Two arrested over murder of Bangladeshi waiter

Police have arrested two Maldivians over the murder of a Bangladeshi waiter by masked men last week which began a spate of violence against expatriate workers.

A 24-year-old man was arrested at around 9.30 pm Monday evening under a court warrant, after a 21-year-old was arrested earlier in the evening, a police statement said.

Both are being held in connection with the killing of Bangladeshi national Shaheen Mia, 25, in the early hours of March 22. The police serious and organised crime department continues to investigate.

Police media officials refused to comment on whether there are additional suspects linked to the murder.

Mia was stabbed near his workplace, Lhiyanu Café in Malé’s Western harbour district, at about 4.00am on March 22 by a group of masked men and stabbed in the chest.

The attack followed a series of repeated threats to the cafe the previous day.

Earlier, a violent confrontation had occurred between Lhiyanu Café staff and a group of young men in the early hours of Saturday morning when the expatriate workers refused to serve coffee free of charge. The group vandalized the café before they left, according to local media.

The same group came to the café at 6:00pm on Saturday and allegedly threatened to burn the place down. Staff had reported all threats to the police.

The murder was followed by a spike in violence towards migrant workers, with four expatriate workers stabbed in the following week.

Two days after Mia’s death, a Bangladeshi national identified as Bilal was found dead in Alif Alif Atoll Thoddoo, naked except for a piece of cloth around his neck.

Speaking to Minivan News at the time, Thoddoo Council’s Assistant Director Ali Adam said a suicide was “highly unlikely” as Bilal could not have strangled himself with a piece of cloth.

Following the violence, Bangladeshi workers called for a protest in front of the Bangladeshi High Commission in Malé, but the protest was cancelled after the Department of Immigration threatened to deport protesters and take action against their employers.

The Ministry of Economic Development, citing increasing violence in the capital, has changed the closing times of shops and restaurants to 10.00 pm and 12.00 am respectively.

The Home Ministry meanwhile cancelled earth hour celebrations on March 28, also citing security concerns. Despite the cancellation, a 29 year old man was stabbed in near India Gandhi Memorial Hospital.

Speaking at a ceremony to mark the 82nd anniversary of the Maldives Police Service, Home Minister Umar Naseer said that the government is preparing changes to several laws to increase police powers and remove “loopholes”.

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High Commission in Dhaka closes due to “unprecedented fiscal problems”

The Maldives High Commission in Bangladesh has closed its operations, with acting high commissioner Ahmed Adil reportedly citing “unprecedented fiscal problems”.

“Even the foreign ministry’s budget has been slashed by 40 percent,” he told the Bangladeshi media. “It’s a very big cut.”

Adil stated that despite the closure, the excellent bilateral relations Maldives and Bangladesh would continue, and that an alternative arrangement would be sought to bridge the absence of a mission in Dhaka.

An unnamed source from the commission also told the Dhaka Tribune that severe budgetary constraints had prompted the shutdown, suggesting that diplomatic services would continue to be provided from New Delhi.

In a comment piece produced earlier this week, former Bangladeshi High Commissioner to the Maldives Professor Selina Mohsin described the decision as a “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.

High Commissioner between 2008 and 2010, Mohsin argued that the Dhaka mission played an important role in strengthening the bond between the island nation and Bangladesh.

“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,” she argued.

Minivan News was awaiting a press release from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which failed to be published at the time of press.

A World Bank report produced late last year suggested that excessive state expenditure risked derailing the economy. Over seventy percent of the current budget is allocated for recurrent expenditure.

Similarly, the departing MMA governor urged the government to reduce expenditure. After proposing a record MVR17.95 billion budget in December last year – later passed – the MMA’s published response called for cuts that included a reduction in state apparatus to reflect the country’s size and income.

The Bangladeshi High Commission, opened in 2008, was one of the Maldives’ 13 overseas diplomatic missions. The country currently has embassies in China, Saudi Arabia, and Japan, with high commissions in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, India, Malaysia, Singapore, and the United Kingdom.

