A total of eight Bangladeshi nationals have been arrested in the Maldives June on charges of gambling. They were arrested during police raids and caught with large sums of money and card decks.
Four Bangladeshi men were arrested on June 30 at 6:15am in Malé with MVR21,000 (US$1362). Another four were arrested on June 9 from suburb Hulhumalé with MVR10,000 (US$649) and a card deck.
Gambling is prohibited in Islam. It is punishable with six months in jail or a MVR150 (US$10) fine under the 1968 penal code.
There are some 124,000 migrant workers in the Maldives. A significant majority are from Bangladesh.
In December, the police arrested a Maldivian man and a woman with empty alcohol bottles and a poker set. On the same day, the police arrested 18 Bangladeshi men on suspicion of gambling with an unspecified amount of money.
According to police statements, at least 17 Bangladeshi nationals were arrested in 2013 for gambling. Eight were arrested in southern Fuvahmulah, and another nine were arrested in Addu City.
The new penal code, due to come into force in July, does not criminalize gambling.
An undocumented Bangladeshi national has been discovered dead with severe head injuries at an uninhabited house in Laamu Atoll Gan Island today.
Ishag Yoosuf, the 65-year-old caretaker of the house, said he discovered the farmworker’s body at 7:00am. He is known as Bassan.
“I went to pick up some tools to paint my house. Bassan was lying face up on the veranda. His face was covered with a pillow. The pillow was all bloodied. The right side of his face was smashed in. Blood was splattered all over the walls up to 8 feet,” he said.
Bassan, a tall dark man in his late twenties, has worked in the Maldives for ten years, Ishag said.
The caretaker had last spoken to Bassan on Tuesday, but said he had not reported any problems.
“He told me he had asked the owner who is living in Malé if he could sleep in the house. There is no toilet there. Only the veranda he could sleep in. He said he was eating fine. Apparently he had paid a company to get food,” Ishag said.
The owner of the house, Thoha Waheed, denied Bassan had asked for permission to sleep at the vacant house.
“I don’t know how he came to live there. I know the man, but he never asked me to let him stay at the house,” he said.
The police said the murder occurred 24 hours before the body was discovered. The serious and organized crime department is investigating the case.
Bassan’s death is the third apparent murder of Bangladeshi workers this year. In March 22, a 25-year-old Bangladeshi named Shaheen Mia was stabbed to death in a Malé café.
Two days later, the naked body of a young man named Kazi Bilal was found with a piece of cloth around his neck in Alif Alif Atoll Thoddoo.
The vice president of the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM), Ahmed Tholal expressed concern over the Maldives’ failure to protect migrant workers.
“We have been and still are unable to provide protection for expatriates,” he said.
Amendments passed today to the Employment Act excludes Muslim migrant workers from a Ramadan bonus, but state employees will now receive an increased payout of MVR3,000 (US$194).
Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Mohamed Ali had proposed changing the mandatory Ramadan bonus from one-third of the monthly salary to a flat rate of MVR3,000 for all Muslim workers in the Maldives.
The 2008 employment law previously entitled all Muslim workers in the Maldives to a sum no less than one-third of their monthly salary for the month of fasting, with a minimum of MVR2,000 (US$129) and a maximum of MVR10,000 (US$645).
But the amendments approved today leave it to the discretion of employers in both the public and private sectors to pay the Ramadan bonus to Muslim migrant workers. If employers opt to pay the bonus, expatriate workers must also be paid MVR3,000.
The amendment bill was proposed to equalise the Ramadan allowance as staff in higher paying jobs receive a significantly higher bonus.
The Dhuvafaru MPs’ bill was also changed to exempt the private sector from the new rule for a year.
Private businesses will have to pay the MVR3,000 bonus to Maldivian employees for next year’s Ramadan.
The bill was passed unanimously with 60 votes in favour at today’s sitting of parliament. Main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs also voted in favour of the bill.
