Police dogs to be used at airport and seaports

Police are planning to conduct operations to combat drug smuggling using its new dog squad at the country’s airports and seaports.

The Maldives Police Service signed Memorandums of Understanding with the ports authority, airports company, immigration department, and the customs authority yesterday to use the sniffer dogs to locate drugs.

The MoUs outline mechanisms for relaying information, conducting joint operations, and sharing resources, according to police.

In an exclusive interview with Minivan News last year, home minister Umar Naseer said tackling the country’s entrenched drug problem was his main priority and vowed to “seal” the gateways to the Maldives.


Two immigration officers and Afrasheem murder suspect among group of twelve jihadis

Two immigration officers and a suspect in the brutal murder of MP Dr Afrasheem Ali are among a group of twelve Maldivians to travel to Syria for jihad, reliable sources have told Minivan News.

Afrasheem murder suspect, Azlif Rauf of Henveiru Hilton, left to Turkey with six members of Malé’s Kuda Henveiru gang four days ago, sources have said. They have now crossed the border into Syria.

The two immigration officers were among a group of six individuals who traveled to Syria on December 27. The five included two women and a one year old infant.

Azlif’s group also included an individual arrested over the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan, one man arrested for issuing a death threat, one man classified by the police as a dangerous criminal, and three men with criminal records, local media have reported.

The Maldives Police Services declined to comment on the report.

According to Haveeru, Azlif had attempted to take his pregnant wife, one-year-old son and four-year-old daughter with him, but his wife’s family had prevented them from accompanying him.

Hussain Humam Ahmed, now serving a life sentence over the Afrasheem murder, named Azlif and five others in the organising of the killing in October 2012. Humam later retracted the confession claiming it had come under duress.

The police have forwarded accomplice to murder charges against Azlif to the Prosecutor General’s Office, but charges have not yet been filed at the Criminal Court.

The Criminal Court in December fined Azlif and ordered him to pay back a MVR50,000 loan to the Bank of Maldives.

An investigative report published by Maldivian Democratic Network (MDN) identified Azlif’s brother Arlif Rauf as the owner of a red car which may have been used in an abduction reported on the night Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan disappeared.

Eyewitnesses told Minivan News they saw a man being forced into a red car at knifepoint in front of Rilwan’s apartment building around the time he would have reached home on August 8.

According to MDN’s report, police were investigating Arlif’s car for having been illegally imported to Hulhumalé on August 4, and returned to Malé sometime between August 13 – 15.

It also suggested gang leaders had been exposed to radical Islam during incarceration in prison, saying that they openly supported the actions of the Islamic State in Iraq and recruited jihadists for the war in Syria and Iraq.

Last month, Home Minister Umar Naseer reported that there are more than seven Maldivians fighting in foreign civil wars.

In November, a jihadist media group called Bilad Al Sham Media (BASM) – which describes itself as ‘Maldivians in Syria’ – revealed that a fifth Maldivian had died in Syria.

BASM had made a threat to Rilwan shortly before his disappearance in which they stated ‘his days were short’.

Earlier in November, Sri Lankan police detained three Maldivians who were allegedly preparing to travel to Syria through Turkey.

The incident followed reports of a couple from Fuvahmulah and a family of four from Meedhoo in Raa Atoll travelling to militant organisation Islamic State-held (IS) territories.

This article previously incorrectly stated two immigration officers were among the group of seven Maldivians to travel to jihad in January. The officers were in fact among a group of six who traveled to Syria in December.

Related to this story

Six Maldivians reported as latest to travel for jihad, taking one-year-old infant

More than seven Maldivians fighting in foreign civil wars, reveals home minister

MDN investigation implicates radicalised gangs in Rilwan’s disappearance

Police detain Maldivian jihadis caught in Sri Lanka


Immigration department discontinues quota for house maids

The department of immigration has temporarily ceased issuing quotas to employment agencies for bringing in expatriate house maids or domestic servants.

According to local media, the department would not be issuing employment approval for house maids from August 21 to November 30 as part of efforts to clamp down on illegal immigrants.

The move follows a freeze on issuing quotas for farmers, tailors and barbers earlier this month.

An immigration official told newspaper Haveeru that house maids were often thrown out by their employers.

