Maldives launches plan to combat human trafficking, content undisclosed

The government has launched today a five year strategic action plan to prevent human trafficking in Maldives, but the ministry of economic development did not disclose details of the plan.

“There will be no room for human trafficking in the Maldives. The government of President Adbulla Yameen will close all the doors open to human trafficking,” foreign minister Dunya Maumoon said at a ceremony this morning.

The action plan will improve the legal framework set by the Anti-Human Trafficking Act of 2013 by “implementing the anti-human trafficking law and putting together policies to prevent people from human trafficking,” she said.

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 US state department said foreign workers in the Maldives experience forced labor, including fraudulent recruitment, confiscation of identity and travel documents, withholding or nonpayment of wages, and debt bondage.

With the Anti-Human Trafficking Act, the Maldives avoided last year a downgrade to the state department’s lowest tier on human trafficking and possible non-humanitarian and non-trade sanctions.

In March, the government prevented foreign workers from holding a protest over a spate of fatal stabbings.

The immigration department last week said 1,953 undocumented foreign workers were identified and deported in 12 operations conducted in 2015. More than 8,800 undocumented workers were deported last year.

Economic minister Mohamed Saeed, who is the chair of the steering committee on preventing human trafficking, assured today that the government will stop abuse of foreign workers: “We cannot traffic humans. It is an inhumane act. The government of Maldives will do everything to stop it from happening. The labour industry of Maldives should not be abused. The economy of Maldives will set examples to Asia for setting exemplary standards in the labour industry.”

Minivan News requested the economic ministry for details of the plan, but it was not available at the time of going to press.

Meanwhile, commissioner of police Hussein Waheed said the police had investigated eight cases of human trafficking since the anti-trafficking law came into force.

“We have also busted a foreign human trafficking network that was openly engaging in the crime, and have deported the foreigners involved. We are also investigating the cases of Maldivians who were part of it,” he said.

The state department report, released in June 2014, said the Maldivian authorities had not prosecuted any recruiting agencies for fraudulent recruitment practices. Some victims were penalized for offences committed as a result of being trafficked, while thousands were deported without adequately screening for indications of forced labor.

But the Maldives had opened its first shelter for trafficking victims, distributed pamphlets about rights to migrant workers in a number of other languages, and blacklisted some companies for fraudulent recruitment practices.

Police and other officials require training on trafficking, and procedures to identify victims and refer them to protective services, the report said.


Comment: Migrant workers’ voice – illegal and silenced in the Maldives

As news of socio-political turmoil forces the world to shift its eyes away from the pristine beaches of its beautiful tropical islands, Maldives is losing its untainted image as a luxury tourist destination with more exposure of its appalling track record on human rights. This article looks closely at the lack of both compassion and adequate law enforcement in the Maldivian society’s (mis)treatment of the South Asian expatriate community. It highlights not just the plight of the many Bangladeshi labourers but also the increasing number of South Asian women who are becoming victims of the corrupt and prejudiced criminal justice system of the country.

In addition to the Maldivian population of approximately 330,000, there are 200,000 expatriate workers living in the country, of which a quarter does not have legal status in the country. The Maldives’ treatment of migrant workers is degrading enough for it to be called ‘modern-day slavery.’ The trade generates over US$ 123 million in illegal profits in the Maldives. Last week two Bangladeshi workers, Shaheen Mia and Kazi Bilal were brutally killed bringing to the fore, in tragic circumstances, the unheard voice of the subaltern in today’s Maldivian society.

The government on 25 March banned a planned protest against the deplorable treatment faced by expatriate workers. The protest was planned to highlight the resurgence in violent crime against the South Asian workers. The government of current President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom’s brother; Asia’s longest serving leader until August 2008, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, also criminalised a planned protest following similar racially motivated assaults in August 2007, threatening expatriates with deportation.