The country also has permanent missions representing the country in Brussels, Geneva, and New York.

Estimates of migrant workers currently in the Maldives range from 70,000 to as high as 110,000 with undocumented workers estimated to be as high as 44,000.

Employment trafficking scams and fraudulent recruitment it is nearly impossible to reach a conclusive number.

The Department of Immigration and Emigration recently revealed that, in an effort to curb the numbers of illegal workers, it is strengthening action taken against those who employ or provide housing for undocumented migrant individuals.

It was also revealed that a voluntary repatriation scheme for undocumented workers had seen 4,400 workers out of 5,134 that registered for the programme leaving the Maldives since December.

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Military consolidation expected to dominate Defence Minister Nazim’s India visit

Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim is expected to commence talks today with his Indian counterpart on strengthening military ties between the two nations.  The talks will be the most senior meeting of ministers between the two countries since reports of bilateral tensions earlier this year, according to the Times of India.

As part of his visit to India, Nazim is expected to meet with Indian Defence Minister Shri A K Anthony to discuss establishing further defence collaboration, as well as the possibility of extending Indian coastal radar systems across the Maldives.

Nazim’s visit comes after Defence Minister Anthony travelled to the Maldives last year to open the ‘SenaHiya’ Military Hospital in Male’, where he spoke of expanding cooperation on naval security and preventing drug trafficking.

The ceremony in September 2012, was held at a time when international media was playing up a perceived strengthening of relations between the Maldives and China, drawing attention to the potential geopolitical implications for neighbouring India.

According to the Times of India, Nazim is the first senior government minister to visit the India since the country was accused of becoming embroiled in the Maldives’ domestic politics earlier this year.

Both Nazim and President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad were not responding to calls from Minivan News as time of press.

Reported tensions

Back in February, Maldives political figures from several government-aligned parties criticised the Indian High Commission after former President Nasheed was allowed to seek refuge on its premises from police seeking to present him to the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court.

Nasheed remained in the high commission’s chancery building on Sosun Magu in Male’ for 11 consecutive days, maintaining that charges against him for detaining a chief Criminal Court Judge were a politically motivated attempt to prevent him from contesting in presidential elections scheduled for this year.

Indian officials at the time rejected accusations of taking sides in the country’s domestic affairs, maintaining that India only favoured “inclusive elections”.

After Nasheed was allowed into the building, Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel implied through social media that India was meddling in the Maldives’ internal affairs, stating at the time: “What’s happening now gives us an indication of the extent and level of interest some countries prepared to take in our internal matters”.

“I would strongly urge everyone to let our institutions deal with the challenges, allow Maldives to uphold rule of law,” he tweeted.

Just a month before Nasheed went into the high commission building, Maldivian authorities denied that the country’s foreign minister had been snubbed by the Indian government after it rejected an official request to meet.

The reported snub came as Maldivian local media were issued a list of 11 grievances from the Indian High Commission concerning the treatment of Indian nationals in the country.

“Unshakable” relationship

However, the new Indian High Commissioner to the Maldives Rajeev Shahare last week emphasised the “unshakable” long-standing relationship between between both countries during a meeting with local media (April 10).

Shahare at the time stressed there had been no change in the relationship between the Maldives and India, despite media reports of increased tension between both nations.

“In any relationship there are highs and lows, but the relationship carries on its course normally,” he said.  “Engagement between the Maldives and India has been constant. We are pretty much on course.”

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Nasheed leaves Indian High Commission, states “desire for stability”

Additional reporting by Mohamed Naahii, Leah Malone

Former President Mohamed Nasheed left the Indian High Commission on Saturday afternoon after seeking “refuge” from police seeking to present him to the Hulhumale Magistrate Court.

Nasheed has maintained that the charges against him – of detaining the Chief Criminal Court Judge during his final days in office – are a politically-motivated effort to prevent him contesting the 2013 elections.