During today’s debate, some MDP MP objected to excluding Muslim migrant workers from receiving the allowance.
MP Eva Abdulla contended that the move amounts to “discrimination” against foreign workers, noting that the majority of Bangladeshi workers in the Maldives were Muslims.
On social media, Human Rights Commission of Maldives vice president Ahmed Tholal also said that excluding expatriate Muslims “goes against the principles of non-discrimination and equality.”
Several pro-government MPs, however, defended the changes, arguing that expatriates are not entitled to the same benefits as the local population in most other countries.
The arguments to exclude expatriates are so unbelievable. Especially when we are talking about a religious duty….
There are some 124,000 migrant workers in the Maldives. A sizeable percentage comes from Muslim-majority Bangladesh.
PPM MP Jameel Usman’s proposal to make the Ramadan bonus to expatriates discretionary was passed unanimously with 55 votes in favour.
MDP MP Mohamed Abdul Kareem had proposed paying MVR5,000 as the Ramadan bonus for all Maldivian employees, but his amendment was defeated 42-13 during today’s sitting.
During the debate on the amendments last week, both pro-government and opposition MPs expressed concern with private businesses having to raise additional funds to pay the mandatory MVR3,000 with Ramadan just over a week away.
MP Ahmed Nihan, parliamentary group leader of the PPM, announced plans to equalise the Ramadan bonus last month.
Nihan said at the time that MVR36 million (US$2.3million) in extra funding would be needed to increase the Ramadan allowance for all state employees. The current budget for Ramadan allowance stands at MVR92 million (US$5.9million).
Statistics published by the Civil Service Commission (CSC) shows almost half of the country’s 24,742 civil servants are paid less than MVR4,999 (US$ 324) a month.
The migrant worker population of the Maldives exceeds 124,000, the department of immigration has revealed. The figure includes 94,492 registered expatriates and more than 30,000 undocumented workers.
Controller of immigration Mohamed Anwar told the press on Monday that the department’s main focus at present is strengthening the labour migration system.
The department signed Memoranda of Understanding with four companies this week for deporting undocumented workers.
Under the “shared responsibility” programme, Amin Construction, Ensis Fisheries, Hotels and Resorts Construction, and the China Machinery Engineering Corporation agreed to hire undocumented workers for projects, after which they would be deported.
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.
The US state department said foreign workers in the Maldives experience forced labor, including fraudulent recruitment, confiscation of identity and travel documents, withholding or nonpayment of wages, and debt bondage.
The government last month launched a five year strategic action plan to prevent human trafficking in Maldives, but the ministry of economic development did not disclose details of the plan.
The immigration department has deported more than 2,000 foreign workers so far this year, including 1,401 under a voluntary departure programme and 101 workers deported due to criminal offences.
Some 427 undocumented workers were deported after their arrest in various operations while 56 expatriates unfit for working due to poor heath were denied entry.
The majority of migrant workers in the country work in the construction industry.
Anwar said the Maldives needed foreign labour as the country lacked a large workforce. The department’s task was “managing” the influx of migrant workers, he added.
Last month, the immigration department instructed local businesses to send back migrant workers hired as photographers and cashiers before June 7 and apply for cancellation of employment approvals. The department warned that employers who do not comply will be penalised.
Deputy controller of immigration Abdulla Algeen said at Monday’s press conference that 95 percent of migrant workers enter the Maldives legally, but became “irregular” due to the fault of both sponsors and the employees themselves, who often “flee.”
A performance audit of the immigration department released last month noted that the absence of effective enforcement measures prior to 2014, after which the department “started conducting frequent investigations and they have strengthened their enforcement measures such as levying a fine on employers violating the regulations.”
The 2014 census recorded only 58,683 expatriates were residing in the Maldives. The department of national planning had said the figure was much lower than numbers recorded by the immigration department.
NGO Transparency Maldives (TM) estimates there are 200,000 migrant workers in the Maldives – two-thirds of the country’s 341,256 local population.
