migrant workers, but their status was still precarious. Maldives was placed in the end of 2008 by the US State Department’s Tier Two Watch List for Human Trafficking. They identified many expatriate workers as victims of “forced labour, fraudulent recruitment, confiscation of identity and travel documents, withholding or nonpayment of wages, and debt bondage.”

Despite this, during the 15th Saarc Summit in 2008 in Colombo, the president of Maldives requested the prime minister of Bangladesh for skilled and semi-skilled workers. Consequently, the Maldives’ mission in Bangladesh could have negotiated mechanisms to regularise the recruitment procedures to ensure acceptable working conditions. While I was high commissioner, among other bilateral activities, a Cultural Agreement and an MOU on Education were finalised. A manpower MOU was being considered. All efforts were made to strengthen bonds between the two Saarc countries.

A 14-day “Festival of Bangladesh” was organised to display the cultural diversity and rich heritage of our country. It began with a forum on the historical links between the two states.

History of collaboration

Hundreds of years ago the main export of Maldives was “cowry shells” which were used as legal tender in Bengal and parts of South Asia. Boats, known as “Dhonis,” streamed through the Indian Ocean to reach the ports of Bengal, mainly Chittagong. They unloaded the cowry shells and took textiles, non-perishable foods and wooden boxes to Maldives. A Bengali princess was once a queen of that country. We displayed strong ties between the two nations that most had forgotten.

The festive music, dance, songs, and painting exhibition enthralled Maldivians. The events ended with an auction of painting produced by famous Bangladeshi artists.

Bangladesh has always been ready to lend assistance to Maldives. The Bangladeshi Army undertook relief operations within 48 hours of the 2004 tsunami. Victims received pure drinking water, patients were treated, sunken ships were recovered, relief materials distributed and hygiene conditions improved. Again in 2007, Bangladesh offered US $1m to help the flood-affected country.

Currently, Bangladesh provides 97 scholarships to students from Maldives at various medical colleges. Half of them have recently graduated and are undergoing internship training. Furthermore, 30 physicians are already in Maldives working in hospitals and clinics and 15 more doctors are being recruited. In 2012 the Republic of Maldives introduced direct flights from to Dhaka via Chennai and expressed its willingness to introduce a direct shipping link between Male and Chittagong for trade.

Bangladesh and Maldives are two of the nations most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The 2012 UN Climate Summit at DOHA acknowledged both as top countries in adaptation. Both have developed strategies and established “Climate Change Trust Funds” to combat the adverse effects of global warming. They could collaborate in international forums to make lasting impact on climate change policies.

The Maldives economy is suffering from the costs of elections and termination of the GMR airport contract gained during Nasheed’s government. It was India’s largest private investment, over US $500m. Similarly, a Tata Housing Project is facing difficulties. Clearly, decisions based on political antagonism can be counterproductive. Recently, out of desperation, President Yameen visited India for a loan of US $25m after cancelling investments from India! Quite ironic.

Now, one result of the financial constraint is the closure of the Maldives mission in Bangladesh. It is the wrong move. Diplomatic continuity is a necessity and reciprocity is essential to foster good relations with a friendly Saarc state. But countries are not always ruled by rational consideration of advantages, but often by unthinking foolhardiness.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]

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Anti-trafficking act greeted with caution by HRCM

The Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) has welcomed this week’s ratification of the Anti-trafficking act, despite reservations about the legislation itself and the state’s capacity to enforce it.

“It covers many acts of exploitation that will now be considered as offences and it also has penalties in the act for those who commit the crime of human trafficking,” said HRCM member Jeehan Mahmoud.

Earlier this week, the government announced the ratification of the bill, which had been passed in the Majlis on December 3.

Assistant Controller Ali Ashraf has also described the new legislation as “an excellent piece of work”

A President’s Office press release stated that the new legislation clearly defined human trafficking as an offence in the Maldives.

The main objectives of the Anti-Human Trafficking Act were subsequently listed as:

• Preventing trafficking of persons through and across the Maldives

• Establishing the crimes of trafficking in persons and prescribing punishments

• Providing for prosecution of perpetrators of trafficking in persons

• Providing protection and assistance to victims of human trafficking

• Promoting and protecting the human rights of trafficked victims

• Engaging in cooperation with local and international NGOs working against human trafficking

Those found guilty of human trafficking can now face up to 10 years for cases involving adults, which can be extended to up to 15 if children are involved. Accomplices to trafficking can also now receive a seven year sentence.

Both Jeehan and Ashraf, however, maintained reservations regarding the efficacy of the act in the absence of specific definitions of offences and in its failure to include human smuggling.

“We wanted to identify specific acts. In our experience, if specifics are not detailed there is a chance that the offences go without prosecution when they get to the courts,”said Jeehan.

Similarly, Ashraf noted that the failure to include the category of smuggling in the act – different to trafficking in that individuals give a measure of consent to be transported illegally – made it very likely that offenders will be able to evade prosecution.

