Immigration Controller to exchange roles with National Disaster Management chief

Immigration Controller Ilyas Hussein Ibrahim is to trade roles with head of the National Disaster Management Centre Abdulla Shahid, also Minister of State for Housing and Environment.
Minivan News understands that the official letters of appointment have not yet been delivered but are awaiting the President’s signature, after news of the decision was leaked.

Ilyas told Minivan News that the Haveeru report was the first he had heard of the proposal: “No one’s shared it with me yet,” he said.

The move may have a political dimension, as Ilyas is one of the few remaining members of the Vice President’s Gaumee Itthihaad Party (GIP) in government, which was dropped as a coalition partner by the ruling Maldivian Democractic Party (MDP) last year after Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan publicly criticised the government for sidelining him.
The supposed reshuffle also comes a month after President Mohamed Nasheed called on the Immigration Department to postpone the roll-out of the Nexbis electronic border control system for the Maldives in accordance with concerns by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) over the project’s selection process.

The President’s Office previously confirmed to Minivan News that Nasheed has requested that the Department of Immigration and Emigration adhere to the ACC’s guidance until it rules over the next step for the project, with no appeal expected to be heard on the current decision.

Nexbis has meanwhile said it will be taking legal action against parties in the Maldives, claiming that speculation over corruption was “politically motivated” in nature and had “wrought irreparable damage to Nexbis’ reputation and brand name.”

The project is intended to curb illegal immigration by tying biometric data to an individual at point of entry, thus reducing the reliance on potentially forged paper documentation. Labour trafficking in the Maldives is thought to be worth at least US$42 million a year and up to US$200 million, according to the former Bangladeshi High Commissioner.

Both positions – Immigration Controller and head of the National Disaster Management Centre – share the same rank.


New hi-tech passport lab at Male’ International Airport

Amidst ongoing changes scheduled over the next few years at Male’ International Airport, authorities at the travel hub have introduced a new Forensic Document Laboratory they hope can step up detection of fake passports and other illegal documentation used to enter the the country.

As part of plans to strengthen border controls to the country, a source at the immigration department confirmed to Minivan News that the laboratory was now in place at the airport, but could not give any specifics on when it came into operation.

However, citing Immigration Controller, Sheik Ilyas Hussain Ibrahim, Haveeru yesterday reported that the system has already helped lead to the arrest of four Iraqi nationals that had allegedly tried to enter the country under forged passports following its introduction earlier this month.

The Immigration Department was unavailable for comment at time of going to press.

The lab system, which has been set up in collaboration with Australian experts, was unveiled late last month by the Maldives’ Department of Immigration and Emigration as the first technology of its kind to be used in the Maldives.

Ibrahim said during this unveiling back in October the issue of immigration within the secluded atolls of the Maldives has vitally needed addressing in order to better combat potential trafficking and people smuggling.

The new laboratory is seen as an important new tool in reducing such illegal border activities and was backed by a special training three day training session at male’s Holiday Inn. According to an immigration department statement, the training was intended to bring Immigration officers within the country further in line with both local and international security standards. Adoption of the system comes amidst growing concerns about the country’s ability to handle border control as well as the prevention of human trafficking.

Back in August, Minivan News reported how the exploitation of foreign workers is potentially rivaling the country’s fishing sector as the second most prolific source of income after tourism.

The claims, which were based on conservative estimates of Bangladeshi workers turning up at their respective commission in Male’ upon being abandoned upon arrival at the country’s main airport, came from experienced diplomat, Professor Selina Mohsin.

Mohsin, formerly Bangladeshi High Commissioner to the Maldives before finishing her assignment in July, stated that about 40 nationals would turn up every day at the Commission without the work many had been promised by certain employment brokers and working with Maldivian partners.

Most of the stranded workers are thought to have been recruited in rural areas of Bangladesh by local brokers, who would work alongside a Maldivian counterpart.

“The Bangladeshi counterpart charges the worker a minimum of US$2000, but it goes up to $US4000. This money is collected by the counterpart and divided: typically three quarters to Maldivian broker and one quarter to the Bangladeshi counterpart,” Professor Mohsin explained, prior to her departure.

In its 2010 Human Trafficking report – published less than a month after the Maldives was given a seat on the UN Human Rights Council – the State Department estimated that half the Bangladeshis in the Maldives had arrived illegally “and most of these workers are probably victims of trafficking”.


Work permit deposits for expats to be made to Finance Ministry

Deposits made by foreign nationals wishing to work in the Maldives must now be paid to the Ministry of Finance and not the Department of Immigration and Emigration.

Controller of Immigration Ilyas Hussain Ibrahim, said there was no act regarding deposits before, and they were simply kept by the Ministry of Human Resources.

He noted the transfer to the Finance Ministry was “to make administration easier.”

The deposits are required by the government from all foreign nationals applying for a work permit in the Maldives and must be secured before entering the country, an issue that has caused consternation among employers seeking to employ foreign workers.

Chief at the work visa section of the immigration department, Hassan Khaleel, said the amounts were decided by taking into consideration expenses in case the worker needs to be repatriated.

These expenses include the cost of air-fair back to the worker’s home country, accommodation for a few days in custody, food and transport, and medication if needed.