An audit of the immigration department has identified deficiencies in the issuance of quotas and work permits as well as monitoring and enforcement measures.
The performance audit examined the “control of expatriate workers” in the Maldives after November 2012 and found that 68 percent of sampled quotas were issued against specified criteria.
The quota limits the number of expatriates that can be employed by a local business and is calculated based on the type of work. It is generated using an automatic formula in the ‘Xpat online system.’
“We observed the number of quota generated by the system through the use of the formula was more than were requested by the employers,” reads the audit report made public on Monday.
“Hence, the use of the formula resulted in issuing more quotas than was required. Such instances indicate that the [immigration department] did not consider the economic needs when quotas were issued.”
The audit also found that the department had not inspected all worksites before issuing quotas.
“This resulted in incorrect issuing of quotas; a police investigation report revealed issuance of quotas in respect of nineteen worksites that did not exist,” the report stated.
Of a sample of 40 quotas and employment approvals, 27 quotas and 13 approvals were issued when criteria were not met.
According to the 2014 census, there are 58,683 expatriates residing in the Maldives. However, the department of national planning has said the figure was much lower than numbers recorded by the immigration department.
NGO Transparency Maldives (TM) estimates there are 200,000 migrant workers in the Maldives – two-thirds of the country’s population.
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.
The Maldives ratified an Anti-Trafficking Act in December 2013, but TM says implementation, monitoring and enforcement of laws and regulations are crucial to prevent human trafficking.
Monitoring and enforcement
The department has not conducted research to determine the number of skilled and unskilled immigrant workers needed in the Maldives, the report observed, while the absence of a “sound policy framework” has resulted in a rapid increase in migrant workers.
Tackling illegal migration has since become “one of the main objectives of the department.”
The report noted that the absence of effective enforcement measures prior to 2014, after which the department “started conducting frequent investigations and they have strengthened their enforcement measures such as levying a fine on employers violating the regulations.”
“However, the [department] made slow progress in areas such as improving efficiency, staff capability quality of data and maintenance of complete data on the Xpat Online System,” it added.
The department began using the system in November 2012, but accurate information prior to then is not available as “migration of data from the labour ministry system…was not performed in a planned and systematic manner.”
“However, between 26 November 2012 and 31 December 2013 there were 9,914 expired work permits that were neither renewed nor cancelled,” it added.
As of September 2014, the department was owed MVR27.3 million in unpaid visa fees. However, apart from blacklisting the employers, the department “has not used its powers such as fining or holding passport of the employers.”
The system is not integrated with the Xpat online system, “which is hindering the achievement of the [department’s] objective in minimising illegal immigration.”
The department also failed to maintain data on workers who left under the government’s ‘Voluntary Departure Programme.’ The actual number of workers that departed under the programme is unknown.
The accuracy of the Xpat system cannot be ensured either, the report continued, as it cannot be used to trace workers who have left.
Information in travel documents “does not necessarily match with the information recorded in the system.”
“The employment approval of those leaving the country using a travel document would not be cancelled from the system,” the report noted.
Additionally, the department has not handled complaints “in a systematic manner.” The audit found that some complaints had not been attended to for over a year.
The auditor general’s office recommended that the department follow its standard operating procedures in issuing quotas and permits, conduct thorough checks at all stages, and take action against employers with unpaid work visa fees.
The audit also advised formulation of a framework on the number expatriate workers needed in the country.
The department should also “create a culture of serving the public,” evaluate staff capacity and workload, and recruit more staff where necessary.
A survey conducted during the audit revealed that a significant number of employers were not satisfied with the department’s services.
The department should also ensure that deposits collected from employers should only be used to deport workers. The audit office also advised revising deposit rates “at regular intervals to reflect the costs likely to be incurred.”