“These immigrants survive by doing odd jobs and any other kind of work they can find. Most of these immigrants have come as housemaids. Identifying the vocation with other vocations that may facilitate human trafficking, we have decided to discontinue allowing quota for housemaids even. This move will restrict illegal immigration,” the official was quoted as saying.

He added that the restriction would encourage hiring Maldivians for vacancies.

The immigration department deported 6,400 undocumented workers between January and July this year.

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


Law amended to prevent passports being held without court orders

Parliament has passed an amendment altering the immigration law to prevent the holding of passports without a court order.

The amendment was submitted by ruling Progressive Party of Maldives MP Ibrahim Riza, and was passed by a total of 65 votes.

Under the amendment, Article 5(b) of the Immigration Act has been made void.

Article 5(b) of the current Immigration Act stipulates that a passport can be held for a maximum of seven days on request of the police authorities even without a court order. If passports are to be held for a period extending seven days, it must be done so under a court order.

A police media official stated that the change in law will not present any difficulties to the services as their normal procedure is to obtain court orders before requesting that any passports be held or travel bans imposed.


Passports of four men held in connection with Rilwan abduction

Minivan News understands that the Maldives Police Service (MPS) has requested immigration services withhold the passports of four individuals in relation to the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan.

The news marks the first confirmation of progress in the search for the 28-year-old, missing for 19 days. The case is widely regarded as being the most complicated investigation ever faced by the service.

Further details of the police’s investigation have not been made public, although local news outlet Raajje.mv has reported the men under suspicion to be aged between 20 and 25-years-old. Two are reported to be from Gaaf Alifu Thinadhoo, one from Fuvahmulah, and a fourth man from Malé.

Immigration officials were not able to comment on these reports at the time of publication.

Rilwan was last seen on the 1am ferry to Hulhumalé on August 8, shortly before a man fitting his description was seen being forced into a vehicle directly outside Rilwan’s apartment.

Local media are also reporting that a vehicle was taken into police custody last week in relation to the incident.

Minivan News observed several men acting suspiciously in the Malé ferry terminal at the time of Rilwan’s appearance on CCTV footage at 12:44am, August 8.

With public criticism of the police’s investigation growing, the MPS has publicly accused both the family and media outlets of hindering its search efforts.

The family has offered a reward for information leading to the finding of Rilwan, with the figure raised to MVR200,000 yesterday.

Earlier this week, Rilwan’s mother gave an impassioned plea during a demonstration outside the People’s Majlis following the presentation of a letter urging MP’s help in the search.

“Please don’t do this. Help us. Please. I don’t know where he is. I do not know if he is alive. I do not know if he is dead,” Aminath Easa, 67-years-old, begged authorities.

With three days left before the parliament goes into recess, the Majlis has yet to take firm action on the journalist’s unprecedented disappearance, despite the issue being lodged in three separate committees.

After an urgent motion from Maldivian Democratic Party MP Imthiyaz Fahmy was resoundingly approved last week, with MPs subsequently calling for a speedy investigation.

MDP MP Ibrahim Shareef said he did not believe that lack of progress in investigating either the death threats or Rilwan’s disappearance was “a coincidence.”

MP Inthi himself reported receiving a death threat immediately after submitting the motion yesterday, while members of Rilwan’s family have reported intimidation while conducting their own search efforts.


Immigration deports 6,400 undocumented workers, holds 159 in detention

The Department of Immigration and Emigration deported 6,400 migrant workers between January and July and is currently holding 159 workers in detention.

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

“This is not just a programme we carry out for this period, it will be a continuous process,” said Controller of Immigration Hassan Ali, who also promises action against employers.

“We have been warning about this for several years now, but there will be no warning anymore. We are taking action.”

The controller has made assurances that immigration staff are aware of the risk of deporting trafficking victims, and said that no legal rights were being infringed upon during the detention of migrant workers.

He urged small businesses to ensure recruitment agencies provide the correct information to migrant workers prior to their arrival. He also revealed long term plans to check company immigration records before awarding government contracts.

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

In December 2013 the department also conducted a voluntary repatriation program to allow for the regularisation of workers through easier documentation processes and the option to return legally after six months.