After 11 consecutive days inside the High Commission, Nasheed emerged and was greeted by approximately 600 Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supporters at a press conference in the Dharubaaruge exhibition hall, across the street from the party’s former protest site at Usfasgandu.

Nasheed emphasised his desire for stability to be restored, following eight days of continuous protests by the MDP, dozens of police arrests, and a violent attack on a Maldivian journalist.

“I have been in the Indian High Commission for the last 11 days and now I have come out with the understanding that I will be able to conduct my peaceful political activities and my normal social life.

“I hope and I believe that this will bring much stability to the very volatile nature of Maldivian politics and our society today. I hope that all the stakeholders all actors will bear in mind that we will have to have a peaceful election and to do that we will all have to forego whatever we have to.

“It is always my wish that democracy is consolidated in the Maldives. It is always my wish that we have a more prosperous life,” Nasheed stated.

MDP supporters were heard cheering during the press conference following Nasheed’s statements.

Nasheed was greeted with joyful applause, chants of “Anni”, and was surrounded by a throng of supporters as he exited the building to give a speech near Usfasgandu.

Nasheed claimed his decision to seek refuge in the Indian High Commission was not pre-planned during his recent visit to the country.

“We are living in a very vibrant period of time. We are never certain when we will get arrested or when we will be released from custody. This is not something faced by myself alone. But the biggest attacks are targeted against me,” he said.

“I believe the danger posed towards me is far graver than others. I have faced more attacks than any other person possible could have faced. But we all should understand that our safety lies at the hands of almighty Allah. We maintain that protection by seeking courage from each other,” he added.

The former President also contended that leaders of all political parties should get the opportunity to compete in the upcoming presidential elections peacefully.

“I came out of the Indian High Commission because I believe I can now carry out political activities and that I too could take part in social activities in the country. My wish has always been that Maldives remains a democracy,” he said.

“I thank the Indian people and its High Commission. I do also thank the people of the Maldives and supporters of MDP. What is now important is that we win the next presidential elections,” he said.

Nasheed repeated his statement that the MDP would contest in the upcoming presidential elections and re-establish its government in the country.

“I believe that the presidential elections will not proceed without all political party leaders being able to fairly compete in it,” he said.

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has said it will boycott the elections should its presidential candidate Nasheed – who was been elected through a direct vote from its members – be barred from contesting in the elections.

Nasheed also expressed sadness over the brutal attack against Raajje TV News Head Ibrahim ‘Aswad’ Waheed last night, who is currently fighting for his life in a Sri Lankan hospital.

“I take part in the grieving of the brutal attack on Aswaad. Attacks on journalists hinder our development [as a society]. That is an attack on us, the people. I really do hope that we let go of such vindictive acts and focus on our development and that all of us can compete in the elections,” he said..

Highlighting on the flaws within the judiciary, Nasheed said that he believed that judicial reforms could be “achieved through dialogue and negotiations”.

He also said that delaying his ongoing trial “would not compromise anyone’s rights” and that it was important the next presidential election was “inclusive”.

His short speech was followed by an MDP march around Male’ in support of Nasheed, calling on citizens to support “independent news” following the attack violent on a Raajje TV journalist in the early hours of Saturday (February 23).

Speaking to the Press Trust of India, President’s Office Spokesperson Masood Imad said  the government “welcomes” the development, and that there was no arrest warrant against Nasheed at present.

“I am happy that the longest meeting in the world has ended. We were formally told by the High Commission on the first day that Nasheed had come into the Mission for a meeting and will be out once it is over,” Masood told PTI.

Indian diplomatic efforts

The Indian High Commission expressed hope that Nasheed “will again resume his social and political life.”

“India would be happy to support all efforts to create favourable conditions for free, fair, credible and inclusive Presidential elections in September 2013 that can contribute to durable peace, stability and prosperity in Maldives and the region,” the High Commission said in a statement.