In addition to silencing their voices and denying them agency, the criminal justice system, primarily the Criminal Court and law enforcement authorities perpetuate injustices against the marginalised. The violation of their fundamental rights is facilitated through certain judicial actors who are untrained, uneducated and corrupt. These judges do not pay any attention to the Constitution or domestic laws or international legal instruments the Maldives has ratified. Increasingly women are becoming victims of the system.

Malékalyanam: buying brides

Rubeena Buruhanuddeen

An Indian woman was arrested night before last on allegations of infanticide and attempted suicide, raising concerns that she could be subject to the same judicial torture as Rubeena Buruhanudeen who was kept under pre-trial detention for over four years. The New Indian Express reported that Rubeena was part of a procedure known in India as ‘Malékalyanam’ in which impoverished girls from the Indian state of Kerala are married off to Maldivian men. Rubeena, married off to a Maldivian man under this procedure, ended up in pre-trial detention in the Maldives for over four years, accused of killing the child she had with her Maldivian husband.

Fareesha Abdulla, a Maldivian lawyer who took the case in 2012 on a pro-bono basis, emphasised that the investigation and remand hearings were not conducted with interpreters. “She [Rubeena] can’t understand Dhivehi, but the entire investigation was carried out without an interpreter. Maldives’ police wrote down a statement in Dhivehi and she signed it,” said the defence lawyer. “Infanticide is a serious allegation but when she requested legal aid before I took on the case, the Attorney General denied it,” Fareesha Abdulla explained further.

Before Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power, the Manmohan Singh government’s Minister for External Affairs also urged Maldives to repatriate such detainees. Modi was scheduled to visit the Maldives last month but with international concerns growing over the arrest of former President Mohamed Nasheed on 23 February 2015, took the Maldives off his tour of Indian Ocean island nations. Soon after the diplomatic brushoff, Rubeena was repatriated to India in early March.

Aminath Zara, a Nepalese woman who was fighting for custody of her child with a Maldivian succeeded only after a yearlong legal battle at the Family Court. Zara arrived in the Maldives initially in October 2009 as Tasi Telisa to work at a beauty salon as a beauty therapist. She converted to Islam in 2010. She then left the country in September 2011 and returned after marrying a Maldivian in Sri Lanka in December 2011. When the baby was three, her husband demanded Zara to go back to work; she was the sole breadwinner at times. According to Zara, the marriage came to an end due to her husband’s infidelity while she was away working.

The couple filed for a divorce at the Guraidhoo Magistrate Court in September 2013, but the proceedings and documents were all in Dhivehi, and an interpreter was not offered. The magistrate decided “disobedience” by the wife was sufficient grounds for divorce. As a result Zara became a homeless – and soon to be illegal – single mother. She filed a complaint at the Gender Ministry because her ex-husband was threatening to deport her and gain full custody of the baby. A Maldivian lawyer, Lua Shaheer, who was providing pro-bono legal assistance, said that Zara’s husband repeatedly told her “you are a foreigner, you will have no choice but to leave this country without the child.”

The Gender Ministry provided Zara with temporary accommodation for three months. At the end of the three months she moved back to the island of Guradhoo but could not stand the abuse she was subjected to. With nowhere to live, her former lawyer Lua Shaheer took Zara in to her own home. She is now represented by another lawyer, Fathmath Sama, whose firm took the case on pro-bono.

The husband was represented by Ibrahim Riza, an MP for Gayoom’s Progressive Party of Maldives. The main argument in court was that “the mother is a Buddhist, the mother’s family is Buddhist, and the child would be deprived of a Muslim upbringing.” Zara’s husband also accused her of “abandoning the baby for monetary greed.” Shaheer testified in court that Zara is a practicing Muslim. Even though Zara won custody, the verdict states she cannot leave the country without the ex-husband’s permission if she decides to leave with the baby, effectively leaving her stranded in the Maldives without a place to live.

