US PISCES border system to come into use at midnight

The US granted Personal Identification Secure Comparison and Evaluation System – or PISCES – system will go live in the Maldives tonight, local media has reported.

The system, described as “a critical tool in the war on terrorism”, by its manufacturer Booz Allen will be implemented just weeks after the cancellation of the government’s deal with Malaysian IT firm Nexbis to supply a customised border control system.

While Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim was today reported as saying that PISCES is a direct replacement for Nexbis’s, the Malaysian company has argued strongly that it is not, labelling PISCES nothing more than a “terrorist tracking system”.

After years of wrangling over the deal, Nexbis was given 14 days to vacate earlier this month. Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim cited “major losses” to the state as the reason for the contract termination – an argument Nexbis has strongly refuted.


US “terrorist tracking system” will not replace comprehensive border control: Nexbis

Malaysian IT company Nexbis has released a statement rubbishing the Maldivian government’s reasons for terminating their agreement to build and operate a new border control system.

The company has also suggested that human traffickers, fearful of a more comprehensive system, were behind the decision.

“The US PISCES system that is meant to replace the MIBCS is not a border control system nor is it an immigration solution, rather it is a terrorist tracking system that simply captures information of travellers and Maldivians who transit in and out of the country,” read the press release.

In June the Maldives was placed on the US State Department’s Tier Two Watch List for Human Trafficking for the fourth consecutive year.

Whilst the United States and the Maldives signed a memorandum of understanding regarding the provision of the free PISCES (Personal Identification Secure Comparison and Evaluation System) system in March of this year, Department of Immigration Spokesperson Ibrahim Ashraf told Minivan News last week that this system was not yet fully operational.

The PISCES system, designed by US tech firm Booz Allen Hamilton, has already been implemented in numerous other countries around the world, including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Thailand.

Booz Allen’s website describes PISCES as “a critical tool in the war on terrorism”, allowing countries to collect, compare and analyse data in order to secure their borders.

At the time of the March agreement Immigration Controller Dr Mohamed Ali told Minivan News it was too early to tell if the new border controls would be a direct replacement for the system provided by Nexbis.

Contradictory reasons for termination

Today’s statement also takes issue with the claims of Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim that the installation of the Nexbis system was causing “major losses” to the state. The quote was given to local media on August 6 as the Malaysian company was informed it had 14 days to vacate the country.

Nexbis contends that the official notice of the termination it received contradicts the statement given by the Defence Minister. The notice – received on August 5 – stated that the agreement was invalid from the outset (void ab initio), alleges Nexbis. This, it argues, would seemingly dispel the need for any further justification for the contract’s termination.

Regardless, the statement strongly refutes the government’s justification for the sudden termination. It argues that the installation and operation of the system was carried out free of charge, with all costs to be levied from foreign visitors and work permit applicants. The fact that these charges – to be added to airline ticket prices – were not obtained was due to the “oversight of certain officials in notifying the relevant international authorities,” says Nexbis.

The company also added that US$2.8million it had billed the government was therefore the amount due for the arrival and departure of foreigners as per its contract, and not for the installation and operation of the system.

Attorney General Azima Shukoor last week told local media that negotiations were being held with Nexbis over reaching an out of court settlement for terminating the contract, a statement also cited by Nexbis as in contradiction to the official notice given.

“The government’s admission and acknowledgement that the Nexbis agreement is till date, a legally valid and binding agreement that is further supported by the statement made by Azima… which suggests nothing less than an assertion that the Nexbis Agreement is legally valid,” said the Malaysian company.

The terms of the agreement are governed under Singapore law, as are those of the GMR airport contract – terminated in November last year. The cancellation of this deal, the largest foreign direct investment in the country’s history, has led the GMR to seek US$1.4billion in compensation.

The Nexbis deal has been dogged by allegations of corruption since it was agreed under former President Mohamed Nasheed in 2010. The failure of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) to conclusively prove foul play in this respect exonerates Nexbis from such charges, it has claimed.

Following parliament’s termination of the project in December, Nexbis sought a legal injunction to prevent any cancellation of the agreement while court hearings over the contract were still ongoing.