Those detained under the current programme are deported as soon as possible, and will be unable to return to the Maldives within the next ten years.

Their documents are arranged through their respective foreign offices and the travel fare is arranged with money deposited at the department prior to their arrival, or through their employers.

Trafficking risk

The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) has previously expressed concern over the programme, stating that victims of human trafficking may also be deported.

While the national anti-trafficking steering committee established under the new Anti-Trafficking Act has drafted a national guideline of internationally accepted standards, it is yet to be approved and used at a national level.

“No, we do not have such a standard at the moment,” Hassan Ali told Minivan News this week.

“However, our staff have taken part in programmes conducted by organisations like IOM [International Organization for Migration] and ILO [International Labor Organization] on human trafficking. They are well aware of indicators of trafficking and have identified some cases and forwarded those to the police,” the controller continued.

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

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


Until deportation, most workers are detained at Hulhumalé prison, or sometimes in the police custodial centers, the immigration department explained.

Hulhumalé prison, which also holds a number of convicted criminals, is being used as a detention facility for undocumented workers as the immigration department lacks its own facility.

Article 48 of the Constitution outlines rights of a person during arrest or detention – rights extended to immigrants – which include the right to an attorney, and to be brought before a judge within 24 hours to determine the validity of the detention.

Referring to the phrasing of the article, which states that only “a person detained for being accused of a crime” has the right be brought before a judge, Hassan said it does not apply to immigration detention of undocumented workers.

“I don’t even want to call this detention. We are sending them back as soon as we can, sometimes immediately, sometimes within a day. But sometimes it takes longer than that,” he said.

He added that the department was authorised under the Immigration Act and the Parole Act.

Article 21 of the Immigration Act states that it is unlawful for anyone without proper documentation to remain in the Maldives, authorising the controller to detain such persons, at a place of his choosing, until deportation.

Prominent lawyers have noted that, while the detention is valid, it is important to ensure it does not extend beyond a reasonable period of time and that the  HRCM should ensure their rights are guaranteed during that period.

Minivan News understands the Hulhumalé Prison was recently visited by HRCM, who are mandated to monitor places of detention under the Human Rights Commission Act, the Anti-Torture Act, and the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture.


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.


Immigration department to suspend services for tax evaders

The Department of Immigration and Emigration will suspend services for companies who fail to pay taxes starting on June 1.

The office will suspend issuing quotas to bring in expatriate workers, employment approvals for expatriate workers, business visas, and refund of security deposits for expatriate workers if a company or individual has pending payments, said a press release by the Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA) on Thursday.

These measures will only be taken if the company or individuals fail to pay MIRA on repeated warnings, or if the party refuses to make payments or if the party is wanted for tax evasion.

The measures will be dropped as soon as the required payments are made, MIRA said.


Addu City Council launches search for illegal expatriate workers

Addu City Council has started a major operation to locate illegal expatriate workers in the city as of yesterday (May 13).

The council has teamed up with the army, police, and immigration department to conduct a weekly operation in all the islands, according to local media Haveeru.

Mohamed Fathuhy, an official from the immigration department in Addu, said the operation was initiated due to various complaints received about the illegal immigrants in the city.

“We have received a large number of complaints from different work sites about illegal immigrants working there. So our teams will go to those sites and attain all information regarding those immigrants,” he said.

According to Haveeru, Fathuhy said that a key part of the programme will be identifying the illegal worker’s employers, and giving them the means to register their workers legally.

“We will provide extensive information and advice on legalising the immigrants. After that, if we catch the immigrants still active out of the system, we will take strict measures as per regulations,” he said.

The programme in Addu is part of a wider movement across the Maldives to address illegal expatriate workers. In March 2014 the Department of Immigration and Emigration pledged to strengthen action on employers of illegal workers, after having initiated a voluntary repatriation programme.

Deputy CEO of Immigration Abdulla Munaz stated at the time that the department was strengthening the implementation of existing regulations because the provision of employment and shelter is a major cause is rising numbers of undocumented workers in the country.

In addition to the estimated 200,000 migrant workers employed in the Maldives, the number of undocumented workers have been estimated to be as high as 44,000. Many workers live in congested labor quarters owned by locals.