According to the Indian High Commission in the Maldives, an Indian woman named Manyama Orsu was charged with pre-marital sex and abortion. According to the new penal code, abortions after 120 days of pregnancy are illegal, but a pregnancy caused by rape is an exception to the 120-day rule. Orsu was charged before the new penal code came into effect. The court proceedings against her went on for two and a half years. She confessed to the first charge, and the State dropped abortion charges bringing an end to her arbitrary detention, facilitating her repatriation in late March this year.

There are also reports of other foreign women held at Dhoonidhoo Island Detention Centre on allegations of prostitution, abortion and drug trafficking. Some of these women are victims of sex trafficking and trafficking in persons. But without a systematic mechanism to identify victims, or the mentality to view such individuals as victims, Maldives’ authorities exacerbate psychological and physical trauma suffered by human trafficking victims.

Two foreign women identified by police as sex trafficking victims in 2008 were provided temporary shelter before being repatriated with the help of their home country’s diplomatic mission in the capital Malé. Due to the lack of investigative infrastructure based on the problem of Trafficking in Persons, nobody was prosecuted for the crime, and the case was dropped due to “lack of evidence.”

Lack of infrastructure & lack of will

There are other instances where lack of legislation, and lack of enforcement, have hindered any efforts to tackle the problem. In 2009, a Bangladeshi man was chained inside a small room for weeks; the chains were removed only when the man was put to work. The employer was released after merely four months’ imprisonment due to lack of anti-trafficking legislation at the time.

The Maldives’ government passed anti-trafficking legislation only in 2013, motivated only by the fear of threatened international sanctions. The Bill had been in Majlis since 2011. However, expatriate workers from South Asian countries continue to be victimized under forced labour conditions notwithstanding the legislation. The US State Department’s Report on Trafficking in Persons states that ‘the [Maldivian] government does not have procedures in place to identify victims of human trafficking.’ As a result trafficked persons are further victimized by the corrupt criminal justice system. At the same time, the legal system remains highly inaccessible to foreigners, especially in relation to criminal law.

Transparency International’s local chapter provided over 560 expatriate workers with legal aid in 2014, mostly with regard to cases that consist of forced labour indicators. ‘We believe that migrant workers are the most vulnerable community in the Maldives today, they do not have access to the legal system due to the language barrier,’ Transparency Maldives’ Senior Project Coordinator for its Advocacy and Legal Advice Centre, Ahid Rasheed, has said.

‘Maldivian society in general views Bangladeshi expatriates as lower class non-citizens; harassment against them has been completely normalized. The authorities view them as the problem and not victims of discriminatory attacks and human trafficking offences.’ Highlighting a history of institutionalised xenophobia, Rasheed said ‘the latest word from the government we heard – regarding the protest – questions basic rights afforded to migrant workers, similar to how all previous governments neglected migrant workers’ grievances.’

The Maldives enacted the Employment Act in 2008, and as a Member State of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the Act harmonises domestic law of the Maldives with the principles and standards prescribed by the organisation. Independent institutions such as the Employment Tribunal and Labour Relations Authority were established through this Act. ‘Forced labour’ is prohibited and broadly defined to be any instance where there are elements of undue influence, threat, or intimidation with regards to employment. The Act also addresses discrimination at the work place and ensures both local and foreign employees right to freedom from discrimination based on race, religion, social standing, political beliefs, marital status, gender, or family obligations.

It is a common misconception that ‘human trafficking’ or ‘trafficking in persons’ requires illegal entry, similar to ‘human smuggling.’ Human trafficking sometimes begins as smuggling, can end up as exploitation and trafficking, but not all trafficking involves crossing-borders.The United Nations (UN) defines ‘trafficking in persons’ as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation or the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.

The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Convention on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution was ratified by the Maldives in May 2003; a legal instrument recognizing the importance of establishing effective regional cooperation for preventing trafficking for prostitution and for investigation, detection, interdiction, prosecution, and punishment of those responsible for such trafficking.