“The definition of trafficking can be twisted so easily,” warned Ashraf.

Jeehan noted that those smuggled were as vulnerable to exploitation by their handlers as those trafficked.

International pressure

In ratifying the bill, President Yameen has fulfilled one of the recommendations given by the US State Department earlier this year to avoid a downgrade to Tier 3 – the lowest rung on the department’s scale.

Relegation to Tier 3 is reserved for states who are neither meeting the minimum requirements to eliminate trafficking, nor are making concerted efforts to do so. The State Department revealed  in June this year that, despite being spared the downgrade to Tier 3 this year, the country would be ineligible for such a reprieve in 2014.

US diplomat Luis CdeBaca – speaking at the launch of the US’s most recent human trafficking report – said that the guarantee of a downgrade had been introduced to prompt action in countries who had been “getting comfortable being on Tier 2 Watch List, doing a minimum amount.”

Jeehan argued that such international pressure had played a “key role” in paving the way for the new legislation, expressing her belief that the move will be viewed positively by international observers.

The Maldives’ downgrading from the Tier 2 watchlist – where it has remained for four years – could potentially leave it open to non-humanitarian and non-trade international sanctions.

A government-ordered report in 2011 revealed human trafficking to be the Maldives second most lucrative industry after tourism – worth an estimated US$123million a year.

The Maldives expatriate worker population is estimated by some sources to be as high as one third of the population with the majority coming from Bangladesh. Bangladeshi authorities temporarily halted worker migration to the Maldives earlier this year in order to check on worker eligibility.

Under the previous government, the Immigration Department had targeted the return of 10,000 unregistered workers by the end of 2013.

Institution building

Jeehan today noted that much work was still needed to build the capacity of state institutions in order to adequately fight trafficking.

“Very little has been done to build the capacity of state officials to counter human trafficking. One thing definitely needed is to build the capacity of state institutions,” said Jeehan.

The capacity of the country’s border control infrastructure to adequately deal with trafficking has been questioned in recent months, following the decision of the previous government to replace border control system offered by Malaysia’s Nexbis company with the US PISCES system.

During the legal wrangles that dogged the Nexbis deal from its initial agreement, the company’s Vice President suggested that groups backing the country’s lucrative human trafficking industry could be seeking to stymie the introduction of its BCS to undermine national security controls.

Ashraf stated that the capacity to meet the requirements of the new legislation was there, but that a number of amendments would be needed to make it fully workable – including special visas for trafficking victims.

“Implementation of the bill will require a lot of effort and coordination,” he added, revealing that the Department of Immigration, alongside the International Organisation for Migration, would be holding a training session for all immigration officials on December 15 for this purpose.

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Visa restrictions “signal” Maldives must address expatriate concerns: Indian High Commission

Indian authorities have said that tightened restrictions over providing medical visas to Maldivians are a “signal” for the country’s government to address a number of concerns about the nation’s treatment of migrant workers.

The Indian High Commission in the Maldives, which this month tightened rules on granting medical visas for Maldivians, has today claimed the action was taken to draw attention to fears over the treatment of workers from India by both local employers and authorities.

The High Commission has claimed that the tightened restrictions were in line with a bilateral agreement signed back in 1979 and its appropriation by Maldivian authorities in the intervening years.

The Department of Immigration and Emigration has today said it was presently working to address some of the issues raised by Indian authorities.

However, some of the High Commission’s concerns have been played down by Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed, who earlier this week dismissed allegations that Indian workers had experienced difficulties in coming to the Maldives.

Diplomatic tensions

Amidst increased diplomatic tensions between the Maldives and India in recent months, members of the public have this month found themselves queuing outside the Indian High Commission in Male’ in order to obtain visas to travel for medical treatment.

In some instances, local people have complained of queuing for over 24 hours outside the high Commission’s building in Male’ to try and get a limited number of daily tokens for obtaining an Indian medical visa.

A high commission source speaking to Minivan News today claimed that critically ill patients seeking urgent medical attention outside of the Maldives were being cleared for travel immediately, while other cases were being prioritised depending on the severity of their illness.

The source also contended that all visas given to Maldivians for travel to India were provided free of charge – a courtesy claimed to have not been extended to Indian citizens coming to the Maldives for work.

The commission spokesperson added that the introduction of the tighter regulations was in line with the visa agreement signed back in 1979 and was imposed as a clear “signal” from Indian authorities that the concerns it had over practices in the Maldives such as the confiscation of passports of migrant workers, needed to be brought to an end.

On November 26 this year, a public notice had been issued by the Maldives Immigration Department requesting no employer in the country should be holding passports of expatriate workers.

The Maldives has come under strong criticism internationally in recent years over its record in trying to prevent people trafficking, with the country appearing on the US State Department’s Tier Two Watch List for Human Trafficking three years in a row.