The company had sought to contest whether the ACC has the power to compulsorily request the government to cease all work in relation to the border control system agreement.

However, in April of this year, the High Court overturned a Civil Court ruling declaring the ACC could not terminate the agreement.


Police investigating theft of MVR 500,000 from immigration department

Police are investigating the theft of more than MVR 500,000 (US$32,425) from the Department of Immigration.

The money was stolen from a safe over the weekend, according to a statement from police. The money was reported missing at 9:00am on Saturday.

Police said the thieves climbed over a wall between between Atoll Canteen and the Ghazee building. No details were provided as to how the intruders gained access to the safe.

The immigration department has not officially commented on the theft.


Comment: ‘Human-trafficking’ to the fore again, but hopes remain

The US State Department’s continued placing of the Maldives on the ‘Tier Two Watch-List for Human-Trafficking’ could not have come at a worse – or better – time for the country’s authorities, particularly those intent on finding a way out for good.

Coming as it does after specific issues flagged by India over the past months, the US warning that Maldives could automatically slip into the ‘Tier Three’ [watchlist] with consequential sanctions of a non-humanitarian kind should be seen as a wake-up call for Male’ to set right matters, which have been allowed to drift for decades now.

At the bottom of the Maldivian plight should be the surge in development and growth inconsistent with the expectations and consequent preparations of the nation – particularly in the tourism sector – over the past three or four decades.

While successive governments have continued with the original policy of allowing foreign investors in big-time resort tourism to expatriate their earnings in dollars, this has also made wages less attractive for locals, with their relative perception of higher educational qualifications, to take up those jobs that are otherwise on offer.

This has led to an anomaly. While local youth can do with more and better-paying jobs, to match the very high cost of living in the country, the employer class on all fronts are dependent on immigrant labour to meet their needs. Thus, for a nation of 350,000, Maldives has an additional expatriate labour population totalling a conservative 100,000.

The US State Department estimate puts the figure upwards of 150,000. It is also the only major ‘labour recipient’ nation in South Asia, with most of them coming from Bangladesh and India, in that order but roughly in 5:3 ratio or thereabouts, followed by Sri Lanka – which used to be the dominant player, including the skills and white-collar sectors, earlier.

Better emigrant laws, regulations and enforcement in countries such as Sri Lanka and the Philippines, from where again immigrant labour have been working in Maldives, have made the country less attractive for the work-force from those destinations.

Learning from elsewhere

Maldives can learn from the US and the rest of the west, which as ‘labour-receiving nations’ not only have strict laws and enforcement, but have also become stricter with issuance of visas for immigrant employees – most of them of the white-collar, technocrat variety.

The US still however receives a large number of unskilled and semi-skilled labour from across the border with Mexico. Both the more regulated white-collar immigration and at times illegal immigration of Mexican labour have become hot election issue in the country, entailing government intervention.

Even in the Gulf-Arab region, for which south and South-East Asian nations have been providing the labour class in large numbers from the seventies, if not earlier, constant governmental pressure from overseas (alone) seems to have done the trick. There, the trend is getting reversed lately, with the locals too competing with the immigrants for the fewer available jobs.

Some of the Gulf nations have already begun following the west, in restricting employment opportunities for immigrants to facilitate better job opportunities for the locals.

Not just the Maldives as a nation, but Maldivians society as a whole can benefit from the authorities approaching the immigrant labour issue with an open mind, and raising the standard of labour protection to international levels.

At present, the (hospitality) industry (construction) infrastructure and household sectors are major employers of immigrant labour. Other than the high-end segments of the hospitality industry, others in these sectors do not address issues of labour concern – including minimum and sustainable wages, job-protection, legal remedies in case of employer wrong-doing, including with-holding of employee-passport and criminal intimidation, threats and at times attacks.

Ignorant and vulnerable

All these have made the immigrant labour class vulnerable in more ways than one.

With-holding of passports and non-extension of work-permits by the employer automatically renders the employee ‘illegal immigrant’, culpable to punitive punishment under the local laws. Seldom has there been a case of the authorities acting against the culprit-employer – or, working with host-governments to break the ‘job-racketeer network’, which often exploit the illiteracy and/or ignorance of the migrant labour class in particular.