The ILO defines the following as elements of forced labour: withholding payment and identity documents; abusive working and living conditions; debt bondage; restriction of movement; excessive overtime; deception; isolation; physical and sexual violence; and intimidation and threats. All of which are daily grievances faced by most low-skilled expatriate workers in the Maldives.

report by the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) in February 2009[8] states that Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan and Indian nationals are detained at the Malé Immigration Detention Center, managed by the Expatriate Monitoring Center under the Department of Immigration and Emigration. Ordinarily detained for not holding a valid passport, visa or work permit. HRCM urged the Maldives to become a member of the International Convention on the Rights of All Migrant Workers (ICRMW). The national human rights committee’s report recommended development and implementation of systematic procedures for government officials to identify victims of trafficking among vulnerable groups such as undocumented migrants and women in prostitution, who are human trafficking victims. It also urged identified victims of trafficking to be provided necessary assistance and not be penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of them being trafficked.

The US State Department has consistently raised the issue of increasing debt bondage among South Asian migrant workers under its annual Trafficking in Persons report. According to its most recent report, migrant workers pay agents around US$2,000-4,000 to work in the Maldives. There have been reports that some of the 200 registered agents bring migrant workers to the Maldives under terms of employment that amount to criminal acts of deception or fraud, entangling employees in a vicious cycle of debt. The report also recommends that Maldives accede to the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons.

The government has failed at implementing enacted laws, and it appears to be using the rise in violent crime to militarize the police service, and enact legislations that strip away the protections, freedoms and liberties enshrined under the Constitution that introduced democratization to the Maldives. As the focus remains on suppressing dissent from citizens who oppose the regime, the plight of the subaltern stays at the political periphery. The Maldives has yet to fulfill the minimum standards required to eliminate human trafficking.

Human trafficking victims are regularly penalized for acts that are the result of being trafficked; excluded from the legal system; and viewed as offenders. Maldivian authorities are known to detain such victims under inhumane conditions. The real perpetrators of trafficking such as employers, officials, recruitment agents or firms are rarely brought to justice, giving full impunity to these powerful offenders who have connections to transnational organized crime. The insularity observed among majority of Maldivians is reinforced on an institutional level by denying inalienable rights that are to be afforded to all citizens and non-citizens indiscriminately. Sex trafficking, forced labour, debt bondage and other forms of exploitation do not end with enacting legislations or acceding to treaties in order to be accepted as a member of the international community. A stipulation under law is only powerful to the extent to which it is realized, and for the subaltern – without the qualification to even speak – those rights are continually denied.

Mushfique Mohamed is a practising lawyer at Hisaan, Riffath & Co., and also works as a consultant for Maldivian Democracy Network.

This article first appeared on

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].


Three Bangladeshis charged in first criminal prosecution for human trafficking

Three Bangladeshi men are on trial at the Criminal Court in the first criminal prosecution for human trafficking in the Maldives since the enactment of Anti-Human Trafficking Act in December.

The three Bangladeshi nationals identified by the court as Baadshah, Abdul Malak and M D Saim Mohla are accused of trafficking a Bangladeshi woman who arrived in the Maldives in December to work as a house maid.

The three defendants could face 10 years in jail if they are convicted.

M D Saim Mohla is also facing charges of possession of pornographic material, which were found on his phone when he was arrested.

In June, the Maldives was removed from the US State Department’s tier two watch list for human trafficking following the passage of the legislation last year.

In a report submitted to the UN Human Rights Council and made public yesterday, the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) recommended “concerted efforts” to enforce the law.

There are countless reports of exploitation of migrant workers through fraudulent recruitment practices by their agents, withholding of wages and confiscation of passports,” the report stated.

“Shelters to accommodate trafficking victims and support services are not operational. Lack of resources and capacity appear to be a challenge faced by authorities in establishment of institutional mechanisms and to implement the Anti‐Human Trafficking Act. Thus efforts to facilitate redress to victims remain disproportionate to a deteriorating situation.”

In a section on migrant workers, the HRCM noted that expatriate workers were often subjected to “inhumane conditions like being accommodated in overcrowded places which lack proper ventilation, adequate sanitary facilities and limited accessibility to water.”