Nasheed’s departure from the protected diplomatic territory – which prevented police from acting on two court warrants for his arrest – follows a series of meetings by Joint Secretary of India’s Ministry of External Affairs Shri Harsh Vardhan Shringla.

“These interactions have provided some forward movement and the team continues to work further on the available inputs so that the matter could be resolved to satisfaction,” the High Commission stated on Friday, despite various reports in Indian media that President Mohamed Waheed had been unable to meet with the delegation due to his “very busy schedule”.

No information has yet emerged as to whether Nasheed’s exit from the High Commission is related to a specific commitment from the government or Nasheed’s political opponents not to pursue charges against him, ahead of the September 7 presidential elections.

The saga has however led to widespread international backing, including from the UN, US, UK, Commonwealth and EU, that the presidential elections be “inclusive” and that all parties are able to put forward the candidates of their choice in the upcoming elections.

Nasheed’s press conference after leaving the Indian High Commission:

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Local media “misrepresenting and twisting issues”: Indian High Commission

The Indian High Commission has issued a statement 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.

“These reports have the potential to create negative public sentiment and reflect a non-serious approach by the media concerned while dealing with sensitive issues,” the statement added.

The statement highlighted several recent examples, such as coverage of the Maldivian national Ahmed Ruffan Ali, who was reported as alleging he had been “tortured” in an Indian jail after being detained for illegally smuggling peacock feathers.

“The High Commission facilitated major help and assistance for the release of the youth while in distress in India,” the statement read.

“While prominently covering the unsubstantiated and motivated statement of the sentenced youth, the media concerned did not verify the facts from the High Commission and chose to overlook the statement of the youth. His subsequent rejoinder that he was not ‘tortured’ in India has not been carried by the media, so far.”

In a rejoinder statement forwarded by the High Commission, Rufwaan expresses “deep regret” that in an article on Sun Online, “using the word ‘tortured’ is a misrepresentation made in translation of the original statement I made on January 26, speaking to the media at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA), upon arrival from India.”

Rufwaan said he had been asked by reporters as to whether he was beaten in custody, to which he “regretfully responded, “It is a jail after all, and we will get beaten. Yes I was beaten. The rules of the officers there is that, once jailed we have to beg for mercy at their feet. I refused to do that, which is why I got the beating.”

However, Rufwaan stated, “Using the word ‘torture’ insinuates that I was exposed to extreme violent treatment which was not the case. It is also the ‘cultural’ language barrier that the Dhivehi language consists of limited vocabulary which when translated to English, can fit to a variety of synonyms.

“Also, the lack of literary expertise in linguistics of the journalists can often provide misleading information and I believe this could have caused this mistake. The concerned media has taken it very lightly and when requested to correct it, responded as ‘I’ll give it a thought’,” he added.

“Hence I kindly apologise to all concerned authorities for the unfortunate choice of word used in the article, which in my understanding, creates a far more negative and graphic image of how I intended to express,” he said, expressing “profound appreciation” for the High Commission’s “constant support and assistance” throughout his detention.

Editor of Sun and head of the Maldives Journalists Association, Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir, told Minivan News that the specific word Rufwaan had used, “aniyaa”, translated to “torture”, according to Sun’s audio recordings.

“We [later] received a call, not from him, but from somebody on his behalf,” said Hiriga, acknowledging that media had a responsibility to issue a clarification or correction if this was later required. “We will be making the correction. We do not want to create any problems.”

In a second example, the High Commission highlighted a report in a daily newspaper titled “India to stop export of sand, rice to Maldives”.

“The report is grossly unsubstantiated and does not provide any credible source of its information. As far as the High Commission is aware, the government of India has taken no such decision to ban export of rice or river sand to Maldives. There is a local court injunction for the export of river sand from Tuticorin, though the importers are free to source it from any other region/state in India,” the Indian High Commission stated.

Sun Online carried a story today that the State Trading Organisation (STO) had decided to import aggregate from Bangladesh and Sri Lanka “following a temporary suspension of export of aggregate from India.”