Some of the insensitivity, if it can be called so, may also owe to the large-scale employment of immigrant labour in the household sector, where long hours of work for relatively low wages may have blinded the officialdom and the political class to the impossibility of the existing situation. The politico-administrative insensitivity to addressing the issues on hand may have been a product of the process.

This is seldom acknowledged, even less acted upon. The trend may have to change, with the political class taking the lead. Thus, the government should initiate legislative and legal measures to ensure fixed timings, minimum wages and other benefits and security for the migrant labour also in the household sector. The message would then spread.

If however, linkages are made between better labour/employee conditions and enforcement, the Maldivian Government would be in a position to attract its youthful population to productive sectors of the nation’s economy, thus churning out a possible process of social re-engineering.

In the absence of such pro-active measures, society has been complaining against itself that their youth power has been exhausting itself on unproductive goals and an ‘unfinished’ work culture.

The Maldivian Government has programmes against drug-abuse and rehabilitation addressing its youth, which otherwise constitutes over 40 per cent of the population. The dependence on the migrant labour could also become less, if only over a period.

A fourth major sector employing emigrant workers is the maldivian government, which has been recruiting teachers, doctors and nurses from countries such as India, which may also be the single largest supplier of white-collar workers of the high-skilled variety in the country.

As instances have been reported in the past, even government authorities have been in the habit of retaining the passports of Indians and other foreigners, at times recruited through shady job-agents.

This by itself may ensure the safety and security of the passports for the immigrant worker, as long as it is voluntary. But the unwarranted and avoidable delays in returning the passport when an employee had to rush back home for an emergency has caused issues both to the affected people and the host governments, which come under continual pressure from their constituencies in very many ways.

In the Maldivian context, it also means that an overseas employer returning home on an emergency call might have to spend an indefinite number of days at Male, spending heavily on an otherwise purposeless stay, to collect the passport. It is unfortunate that the recent Indian decision on registration for Indian visas for Maldivians has caused a similar problem for people from the interior islands with no relation or friend to put up with while in Male, which anyway is a crowded place for them to take such conventional courtesies for granted, any more.

In the famous ‘Menaka Gandhi case’ in 1979, otherwise, the Indian Supreme Court, for instance, had held that the passport of an Indian citizen was the property of the Government of India. It also implied that confiscation/retention of the same without proper legal authority and authorisation (even by Indian Government authorities) could tantamount to an act against the Indian sovereign, entailing the government of India to initiate appropriate measures – if some affected citizen were to approach the courts in India for redress.

Today, much is being said about the Government of India regulating the visa procedure for Maldivian nationals who visit India for medical care and education, their number being upwards of 50,000 each year.

Suggestions have also linked the matter to the controversial ‘GMR issue’. Maldivians wanting to travel to India on work or medical care in particular may have suffered, but there have not been any reported case of the visas for ’emergency patients’ and their attendants either being denied or even delayed, since.

If anything, the Indian authorities in Male’ are said to have prioritised such cases for fast-tracking visa issuance, though there is this avoidable tension for the next of kin who want to travel to India with their relation for emergency medical care.

Over the years, there have also been other cases of Maldivian employers, including the government, holding back passports, denying Indian immigrant employees to visit their dying kin, or lit the pyre of a dead parent, which also has great religious and spiritual significance for most Indians in particular.

What is not often known in Maldives – including the local media, which is otherwise sensitive to the perceived plight of Maldivians, likewise — is that many of these cases make waves in the high-literacy Kerala State in particular, where the media is as well networked as families.

Light at the end of the tunnel?

Lately, there seems to be some light at the end of the tunnel. The government of President Mohammed Waheed Hassan Manik has started addressing some of the international concerns, including those of India’s.

The immigration authorities have notified that it is illegal for employers to hold back the passports of foreign labour – and the Indian High Commission, maybe among others, in Male has given adequate publicity for the same. Between them, the Maldivian Immigration and the IHC have also put in place a system for prior clearance for the High Commission for employer-recruiters sourcing emigrant labour from India.