“Maltreatment and negative attitudes towards migrant workers are a concern. Accessing services from [Labour Relations Authority] is a challenge for migrant workers based at atolls due to transportation difficulties as many remain reluctant to seek assistance for fear of deportation due to undocumented status.”

The HRCM also recommended ratification of the International Convention on Migrant Workers.


Maldives off US State Department trafficking watchlist

The Maldives has been removed from the US State Department’s Tier 2 watch list for human trafficking following the introduction of legislation last December.

This year’s 2014 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report – regarded as the key global measure of anti-trafficking efforts – sees the Maldives avoid relegation to Tier 3 along with the accompanying sanctions.

“The Government of Maldives does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so,” read the report.

The report – released yesterday (June 20) – saw Venezuela, Malaysia, and Thailand join 20 other countries deemed to be making no significant efforts to reduce trafficking.

Other states on Tier 3 include Zimbabwe, North Korea, Russia, Eritrea, and Saudi Arabia.

While the introduction of the Anti-trafficking Act in the Maldives was lauded, as well as the opening of the Maldives’ first shelter for trafficking victims and the first conviction for the offence, the report made a number of recommendations for further improvement.

“Serious problems in anti-trafficking law enforcement and victim protection remained,” said the TIP report, which noted that an unknown number of the approximately 200,000 expatriate workers in the country experienced forced labour.

Among the advice given in the report was the development of guidelines for public officials to “proactively identify” victims, noting that thousands of migrants have been deported recently without adequate screening for indications of trafficking.

A voluntary repatriation programme started last December for undocumented workers, while the government has pledged to detain and deport all undocumented workers in the capital Malé over the coming months.

The report called for greater efforts to ensure victims are not penalised for acts committed as a result of being trafficked as well as a systematic procedures for referring victims to care providers.

Recruitment and prosecution

It was noted that the newly introduced legislation made progress towards victim protection – including health care, shelter, counselling, and translation services, in addition to a 90-day in which victims can decide whether to assist authorities in criminal cases.

However, the report’s researchers observed that “victims were often afraid of making statements to the police because they did not believe effective action would be taken on their behalf.”

Blacklisted recruitment agencies – who often recruit migrant workers for up to US$4000 for non-existent jobs – often re-emerged under different names, the report explained.

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

“Observers reported that Maldivian firms could recruit large numbers of workers without authorities verifying the need for the number requested; this led to an oversupply of workers,” said the State Department report.

Minister of Defence and National Security Mohamed Nazim – also in charge of the Immigration Department – has previously announced that, within twelve months, recruitment quotas will only be issued to agencies rather than individuals.

Immigration Controller Hassan Ali was unavailable for comment at the time of publication.

It was also noted in the US report that authorities had again failed to criminally prosecute any labour recruitment agents or firms for fraudulent practices.

“Passport confiscation was a rampant practice by private employers and government ministries, who withheld the passports of foreign employees and victim witnesses in trafficking prosecutions the government did not prosecute any employers or officials for this offence.”

Furthermore, the State Department received reports of organised crime groups – some of whom were said to run prostitution rings – receiving political support.

Yesterday’s report also reiterated suggestions previously given to Minivan News by government officials regarding the disruption caused by the transfer of anti-trafficking efforts to the Ministry of Youth and Sports.

Questions over the state’s ability to implement the landmark legislation were evident throughout the Maldives country profile, as was the law’s failure to distinguish between smuggling and trafficking.

“Observers noted that trafficking-specific training was needed government-wide, especially for investigators, prosecutors and judges,” read the report.

The report’s final recommendation was that the Maldives acced to the UN Trafficking in Persons Protocol which supplements the 2000 Convention against Transnational Organised Crime.


Transparency Maldives highlights plight of migrant workers on May Day

Advocacy NGO Transparency Maldives (TM) has assisted 560 migrant workers with cases of non-payment of wages, poor working and housing conditions, withholding of identification documents and forced labor.