As news of socio-political turmoil forces the world to shift its eyes away from the pristine beaches of its beautiful tropical islands, Maldives is losing its untainted image as a luxury tourist destination with more exposure of its appalling track record on human rights. This article looks closely at the lack of both compassion and adequate law enforcement in the Maldivian society’s (mis)treatment of the South Asian expatriate community. It highlights not just the plight of the many Bangladeshi labourers but also the increasing number of South Asian women who are becoming victims of the corrupt and prejudiced criminal justice system of the country.
In addition to the Maldivian population of approximately 330,000, there are 200,000 expatriate workers living in the country, of which a quarter does not have legal status in the country. The Maldives’ treatment of migrant workers is degrading enough for it to be called ‘modern-day slavery.’ The trade generates over US$ 123 million in illegal profits in the Maldives. Last week two Bangladeshi workers, Shaheen Mia and Kazi Bilal were brutally killed bringing to the fore, in tragic circumstances, the unheard voice of the subaltern in today’s Maldivian society.
The government on 25 March banned a planned protest against the deplorable treatment faced by expatriate workers. The protest was planned to highlight the resurgence in violent crime against the South Asian workers. The government of current President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom’s brother; Asia’s longest serving leader until August 2008, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, also criminalised a planned protest following similar racially motivated assaults in August 2007, threatening expatriates with deportation.
In addition to silencing their voices and denying them agency, the criminal justice system, primarily the Criminal Court and law enforcement authorities perpetuate injustices against the marginalised. The violation of their fundamental rights is facilitated through certain judicial actors who are untrained, uneducated and corrupt. These judges do not pay any attention to the Constitution or domestic laws or international legal instruments the Maldives has ratified. Increasingly women are becoming victims of the system.
Fareesha Abdulla, a Maldivian lawyer who took the case in 2012 on a pro-bono basis, emphasised that the investigation and remand hearings were not conducted with interpreters. “She [Rubeena] can’t understand Dhivehi, but the entire investigation was carried out without an interpreter. Maldives’ police wrote down a statement in Dhivehi and she signed it,” said the defence lawyer. “Infanticide is a serious allegation but when she requested legal aid before I took on the case, the Attorney General denied it,” Fareesha Abdulla explained further.
Before Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power, the Manmohan Singh government’s Minister for External Affairs also urged Maldives to repatriate such detainees. Modi was scheduled to visit the Maldives last month but with international concerns growing over the arrest of former President Mohamed Nasheed on 23 February 2015, took the Maldives off his tour of Indian Ocean island nations. Soon after the diplomatic brushoff, Rubeena was repatriated to India in early March.
Aminath Zara, a Nepalese woman who was fighting for custody of her child with a Maldivian succeeded only after a yearlong legal battle at the Family Court. Zara arrived in the Maldives initially in October 2009 as Tasi Telisa to work at a beauty salon as a beauty therapist. She converted to Islam in 2010. She then left the country in September 2011 and returned after marrying a Maldivian in Sri Lanka in December 2011. When the baby was three, her husband demanded Zara to go back to work; she was the sole breadwinner at times. According to Zara, the marriage came to an end due to her husband’s infidelity while she was away working.
The couple filed for a divorce at the Guraidhoo Magistrate Court in September 2013, but the proceedings and documents were all in Dhivehi, and an interpreter was not offered. The magistrate decided “disobedience” by the wife was sufficient grounds for divorce. As a result Zara became a homeless – and soon to be illegal – single mother. She filed a complaint at the Gender Ministry because her ex-husband was threatening to deport her and gain full custody of the baby. A Maldivian lawyer, Lua Shaheer, who was providing pro-bono legal assistance, said that Zara’s husband repeatedly told her “you are a foreigner, you will have no choice but to leave this country without the child.”
The Gender Ministry provided Zara with temporary accommodation for three months. At the end of the three months she moved back to the island of Guradhoo but could not stand the abuse she was subjected to. With nowhere to live, her former lawyer Lua Shaheer took Zara in to her own home. She is now represented by another lawyer, Fathmath Sama, whose firm took the case on pro-bono.