Back in October, a senior Indian diplomatic official in the Maldives had expressed concern over the ongoing practice of confiscating passports of migrant workers arriving to the country from across South Asia – likening the practice to slavery.

The high commission also claimed this year that skilled expatriate workers from India, employed in the Maldives education sector, had continued to be “penalised” due to both government and private sector employers failing to fulfil their responsibilities.

Meanwhile, a senior Indian medical working in the country has also alleged that expatriate professionals were regularly facing intimidation and fraud in the country from employers and some members of the public.

“Real progress”

Sources with knowledge of the High Commission’s present discussions with Maldivian authorities have nonetheless expressed hope that “real progress” was being seen in trying to address both countries’ respective grievances over the medical visa issue.

Minivan News understands that discussions were being held to ensure that aside from verbal commitments, Maldivian authorities would directly address the concerns Indian authorities held about the treatment of its citizens.

The Department of Immigration and Emigration today said it was presently working to try and resolve some of the concerns raised by the Indian High Commission over treatment of expatriates coming to work in the Maldives.

Immigration Controller Dr Mohamed Ali confirmed to Minivan News that his department was looking into issues such as Maldivian employers confiscating passports of Indian workers.

“We are working on that,” Dr Ali responded when asked if officials were working on issues such as retaining the passports of Indian Expatriates in the Maldives. The immigration chief did not clarify the exact nature of the work presently being carried out by his department on the matter.

Speaking to local media on Thursday (December 27), Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed dismissed accusations from the high commission that Indians were facing difficulties in travelling to the Maldives – as well as claims that some 50 nationals from the country had been deported this year.

Dr Jameel pointed to recent tourism ministry statistics that he said indicated 4,180 Indians had travelled to the Maldives to date this year.

“If you look at these numbers, there is ground to believe that it’s relatively easy for Indians to travel to Maldives. Moreover, the policy is the same for other neighbouring countries,” he was quoted as telling newspaper Haveeru.

Dr Jameel was presently out of the country and unable to respond to calls from Minivan News at the time of press.

However, the High Commission, in a statement released yesterday (December 28) said that the home minister had incorrectly stated figures of visitor numbers to the Maldives

“The [home minister’s] statement contains incorrect facts and figures. While it states that only 4,180 Indians have travelled to Maldives so far this year, as per statistics published by the Maldives Ministry of Tourism, 26,199 tourists from India have arrived in Maldives during the period January – November 2012,” the commission’s own statement read.

“Regarding the deportation of Indian travellers from Male’ International Airport, the High Commission of India stands by its figures. The high commission urges that the above figures may be verified and, the general public may be apprised of the correct facts.”

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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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Expatriate workers’ plights in Maldives: The Daily Star

“An uncertain fate” awaits Bangladeshi nationals coming to work in the Maldives due to a network of illegal manpower agencies operating in the two countries, Bangladesh-based The Daily Star newspaper writes.

Our migrant workers face numerous ordeals having landed in the destination countries, especially those in the Middle Eastern region, due to illegal manpower agencies.

One would naturally have expected a better situation for them in the South Asian region what with strong diplomatic ties between the SAARC countries. But contrary to our expectation, an uncertain fate awaits them even in a country such as the Maldives.

A news item carried in a leading Bangla daily tells us nearly 50 thousand Bangladeshi workers are staying miserably as illegal immigrants in the Maldives as a result of collusive practices between unauthorized manpower agencies of the two countries.

Fraudulent manpower agencies operating in the Maldives join hands with those of the unauthorised Bangladeshi agencies and procure fake work permits and promise jobs to the workers based on spurious documents.

The workers, having spent more than two lakh taka each, finally fly to the Maldives only to find out that the company which is supposed to have recruited them does not exist at all. With no legal work permit whatsoever, they become illegal immigrants and face immense discrimination at the hands of their temporary employers and constant fear of detention by the police.

Bangladeshi mission in the Maldives has revealed that it attested the work permits of only 58 workers in 2010 whereas thousands of workers went there in that year alone. It proves the unthinkable extent to which illegal workers migrate there every year.

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Fewer expatriate detainments post-visa reform

Fewer expatriates have been detained for unpaid visa fees before leaving the country since Immigration Control adapted its policy to “international standard procedure,” Immigration Controller Abdulla Shahid has said.

Previously, expatriate workers have been allowed to leave the Maldives without paying outstanding visa fees, Haveeru reports. The policy allegedly cost the Maldivian government Rf 120 million (US$7.8 million) last year.

Shahid told Haveeru that the Maldives’ former policy allowing expatriate workers to leave with outstanding visa fees was a rare case within the international community.

Immigration recently required recruitment agencies to pay visa fees for expatriate workers for a minimum of three months in a lump sum.

Shahid said that fees are non-refundable if a worker does not stay for a visa’s entire duration.

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