“People need to be more outraged. Migrant workers are not of our nationality, but they are human beings. Maldivians need to consider their plight, especially on May Day,” TM’s Advocacy and Communications Manager Aiman Rasheed told Minivan News.

The NGO estimates there are an estimated 200,000 migrant workers in the country – a figure that amounts to two thirds of the Maldives population.

“But migrant workers have few rights and do not have access to justice. They often face threats or violence even for speaking out about injustices,” Aiman said.

“The 560 cases we were able to assist are really the tip of the ice-berg. We need to do more. Civil society needs to do more, the government needs to do more,” he added.

In 2013, the U.S. State Department ranked Maldives on tier two of its watch list for human trafficking for the fourth consecutive year. Countries are ranked on tier two if the absolute numbers of trafficking victims are increasing and if their governments fail to take substantive measures to address the problem.

A downgrade to tier three could leave the country open to non- humanitarian and non trade international sanctions.

The State Department noted fraudulent recruitment, confiscation of identity and travel documents, withholding or non-payment of wages or debt bondages as some of the forced labor situations faced by migrant workers in the Maldives.

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 noted implementation, monitoring and enforcement of laws and regulations are crucial to prevent human trafficking.

In addition to the Anti- Trafficking Act, the Maldives has two regulations on migrant workers – the Regulations on Expatriates Working in the Maldives and the Regulation on Bringing Expatriates for the Purpose of Employment.

“Human trafficking often happens due to systematic governance failures, often caused by corruption. Corruption and human trafficking need to be addressed as a matter or urgency to prevent abuses,” Aiman said.

The NGO has called on migrant workers to call its toll free number (800) 300 3567 or visit its free legal advice center between 9 am and 5 pm on working days. The center is located on the 7th floor of MF Building on Chaandhanee Magu in Malé.

TM has helped a group of Indian workers obtain eight months’ worth of unpaid wages and assisted a Bangladeshi group restore electricity in their living quarters.

Employers had cut off electricity when the group asked for the Labor Relations Authority’s assistance in obtaining six months’ wages. The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) is now monitoring the case.

In January, the Maldives Police Services made its first arrest on charges of human trafficking. A 48 year old Maldivian and six expatriates were arrested from Baa Atoll Goidhoo island.


Maldivian arrested for the crime of human trafficking

Police have arrested a 48 year old male from the island of Goidhoo in Baa Atoll on charges of engaging in the crime of human trafficking. In addition to him, seven expatriates were also arrested under the same case.

According to police, six of the seven expatriates had been working without work permits, and the remaining one had been in hiding from the sponsor who had initially brought him into the country.

The seven expatriates – who had previously lived on the island of Fehendhoo in Baa Atoll – had been taken to Goidhoo after a notice had been released to take them under police custody.

The trafficking arrest is the first made after the ratification of the Anti Human Trafficking Act last month.


“Good response” to voluntary repatriation program

On average one hundred workers are registering for the Department of Immigration and Emigration’s ongoing voluntary repatriation program for undocumented migrant workers each day, the department has said.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Deputy CEO of of the department Abdulla Munaz said although response had been low initially, more workers are registering now with more than 250 workers requesting for registration by Monday afternoon.

The voluntary repatriation program was designed to provide an opportunity for undocumented migrant workers to return to Maldives within six months and arrange their travel documents with ease.

If undocumented workers are deported they would not be allowed to return for ten years.

The program started on 23 December and will continue till 31 December 2013, and will reopen from 5 – 6 January 2014. Registration will go on from 0900hrs – 1700hrs on these days at Dharumavantha School, Male’.

Workers will be sent back to their countries within two days of registration. Repatriation under this program is voluntary and on the workers’ own expense. The government expects to repatriate between 5,000 – 10,000 workers.

Munaz said there are some undocumented workers who are in that situation because they were mistreated by local employers, and the department will start more rigorous monitoring and taking action against locals who employ and harbor undocumented workers.