Indian immigrant labour in Maldives has also been advised to route their work-permit, passport, etc, through the High Commission’s consular authorities – entailing additional workload for its staff. If found successful, it is not unlikely that the Indian government may (have to) consider extending the process to other embassies, especially in such countries with similar problems.

For foreign employees of the Maldivian government, a decision is said to be on the anvil for the passport-holders to retain their original document.

For others, particularly the lower-end labour class, a via media would still have to be found as they may still not be able to have a safe place to secure their passports and work-permits other than the custody of their employers, some of whom tend to abuse the trust and faith in more ways than one.

Indians may be among the most visible of beneficiaries in this case, their homes not being not far away from the Maldivian coasts could save on time, cost and avoidable agony by not having to camp in high-cost Male’ for a couple of days to collect their passport, after the authorities in the islands and their respective departments had cleared their leave applications.

Otherwise, a government proposal before Maldivian Parliament to clear extradition treaty would help in facilitating prisoner-swap between the two countries, for nationals of one country convicted in the other could undergo their prison-terms, if any, in their native land. Given the limited healthcare facility in Maldives, Indian prisoners would benefit from such a course. It could still be open if Maldivian prisoners in India could choose to spent their terms in Indian jails, or otherwise.

Distracted by democratisation?

It is possible that the turn of political events centred on the advent of multi-party democracy over the past several years may have distracted Maldives, and diffused its attention from equally pressing issues like those flagged by the US Report and highlighted by the specified Indian concern. Yet, the world does not wait for Maldives to set its political house in order – as a succession of US/UN reports on human trafficking and human rights have shown over the past years.

It is sad that a succession of political leadership in the country over the past years had not found the time — and more so the inclination — to address the larger issues cited in the annual reports of the US State Department – which for right reasons and wrong, have come to be acknowledged as bench-mark of an international kind, whether or not one likes it or not.

The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation

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]


HRCM to investigate Immigration Department’s promise of mass repatriation

The Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) has expressed concern over a pledge by immigration authorities to repatriate 10,000 “illegal” expatriates on the back of wider reservations at the treatment of foreign workers potentially trafficked into the country.

HRCM member Jeehan Mahmoud has told Minivan News that the commission was concerned not just over plans to repatriate a predetermined number of unregistered workers, but also whether they were being punished for the actions of employers or agents acting outside the law.

The concerns were raised as the Department of Immigration and Emigration announced yesterday (April 30) that 1,748 foreigners found to be working illegally in the country had been repatriated – the majority by their own request – during the year so far.

Immigration officials also announced commitments to send a further 10,000 unregistered workers back to their home nations during the remainder of 2013.

Immigration Controller Dr Mohamed Ali said that the repatriated workers had either come to the Maldives with sufficient funding to afford transportation back to their home countries, or that their fares were covered through previously paid “deposits”.

Dr Ali did not however elaborate as to how the immigration department had devised the figure targeting the return of 10,000 unregistered workers to their respective countries.

He stressed that his department would be investigating and punishing employers and agencies responsible for bringing the now unregistered workers to the country if they had acted illegally.

“[The immigration department] will do that with vigour now,” he said.

Dr Ali was reported in local media as adding that 146 foreigners alleged to have involvement in criminal cases were deported this year so far, with 85 illegal workers also sent back to their respective home nations.

“More foreigners come to us voluntarily as we toughen our approach towards them. Everything will be arranged for those who come to us voluntarily. Island Aviation now has direct flights to Dhaka,” he told Sun Online, referring to the large number of Bangladesh nationals working in the country.

Dr Ali told Minivan News last week that while almost all foreign workers coming to the Maldives arrived under registered companies, some were finding themselves “illegally used” by employers due to “systematic abuse” of the visa system once here.

HRCM investigation

Responding to the immigration controller’s pledge this week, HRCM member Jeehan said that the commission itself had not been consulted by the Immigration Department over its proposed crack down on unregistered workers.

From the perspective of the HRCM, Jeehan said there was particular concern about the safety and vulnerability of the foreign workers set to be returned by authorities, particularly in the case of expatriates who were heavily in debt as a result of paying companies or agents to come to the country to find work.