“The Maldives has been importing aggregate from India under a special quota extended by the Indian government. The Indian Ministry of Commerce has notified Indian suppliers that the aggregate quota has been temporarily suspended from the 15th of January onwards,” Sun reported.

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Maldivian and Indian officials deny reported agreement to address “consular issues”

Additional reporting by Neil Merrett

Indian and Maldivian authorities have both denied media reports that an agreement has been reached on relaxing visa restrictions for Maldivians entering India.

The Indian High Commission in the Maldives today said it has not been made aware of any new agreements with Maldives authorities over amending visa restrictions, despite discussions continuing between the two nations to address “consular concerns”.

Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali also stressed that he was unaware of any official agreement being made to address the concerns raised by Indian officials.

Local media reported today that the Maldives had “agreed” to conditions set out by India in order to relax the conditions recently imposed on Maldivian nationals wishing to obtain a visa.

A spokesperson for the High Commission confirmed to Minivan News that discussions were being held with the Maldives Ministry of Foreign Affairs to address respective concerns raised by both nations.

The Indian High Commission maintained that these discussions with Maldivian officials were “not about conditions”, but rather working to address concerns held by both sides.

“We have a long and cordial relationship with the Maldives that is not based on conditions,” a source at the commission said.

State Foreign Minister Hassan Saeed, speaking during parliament’s Government Accountability Committee on Monday (January 28), said cabinet had decided to find a resolution to issues put forward by India.

“[India] had asked to resolve seven issues. Mostly they highlighted the issues faced by the 30,000 Indians in the Maldives,” he said.

“After the discussions at the President’s Office, we are currently trying to solve these issues,” Hassan was quoted as saying in local media.

During the committee meeting, Foreign Minister Abdul Samad Abdulla said Indian government officials had hinted at the relaxation of the present visa restrictions should the Maldives government agree to extradite its Indian prisoners.

“We have received various signals that the visa issue can be resolved if an agreement can be reached over the Indian prisoners in Maldives,” Samad told local media.

“Moreover, when the Indian media reports on the Indian prisoners in our jails, the officials in the Maldives High Commission in India face various pressures.”

Speaking during India’s Republic Day ceremony in Male’ on Friday, Indian High Commissioner Dnyaneshwar M Mulay pointedly conveyed greetings “to those Indian expatriates who are in Maldivian jails”.

Amd rising diplomatic tensions with its neighbour, Maldivian nationals have found themselves queuing outside the Indian High Commission in Male’ to obtain medical and other visas for travel to India.

Consular issues

The Indian High Commission in the Maldives said among the concerns raised with the government were 11 consular issues relating to the treatment of Indian expatriates in the Maldives.

These included discrimination against Indian expatriates, the keeping of passports of Indian nationals by employers and government agencies, and the exploitation of Indian workers.

“Discussions on addressing these matters are ongoing and we do hope to find resolutions from both sides soon,” said a spokesperson for the commission.

Indian authorities late last month said tightened restrictions imposed at the time on providing medical visas to Maldivians were a “signal” for the country’s government to address concerns about the nation’s treatment of migrant workers.

The Maldives has been on the US State Department’s Tier 2 watch list for human trafficking three years in a row, only narrowly avoiding tier 3 in 2011 due to promises by the former government to resolve the matter.

A lapsed police investigation into labour trafficking in the Maldives in July 2011 uncovered an industry worth an estimated US$123 million, eclipsing fishing (US$46 million in 2007) as the second greatest contributor of foreign currency to the Maldivian economy after tourism.

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MDP supporters target follow-up Colombo protest

Sri Lanka-based supporters of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) have announced plans to protest outside the Maldives High Commission in the capital of Colombo tomorrow afternoon.

Organisers of the demonstration, which will be held between 4:00pm and 6:00pm outside the High Commission building on Melbourne Avenue, have claimed that hundreds of Maldivian expatriates and MDP supporters are expected to be in attendance.