“Our goal is not to take action against as many people, but this is a national issue and we will do whatever it takes to tackle this.” Munaz said.

He said that starting from January 2014, action will be taken against employers who are reported for not paying salaries for two consecutive months.

Instead of blacklisting agencies for malpractices, the department will start to ban the person responsible for such activity from future recruitment and will work with the Labor Relations Authority and Maldives Police Service to take all necessary action against such individuals.

The Immigration Act empowers the department to fine anyone who contravenes the act with an amount not exceeding MVR 50,000/- and the Controller of Immigration is given the authority of with \holding such a person’s passport.

Under the “Work Visa Regulation” the Controller of Immigration and Emigration has the authority to deport all migrant workers employed by an employer who contravenes the regulation. And with the Anti Human Trafficking Act coming to power, agencies and employers involved in acts of trafficking, exploitation and debt bondage will face criminal charges.

A connection between increasing number of undocumented migrant workers have been suggested by the Human Right Commission of the Maldives and the US State Department who have put Maldives on their Tier Two Watch List for Human Trafficking for the fourth consecutive time this year.

The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives earlier this year expressed concern over a mass repatriation program, saying that the state should provide such workers with their due wages and compensation before sending them off. A Labor Relations Authority and a Employment Tribunal was established under the Employment Act created to address such issues.


Voluntary repatriation program announced for undocumented workers

The Department of Immigration and Emigration has announced a special repatriation program offering leniency for undocumented migrant workers who wish to return to their home countries voluntarily on their own expenses.

The program is set to begin tomorrow (December 23) and will allow migrant workers to return to the Maldives within six months of departure. However, if workers are deported, they are not allowed to come back to the Maldives for ten years.

According to the Immigration department, the purpose of the new program is to register and regulate undocumented migrant workers.

The likelihood of repatriated workers returning to the Maldives to work illegally will be slim due to increased monitoring, Deputy CEO of Immigration Abdulla Munaz told local newspaper Haveeru

Munaz said that, even if a thousand workers are sent off each month, it would take the government 35 months to send off all undocumented workers.

While there is no  official data available on undocumented migrant workers, estimates have put it as high as 44,000.

The current program’s target is to repatriate 5,000 – 10,000 workers.

Registration will take place from 23 – 31 December 2013 and 5- 6 January 2014, on all working days between 0900hrs – 1700 hrs at Dharumavantha School, Male’. Workers are to be sent home within two days of registration.

On December 5, Immigration Controller Hassan Ali announced that the institution’s biggest focus in the first 100 days of Yameen’s government would be to address the issue of illegal immigrants.

The Maldives has been on the US State Department’s Tier Two Watch List for Human Trafficking for four consecutive years. The US says the Maldives is a destination country for human trafficking, including sex trafficking, forced labor and debt bondage.

The Immigration department’s 100 day plan includes offering illegal immigrants a chance to change employees, and increasing the number of illegal immigrants who will be deported in 2014.

The immigration controller also revealed plans to re-register undocumented workers, establish an online system of obtaining work visas from Kulhudhuhfushi Island in northern Maldives and forming a single office to deal with all work related to migrant workers.

The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives has previously expressed concern over a mass repatriation program this year. The commission said the state should provide such workers with their due wages and compensation before sending them off.


IOM conducts human trafficking workshop for police and immigration officials

International Organization for Migration has commenced a Human Trafficking training workshop for Police and Immigration officials.

The four-day workshop participants will be informed on internatinal best practice on conducting investigations and dealing with victim of human trafficking. The workshop will cover both labor and sex trafficking.

Assistant Controller of Immigration Ali Ashraf informed Minivan News last week that the training would help prepare immigration officials for the recently ratified anti-trafficking bill.

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.

“Implementation of the bill will require a lot of effort and coordination,” said Ashraf.

The Maldives’ has remained on the US State Department’s Tier 2 watchlist for four years, being warned this year that only significant improvements in this area could save it from relegation to Tier 3 and potential 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.