“If they are working or staying here undocumented, how safe are they to be returned home,” she said. “We must consider how vulnerable some of these people are, it is different for those who request repatriation or course.”

The HRCM is now set to investigate the conditions by which these foreign workers are being repatriated, especially in regards to concerns that unregistered expatriates may have been detained as a result of the actions of agents or employers in the country.

According to Jeehan, issues also needed to be addressed over how the Immigration Department had decided to set a predetermined number of foreign workers that it would look to repatriate.

“How has the state arrived at this number? Whether it is the result of a baseline study or some other research we need to know,” she said. “Also, how is the state identifying the 10,000 workers that need to go back home and are they sure they are undocumented? Questions also need to be asked of what the state is doing with these expatriates before they are sent home. It is unfair if they are being detained as a result of the faults of others.”

Jeehan added that before any undocumented foreign workers were being repatriated, it was also important to ensure that employers had paid the salaries of all staff and were honoring their obligations to workers.

“These employees should be provided with their due wages and compensation, it is for the state to guarantee this,” she added.

Jeehan said that the HRCM was presently seeking to consult the Labour Relations Authority (LRA) over a number of issues that it said would include how unregistered workers were being sent out of the country.

“We will look to meet with the LRA first, as they are the state authority outlining employment practices, s we can see what role they may have had in outlining these policies,” she said.

Jeehan added that if the LRA has not had a role in the outlining this repatriation policy, than the HRCM might “have an issue” with the process.

When contacted by Minivan News today, LRA Assistant Director Aishath Nafa Ahmed said the body had no involvement in outlining policies on the repatriation of foreign workers since last year.

She added that although the LRA was involved in a steering committee that focused on issues surrounding the country’s foreign workforce, the authority had not had any discussions over plans to repatriate 10,000 workers this year.

Human trafficking

The Maldives has appeared on the US State Department’s Tier Two Watch List for Human Trafficking for three consecutive years. Should the Maldives drop to tier three – the worst category – then the country is expected to face significant reductions in aid and potential travel restrictions on its citizens.

Despite the government last year launching a special state program to try and draw awareness to the problems beyond human trafficking, concerns have continued to be raised by various NGOs and authorities at the scale of human trafficking in the country amidst fears of widespread corruption within the visa system.

Just last month, a source working within the immigration department alleged that companies across the Maldives were freely abusing visa regulations by generating fictitious labour demand to directly profit from trafficking foreign workers into the Maldives.

The source told Minivan News that almost no human verification was being undertaken by authorities to ensure workers were genuinely employed once a business or construction project was approved in the country.

In theory, a Maldivian company could submit design plans for an existing structure such as Manchester United’s 75,811 seat Old Trafford Stadium – and then be assigned a computer-generated quota of foreign workers, the same source claimed.

One former Bangladesh High Commissioner in the Maldives alleged back in 2010 that the exploitation of foreign workers in the country rivalled fishing as the most profitable sector in the national economy after tourism.

Addressing the current scope of unregistered foreign labour, Maldives Association of Construction Industry (MACI) former President Mohamed Ali Janah said earlier this year that an estimated 40 percent of the foreign employees in the sector were thought not to be legally registered.

Considering these numbers, Janah said he could not rule out the involvement of organised crime in certain employment agencies, which supply a large amount of foreign labour to building sites in the Maldives.


Police ask government to revoke Artur brothers’ investor license

An investment license issued by the Tourism Ministry to a pair of Armenian brothers is to be revoked on recommendation of the police, reports local media.

Haveeru reported that police advised the Ministry of Economic Development not to issue an investor license to the Artur brothers, who were alleged to be involved with drug trafficking, money laundering, raids on media outlets and other serious crimes in Kenya. The Ministry then reportedly issued a letter to the Tourism Ministry requesting the license be revoked.

Police Spokesperson Chief Inspector Hassan Haneef is not responding to calls at time of press.

Photos of the Arturs in the company of Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim and Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb emerged on social media last week. The ministers denied involvement in the pair’s business activities, however a letter signed by Adheeb in late January requesting immigration authorities grant the brothers residency permits was later leaked to the media.