The demonstration will focus on condemning the government of President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan, which the party contends came to power in a “coup”, for not facilitating early elections this year, as well as drawing attention to alleged examples of brutality conducted by police and military under the present administration.

The protest will also reportedly “express solidarity with friendly nations” and organisations like the Commonwealth.

The intergovernmental organisation, along with the EU, has called for elections to be held before the end of 2012 as a means to restore political stability to the country.

The Commonwealth had also asserted pressure on the Maldives government to reconstitute the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) set up by President Waheed to probe the circumstances behind February’s controversial transfer of power.

Tomorrow’s protest comes one month on from a similar demonstration held by the MDP in Colombo.  Local media at the time reported that a “few dozen” demonstrators had been in attendance during the previous High Commission protest.

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“Discrepancies” prompt MNDF to oversee IT upgrade to curb labour trafficking

The Maldives will not become “a nest for human trafficking”, President Mohamed Nasheed pledged during his weekly radio address, although he acknowledged “many failures in the efforts by government agencies to maintain expatriate records.”

Speaking during his weekly radio address, Nasheed said there were discrepancies between the numbers of expatriate workers reported by the Human Resources, Youth and Sports and the Department of Immigration and Emigration.

The Human Resources Ministry claimed there were 74,000 foreign workers in the country, Nasheed said, while records at the Department of Immigration said there were 94,000 – suggesting that at least six percent of the country’s population is unaccounted for.

Nasheed said the government estimated that 40,000 expatriates in the country were working illegally. The situation had reached “an alarming level”, he said, “due to failure to investigate illegal workers, and lack of a systematic approach to [monitor] arrivals, employment and living conditions of expatriates.”

The President said he had tasked the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) with overseeing the upgrade of IT and infrastructure at both the Human Resources Ministry and the Immigration Department.

He also announced the launch of a special police investigation into “any unlawful activity that might have led to the increasing number of illegal workers.”

“We will do everything possible to make the Maldives a country that respects human dignity, and ensure all Maldivians respect human rights and pursue a civilised lifestyle,” Nasheed said.

The government has placed greater urgency on addressing the problem of labour trafficking amid wider concerns over the health of the economy – particularly the foreign currency shortage. One report from the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) estimates that every expatriate worker remits US$100 per month to their families back home, for a total drain of US$8 million every month – a greater amount than the country earns from its new Tourism Goods and Services Tax.

By far the greatest number of expatriate labourers in the country are Bangladeshi nationals, and to a much lesser extent, Sri Lanka.

Former High Commissioner of Bangladesh Professor Selia Mohsin told Minivan News last year that 40 Bangladeshi nationals were arriving at the High Commission’s reception desk daily, “having come to the Maldives and found they have nothing to do”. She claimed that unscrupulous employment brokers in both countries were exploiting potentially hundreds of millions of dollars a year from illiterate and uneducated rural Bangladeshi families desperate for better opportunities.

Under Maldivian law, foreign workers arriving in the Maldives must have a work permit issued by the Immigration Department. This is obtained through an employer or agent, who must first request a foreign worker quota from the Ministry of Trade and Human Resources.

“The Maldivian [side] gets into connection with the Bangladeshi brokers, gets a business permit from the Ministry of Human Resources, says they want to recruit and gets a quota for more workers than they require – if they require any at all – and then ask a Bangladeshi counterpart to bring in the workers,” Professor Mohsin told Minivan News last year.

Brokers charged individual workers up to US$4000 to arrange their employment in the Maldives, she said, explaining that in many cases the family home and land was sold or mortgaged to raise this fee, split two-thirds in favour of the Maldivian broker.

One case that arrived on her desk – an application approved by the Ministry of Human Resources – was a request for 1800 workers for an unspecified construction project.

“Those people would have come [to Male’] had I not checked. Had I not done it, 1800 people would have sold their homes and become delinquent in the Maldives. This did not bother a Maldivian broker,” she said at the time. “Hell is not good enough for the people who are doing this.”

