Foreign Ministry claims resolution found to Indian visa “difficulties”

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said recent difficulties experienced by Maldivians in trying to obtain medical visas for travel to India have been resolved through ongoing discussions between the two countries.

Late last month, Maldivian citizens wishing to apply for visas allowing them to travel to India for medical treatment were forced to queue outside the Indian High Commission in Male’, sometimes for days, as a result of tightened restrictions by Indian authorities.

Indian authorities stressed last week that tighter visa restrictions for Maldivians were  a “signal” for the country’s government to address a number of its concerns about how the nation treated migrant workers.  Among its key concerns was the practice of Maldivian employers confiscating the passports of foreign workers.

The Indian High Commission has maintained that the tightened restrictions were nonetheless in line with a bilateral agreement signed back in 1979 and its appropriation by Maldivian authorities in the intervening years.

Ibrahim Muaz Ali, Communication Director for the Minister of Foreign Affairs, told Minivan News this week that talks with the Indian High Commission were ongoing in an attempt to resolve difficulties facing people wishing to travel to India for treatment.

He confirmed that the discussions were focused in areas such as facilitating the transfer of Indian prisoners suffering from ill health.

Muaz added that the issue of tighter restrictions for medical travel had been “directly linked” to concerns raised by the Indian High Commission.  He added that although no agreements had as of this week been made on issues such as prisoner transfer, Maldivians were once again able to travel for medical care without facing significant queues.

“Before there have been lots of difficulties [with getting medical visas],” he claimed. “But we have now been given 50 to 60 ticket numbers a day [for processing the documents].”

Muaz said that with discussions ongoing, the foreign ministry has been able to start a phone service allowing applicants seeking a medical visa to India to SMS their details to a special number. Under its agreement with the High Commission, the ministry has said it can then follow up with each person using the service to facilitate medical travel.

Muaz added that in cases of serious illness, such as patients wishing to travel abroad for cancer treatment, patients were receiving fast tracked entry into India.

High Commission concerns

Asked about the efforts being undertaken to address concerns raised by the Indian High Commission – such as the transfer of prisoners – Muaz said that the Foreign Ministry had been looking at the issue.

Local media reported Thursday (January 3) that efforts were being made by Maldivian authorities “within the contours of the law” to release Indian nationals imprisoned in the Maldives in cases where they were found to have been in ill health.

Muaz added that after having been asked to facilitate such a transfer by the High Commission, no decision had yet been taken on how the request would be handled.

“What we have been asked to do at present is a very broad request [from Indian authorities],” he said. “It is an ongoing process and we are looking at the issue, but we have not yet confirmed any agreement.”

Speaking to Minivan News last week, a spokesperson for the Indian High Commission said that the issue of transferring ill prisoners was one of a number of concerns it hoped to see addressed.

“This is one of the areas [for the Maldives to address] and we have requested for either a pardon or repatriation as per an agreement signed during the visit of the Indian Prime Minister in November 2011,” the spokesperson said.

Back in October, a senior Indian diplomatic official in the Maldives expressed concern over the Maldives’ culture of confiscating passports of migrant workers arriving to the country from across South Asia – likening the practice to slavery.

The High Commission also claimed during 2012 that skilled expatriate workers from India, employed in the Maldives education sector, had continued to be “penalised” due to both government and private sector employers failing to fulfill their responsibilities.

Meanwhile, a senior Indian medical official working in the country also alleged last year that expatriate professionals were regularly facing intimidation and fraud in the country from employers and some members of the public.