Adheeb claimed Artur brothers had previously invested in the country through a registered joint venture company with members of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

“They complained to me that these partners had [defrauded] them and that their visas had expired,” he said at the time.

“I advised them to leave peacefully and they agreed to sort out their visa and leave. They have now left,” Adheeb said.

According to Haveeru, police advised the Economic Development Ministry revoke the Artur brother’s investment license by saying that the brothers’ presence in the Maldives was “a threat to the economy and security of the country.”

The company ‘Artur Brothers World Connections’, was registered in the Maldives in October 2012, with the Artur brothers holding an 80 percent share in a 61-19 percent split.

French nationals identified as Godzine Sargsyan and Edga Sargsyan had a 10 and 7 percent share, while a Maldivian national Ismail Waseem of H. Ever Chance was listed as holding the remaining 3 percent.

Waseem’s share was subsequently transferred to Abdulla Shaffath of H. Ever Peace on November 25.

A statement on the President’s Office website dated April 4 noted that President Mohamed Waheed was advised in January that the brothers were in the Maldives “but had not broken any laws and were being monitored by the police as a precaution. The administration later decided to ask them to leave once their visa extension expired.”

“The Artur brothers are no longer in the Maldives nor do they currently hold visas to return. The President, along with the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Ministry of Economic Development, Ministry of Defence and National Security, and the Maldives Police Service are looking into any irregular dealings during the time the Artur brothers and their associates were here and will determine if there were any breaches in protocol or conduct that need to be addressed,” the statement read.

However Immigration Controller Mohamed Ali told local media this week that while Sargasyan Artur had left the Maldives on March 31, given issues with the country’s border control system “there are questions surrounding the second brothers’ exit from the Maldives.”

Meanwhile, reports in local media today (April 8 ) suggested that Zaidul Khaleel, General Manager of the Club Faru resort, operated by the state-owned Maldives Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC), had been dismissed after he was found to have paid the brothers’ US$6000 bill.

A spokesperson for the MTDC told Minivan News the company would shortly be issuing a statement on the matter as there were “heavy factual inaccuracies in the public domain and on electronic media”.

The brother’s activities in the Maldives have sparked substantial local interest following their dramatic departure from Kenya, after they allegedly pulled guns on uncooperative customs officials.

Subsequent investigative reports in Kenyan media found the pair had ingratiated themselves with senior government officials to such an extent that they were granted Kenyan citizenship and appointed Deputy Police Commissioners.

Local media interest in the pair extended to the publication yesterday of a photo apparently depicting former President Nasheed and former SAARC Secretary General Ibrahim Hussain Zaki apparently meeting Artur Sargsyan.

However the photograph turned out to be an edited photo taken during a formal reception for US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, held at the former Presidential residence of Muleaage in January 2011, with Sargsyan Artur’s head carefully photo-shopped onto Steinberg.

Local media outlet Channel News Maldives (CNM) reported that the photograph was originally leaked by the former Immigration Controller and current State Minister for Defence, Ilyas Hussain.

Ilyas refused to comment on the matter, and edited versions of the photo featuring Nasheed meeting characters ranging from Big Bird to Justin Bieber began circulating on social media.


Sun article alleging Indian deportation of Maldivian nationals “mischievous” misinformation: High Commissioner Mulay

Indian High Commissioner to the Maldives D M Mulay has accused local news outlet Sun Online of attempting to “mischievously” spread misinformation, after it published an article alleging that India had begun to deport Maldivian nationals.

On Tuesday (March 19), Sun published an article claiming that the Indian Bureau of Immigration had been informing Maldivians – who are residing in India without a specific reason – to leave the country.

The article entitled ‘More difficulties for Maldivians living in India’ has attracted criticism from both the Indian High Commission and the Maldives Foreign Ministry, who have both denied any knowledge of such practices being undertaken.

Speaking to Minivan News, High Commissioner Mulay claimed that the Sun article was an attempt to spread incorrect information between both India and the Maldives.

“We have not received any such reports from our country regarding this matter. The article is a mischievous attempt to spread misinformation between the two countries,” said Mulay.

The article reported that Mohamed Ashraf, a Maldivian who has been living in India with his family since 2008, was suddenly told by Indian immigration to leave the country within seven days.