More recently, Immigration Controller Abdulla Shahid revealed that Bangladeshi nationals will be issued work visas by the Maldives High Commission in the national capital of Dhaka, in an attempt to address booming numbers of workers arriving in the country. These workers would require additional documents verified and issued in Bangladesh before their work visas and ID cards could be issued in the Maldives.

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Dhaka Embassy to issue Maldives work visas pre-arrival in trafficking reduction effort

Bangladeshi nationals will be issued work visas by the Maldives High Commission in the national capital of Dhaka, in an attempt to address booming numbers of workers arriving in the country.

Immigration Controller Abdulla Shahid told Minivan News that Bangladeshi workers would require additional documents verified and issued in Bangladesh before their work visas and ID cards could be issued in the Maldives.

Following the cabinet decision to implement the changes on Tuesday (June 7), Minivan News understands that the government will outline the particulars of the new system during a press conference early next week.

Newspaper Haveeru reported that the decision would also include a programme to identify and deport illegal workers currently in the country.

Shahid has previously estimated that the number of expatriate workers in the Maldives would reach 100,000 in June – a third of the population. The government has no figures, but estimates that up to half that number may be illegal.

The high percentage of foreign workers relative to the Maldives’ foreign currency income has forced the government to confront the country’s heavy reliance on expatriate labour as part of wider economic reforms.

recent report by economics lecturer and Assistant Manger of the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA)’s Monetary policy and Research Division, Ibrahim Ameer, estimated that each expatriate worker was remitting US$100 per month to their families back home.

Ameer estimated that this was draining the country of US$8 million in foreign currency every month – in comparison, a greater amount than the country was earning from the Tourism GST.

Stopping traffic

Former Bangladeshi High Commissioner Professor Selina Mohsin told Minivan News last year that 40 Bangladeshi nationals were arriving at reception daily, “having come to the Maldives and found they have nothing to do.”

In early 2010, as an experiment, Professor Mohsin stopped attesting work permit requests and observed that this hardly dented arrivals.

Under Maldivian law, foreign workers arriving in the Maldives must have a work permit issued by the Immigration Department. This is obtained through an employer or agent, who must first request a foreign worker quota from the Ministry of Trade and Human Resources.

“The Maldivian [side] gets into connection with the Bangladeshi brokers, gets a business permit from the Ministry of Human Resources, says they want to recruit and gets a quota for more workers than they require – if they require any at all – and then ask a Bangladeshi counterpart to bring in the workers,” Professor Mohsin said in an earlier interview with Minivan News, explaining that brokers would then charge individual workers between up to US$4000 to arrange their employment in the Maldives.

In many cases the family home and land was sold or mortgaged to raise this fee, split two-thirds in favour of the Maldivian broker.

One application that arrived on her desk – approved by the Ministry of Human Resources – was a request for 1800 workers for an unspecified construction project.

“Those people would have come [to Male’] had I not checked. Had I not done it, 1800 people would have sold their homes and become delinquent in the Maldives. This did not bother a Maldivian broker. Hell is not good enough for the people who are doing this,” Professor Mohsin told Minivan News at the time.

One broker investigated last year by Bangladeshi authorities was thought to be involved in a labour trafficking operation to the Maldives worth upwards of US$3.6 million.

Shahid acknowledged that the forging of documents in both the Immigration Department and the Human Resources Ministry was the subject of an ongoing police investigation.

The new requirements would not impact the Maldives’ policy of issuing tourist visas on arrival, he said, as this was already policed by requiring visitors to have a pre-existing hotel reservation.

Meanwhile, immigration authorities today arrested three people for attempting to leave the country on fake passports, including a Malaysian man, a Chinese woman and her 18 year old son.

Haveeru reported that the Malayisan man was believed to have arranged false Taiwanese passports for the other two passengers that were arrested.

Police said the matter was a suspected case of human trafficking.

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