Minister of Human Resources Youth and Sports, Hassan Lateef, said the transfer of the deposits to the Finance Ministry had been a “cabinet decision,” but noted nothing else has changed in the laws and regulations concerning the deposits.

He said the employer must pay the deposit to the ministry and can also claim it back once the worker has gone back to his or her respective country.

Lateef said the money will be used “in case the employer, or the government, wants to send the employee back to their country, or if he or she is admitted into hospital.”

He said the money would not gain any interest and if it is not collected or used, it will “sit in the Finance Ministry” and be “kept safely.”

Indian nationals pay the least, with deposits of Rf 3,500 (US$272). Sri Lankans must pay Rf 4,000 (US$311) and Bangladeshis Rf 8,000 (US$623). The highest deposit required is for Ecuadorian nationals who must pay Rf 49,000 (US$3,813).

A full list of the deposits for each country can be downloaded here.


‘State dowry’ for Maldivians who marry foreigners

A new rule requires Maldivians who wish to marry foreigners to seek permission from the Ministry of Immigration and Emmigration, and pay a deposit.

According to the new law, instituted today, the Maldivian would-be spouse must pay the deposit money to the ministry as per existing requirements for work visas.

Prior to that, a specific form designed for mixed marriages has to be completed and submitted to the immigration department for approval.

Resident permits for foreigners married to Maldivians will also be renewed only upon the payment of the deposit, meaning those already married must also pay.

“It’s horrible, it makes me feel like a worker in Maldives and not part of this country,” was the reaction of Sasha, a British woman married to a Maldivian for the past six years.

Tightening regulations

“We are not the ones giving approval, a form has to be filled out and once the family court has approved and stamped it, we will give the go ahead,” says Controller of Immigration, Ilyas Hussain Ibrahim.

Ilyas signed off on the contentious rule, but says it was on the request of the family court.

“Too many Maldivians are getting married to foreigners,” he said, adding that it was mostly done for “bad purposes.”

He cites the case of contract marriages: “Mostly it’s Bangladeshi men who get the girl to marry him, and then she is paid a monthly sum,” he said.

He also says there have been cases of Nigerian men hooking up with Maldivian girls through the internet, then coming to the country and getting married “and after a few months he doesn’t even have enough money to cover his expenses.”

Ilyas said people had been returned to their home countries after a divorce “on the government’s expense.”

The registrar of the family court Ahmed Abdulla agreed with Ilyas, saying too many false marriages were occurring “mostly for visas or other purposes.”

He said the new ruled was intended to protect Maldivian women, as ”men get married here, and just take off without divorcing the woman, or paying her living expenses.”

130 mixed marriages were registered in the Maldives last year, mostly to natives of neighboring countries like India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

Ahmed says a few extreme cases also have occurred, where Maldivian kids have been taken abroad by the foreign partner.

“Recently a Maldivian woman was divorced and sent back, while the man kept their kids and to this day she has not been able to get any news of them.”

Abdullah refuses to name the country, saying simply its located “near the Middle East”.

The deposit scheme was not “a total solution” but it was “a necessary step”, he said.

“When bad things happen we have to react.”

The family court has also brought changes to existing criteria for approving mixed marriages.

“Before a foreigner had to earn a monthly minimum of Rf5000 (US$380) to get married. Now the earnings have to be Rf15,000 (US$1150),” he said.

Such criteria were necessary, he said, “as a lot of Bangladeshi men don’t earn enough to take care of their families and this gives rise to social problems.”

Lack of Rights

Sasha’s husband says the new rule “disgusts” him.

“I did not bring her here to work for me,” he says.

Despite his unhappiness with the new rule, he acknowledges that it does offer some protection to foreign women stranded in the Maldives.

“Girls who face abuse and are victimised one way or the other in their marriages; at least they will be able to leave the country if they want to now.”

But, he believes, another way should be found to tackle the issue.

Interestingly enough, the person who implemented the rule, Ilyas, is also married to a foreigner.

“For the rights of the foreign partner one should turn towards the Majlis, there are no regulations that give them any rights on this soil,” he says.

He refers to an existing regulation whereby a foreigner can apply for citizenship after 12 years, if he or she is well versed in Dhivehi, in the religion, and supplies certificates for other criteria.

“But even with all these requirements, it still depends on the mood of the president if a person can be given citizenship.”

Ilyas cites the name of a well known doctor, among the four people who have been granted this privilege by the previous government.

“You can be married for 25 to 60 years and still live here on a resident permit.”

His wife is not eligible for health insurance, and everywhere they go they have to queue separately.

“I can’t even get her registered as a member of my household,” he notes.

However he says this rule would offer her a degree of protection, if they ever divorced.

“It’s not the status of a worker, but that of a foreigner. Here you remain a foreigner forever; the regulations don’t give them even half the rights of a Maldivian.”

Sacha’s resident permit must to be renewed in four years.

“If I remain here forever, the money will remain locked in a deposit in the ministry. Is this a way to generate interest from funds?” she questions.

She says her friends who are in mixed marriages will be furious.

“I have a baby, would I have to pay a 50 per cent deposit for him also since he is half-foreign?”

Her business is also registered in the name of her husband: “I can’t even own anything here, I have no rights and now I have the status of a foreign worker.”

Sasha’s name changed on her request.