When Ashraf had asked for the reason for his sudden deportation, Indian immigration allegedly told him they were not required to give any reason to foreigners living in the country, the article states.

The article further claimed that a Registration Officer had told Ashraf that “more Maldivians will be issued such orders in the future”.

A media official from the Maldives Foreign Ministry said that it had not received any information regarding the issue, stating that “these things are all rumours”.

Responding to the criticism, Editor of Sun and Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) President Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir stated that the news outlet did not speculate or provide misinformation through its reports.

“The information we published is from the interview we got from the guy [Ashraf]. It is a practice of freedom of expression,” he said.

“We have received a lot of complaints from people living in India and they say they are having difficulties with visas. We are carrying people’s opinions.”

While Sun was able to obtain a copy of the document ordering Ashraf to leave the country, the article does not state whether any relevant government officials had been contacted for comment.

An official from within the Indian High Commission further denied that the Indian government was “clamping down” on Maldivians living in the country.

“There is no clamp down, except on those who flagrantly violate visa conditions. For example, people running guest houses on dependent visas.

In regard to the published article, the official asked: “Since when do we start believing in all media news? Most ‘news’ is published without checking with relevant parties.

“Incidentally, I still do not see any progress on any of India’s concerns like the seizure of passports [in the Maldives],” he added.


Two Pakistani nationals arrested for carrying forged passports

Customs authorities in the Maldives have arrested two Pakistan nationals for carrying two forged passports.

The two men arrived on an Emirates flight to the Maldives and were arrested based on information provided by the Immigration Department, local media reported.

Upon a security check, three more passports including two Pakistan passports and one Belgian passport were found in their luggage.


Foreign Ministry stalls return of 8000 “ownerless” passports

The Foreign Ministry has stalled attempts to hand over almost 8000 foreign passports to their respective High Commissions, claiming details regarding the owners whereabouts still needed to obtained by immigration authorities, local media has reported.

State Foreign Minister Hassan Saeed said the Foreign Ministry will only deliver the passports to the respective consular authorities once immigration clarifies the location of the owners, a task described as “huge” and “difficult” by Immigration Controller Dr Mohamed Ali.

Saeed claimed the number of foreigners who had not left the Maldives while on temporary travel documents was close to the number of ownerless passports held at immigration, local media reported.

“We have a number of foreigners who have left the Maldives on temporary travel documents. But if that number does not match with the passports and if we try to hand over the passports there will be complaints, and questions asked over the quantity of the passports and the whereabouts of the holders,” Saeed was quoted as telling local newspaper Haveeru.

Dr Ali told Minivan News on Tuesday that it would be a “huge task” to obtain the details needed before the passports could be handed over to the respective High Commissions.

Asked if it was realistic to expect immigration to find the whereabouts and details of the owners of all 8000 passports, Ali said such feat would be a “difficult task”.

According to local media the exact number of expatriates in the Maldives is unknown. However immigration statistics show there are 120,000 registered expatriates who regularly pay their visa fees and a further 40,000 illegal immigrants.

Ali told local media that the majority of the passports are from Bangladesh, however there were passports from India and Sri Lanka as well.

An official from the Indian High Commission said the passports should be returned to the respective governments, as they posed a security risk.

The official condemned the practice of Maldivian employers – including some government departments – withholding the passports of their employees: “Keeping someone’s passport is a threat on a private level.

“Passports should belong to the person and no one else. It is a security risk for individuals to not have their passport in their possession,” the official said.

Earlier this month, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs inaugurated an initiative targeted at raising awareness of the issue of human trafficking in the Maldives.

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

Speaking at the recent inauguration of the Blue Ribbon Campaign Against Human Trafficking, Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Abdul Samad Abdulla stated the initiative formed part of a larger plan to try and addressing human trafficking in the Maldives.

“We have been conducting a lot of work to deal with the issue, though it may be generally a little known fact,” Samad claimed. “Our intention now is to work together with local media outlets and create more awareness about the issue. I would like to request media cooperate in this initiative.”

The Foreign Ministry also announced it had signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with multiple local media outlets in the country to conduct the Blue Ribbon Campaign.

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