“No choice” but to wait, Maldivians facing overnight queue for India medical visas

Maldivian citizens queuing outside the Indian High Commission in Male’ to obtain visas to travel for medical treatment in India have allegedly been told they must now wait until December 26 before any further paperwork can be processed.

This morning (December 24) individuals waiting outside the Indian High Commission building told Minivan News that they have “no choice” but continue to wait, after it was allegedly announced that no visas will be processed on December 25.

Earlier this month, the High Commission of India forewarned Maldivians that it would now take one week to process visas required to travel to India.

At 2:00am this morning (December 24),  Minivan News witnessed at least 30 Maldivians queued in the rain, waiting for the Indian High Commission building to open.

Male’ inhabitant Ihusaan Jaufar claimed he had been waiting for three days to pick up a medical visa so that an ill family member could receive treatment in India.

“We have been doing shifts so that we do not lose our place in the queue. Before we would make trips to India maybe ten times per year and it was easy, now it has become very difficult.

“They allow 53 passports to be processed each day, but some people are carrying four passports including their own, so rather than 53 people who have queued getting their visas, instead maybe only 10 or 12 are receiving their visas,” Jaufar said.

Maldivian nationals do not require a visa to enter India and stay for 90 days, however they are prohibited from revisiting the country within two months. Patients who need to return to India for health reasons then have to apply for a medical visa.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has advised Maldivians to try to obtain the relevant visas prior to their travel, after the Indian High Commission announced that visa-free travel facilities to India are valid for tourism purposes only.

Travel for medical, business or official reasons will require a relevant visa for those purposes, the Indian High Commission has stated.

At 10:30am today (December 24) the 30-strong queue still remained, however some within the queue had alleged they has been told by Indian High Commissioner D M Mulay that they would now have to wait until December 26 for their visas.  The high commission has denied any such claims were made.

Ahmed Didi, a Maldivian waiting in the queue today spoke of his frustration and concern for his family currently living in India.

“I have been waiting to get home for over a week and i’ve been in this queue for the last three days. I’m going to have to ask my friends if we can do shifts in queue so that we do not lose our place. It’s [the queue] going to be huge after 48 hours.

“It is frustrating as I need to get home. My wife is currently looking after my 74-year-old father who is paralysed and my son. She is struggling to cope without me there to help,” Didi said.

According to Didi, the High Commission is issuing tokens to people who can then have their visas processed. Didi claimed that for the last three days only 40 tokens have been issued per day, however this has now been increased to 53.

“The problem is that some people in the queue are holding multiple passports for friends and family. Fortunately the [Indian High] Commission has limited the number of passports per person to just three,” he said.

Didi claimed that earlier in the morning, Mulay had announced to the queue that he was working to resolve the issue and that it came down to a lack of cooperation from the Maldives government.

A source from within the Indian High Commission denied these claims, adding that “no such comment had been made”.

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ibrahim Muaz Ali also denied allegations of conflict between the government and the Indian High Commission, stating that the foreign ministry was doing its best to help those waiting for a visa.

“There is no lack of cooperation between the Indian High Commission and the Foreign Ministry, we are having regular meetings to discuss the [visa] issue.

“We have a separate desk within the Indian High Commission building that is helping to deal with Maldivian citizens looking to obtain visas,” Muaz said. “We are trying to prioritise based on medical needs. For example, yesterday we had a man come through who needed urgent treatment for cancer and we were able to speak with the Commission to have his medical visa processed quicker.”

Despite the claims, Former President Mohamed Nasheed has alleged in local media today that the current approvals required for medical travel to India were a direct response to the Maldives government’s decision to terminate a sovereign agreement to develop Irahim Nasir International Airport (INIA).

India-based infrastructure group GMR had signed an agreement with Nasheed’s government back in 2010 to develop and manage INIA over a 25-year period. The government of Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik opted late last month to declare the agreement void and gave the developer seven days to leave the country.

Visitor numbers

Times of India (TOI) reported that a total of 54,956 Maldivians visited the country in 2008, 55,159 in 2009 and 58,152 in 2010.

S Premkumar, Chief Exective Officer of  (CEO) Apollo Hospitals – a major hospital chain based in Chennai –  was quoted in the TOI as claiming that  some 300 Maldivian nationals were treated in Chennai hospitals each year. “They usually come for neurosurgery, and orthopaedic, cardiology and robotic gyneacology procedures,” he told the publication.

On December 20, First Secretary of the High Comission S C Agarwal, told local media that the change in procedure was not new, adding that there had only been a change in the “interpretation” of the agreement signed between India and Maldives in 1979.

“The agreement that grants 90 days free visa for Indians and Maldivians came into effect in 1979. But we have been really flexible in the interpretation of the agreement.

“We have not been questioning the purpose of travel of Maldivians to India. But unfortunately the reverse is not true. The Maldivian authorities have enforced the agreement in the strictest of terms. Nearly 50 Indians are denied entry, detained and deported every year,” Agarwal was quoted as saying in newspaper Haveeru.

Agarwal told local media that India has now “agreed” with the interpretation of the 1979 agreement in accordance to that of the Maldives government.

“We have been flexible in implementing the agreement since 1979. Such flexibility has not been reciprocated by Maldives,” he added.