The husband was represented by Ibrahim Riza, an MP for Gayoom’s Progressive Party of Maldives. The main argument in court was that “the mother is a Buddhist, the mother’s family is Buddhist, and the child would be deprived of a Muslim upbringing.” Zara’s husband also accused her of “abandoning the baby for monetary greed.” Shaheer testified in court that Zara is a practicing Muslim. Even though Zara won custody, the verdict states she cannot leave the country without the ex-husband’s permission if she decides to leave with the baby, effectively leaving her stranded in the Maldives without a place to live.
According to the Indian High Commission in the Maldives, an Indian woman named Manyama Orsu was charged with pre-marital sex and abortion. According to the new penal code, abortions after 120 days of pregnancy are illegal, but a pregnancy caused by rape is an exception to the 120-day rule. Orsu was charged before the new penal code came into effect. The court proceedings against her went on for two and a half years. She confessed to the first charge, and the State dropped abortion charges bringing an end to her arbitrary detention, facilitating her repatriation in late March this year.
There are also reports of other foreign women held at Dhoonidhoo Island Detention Centre on allegations of prostitution, abortion and drug trafficking. Some of these women are victims of sex trafficking and trafficking in persons. But without a systematic mechanism to identify victims, or the mentality to view such individuals as victims, Maldives’ authorities exacerbate psychological and physical trauma suffered by human trafficking victims.
Two foreign women identified by police as sex trafficking victims in 2008 were provided temporary shelter before being repatriated with the help of their home country’s diplomatic mission in the capital Malé. Due to the lack of investigative infrastructure based on the problem of Trafficking in Persons, nobody was prosecuted for the crime, and the case was dropped due to “lack of evidence.”
Lack of infrastructure & lack of will
There are other instances where lack of legislation, and lack of enforcement, have hindered any efforts to tackle the problem. In 2009, a Bangladeshi man was chained inside a small room for weeks; the chains were removed only when the man was put to work. The employer was released after merely four months’ imprisonment due to lack of anti-trafficking legislation at the time.
The Maldives’ government passed anti-trafficking legislation only in 2013, motivated only by the fear of threatened international sanctions. The Bill had been in Majlis since 2011. However, expatriate workers from South Asian countries continue to be victimized under forced labour conditions notwithstanding the legislation. The US State Department’s Report on Trafficking in Persons states that ‘the [Maldivian] government does not have procedures in place to identify victims of human trafficking.’ As a result trafficked persons are further victimized by the corrupt criminal justice system. At the same time, the legal system remains highly inaccessible to foreigners, especially in relation to criminal law.
Transparency International’s local chapter provided over 560 expatriate workers with legal aid in 2014, mostly with regard to cases that consist of forced labour indicators. ‘We believe that migrant workers are the most vulnerable community in the Maldives today, they do not have access to the legal system due to the language barrier,’ Transparency Maldives’ Senior Project Coordinator for its Advocacy and Legal Advice Centre, Ahid Rasheed, has said.
‘Maldivian society in general views Bangladeshi expatriates as lower class non-citizens; harassment against them has been completely normalized. The authorities view them as the problem and not victims of discriminatory attacks and human trafficking offences.’ Highlighting a history of institutionalised xenophobia, Rasheed said ‘the latest word from the government we heard – regarding the protest – questions basic rights afforded to migrant workers, similar to how all previous governments neglected migrant workers’ grievances.’
The Maldives enacted the Employment Act in 2008, and as a Member State of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the Act harmonises domestic law of the Maldives with the principles and standards prescribed by the organisation. Independent institutions such as the Employment Tribunal and Labour Relations Authority were established through this Act. ‘Forced labour’ is prohibited and broadly defined to be any instance where there are elements of undue influence, threat, or intimidation with regards to employment. The Act also addresses discrimination at the work place and ensures both local and foreign employees right to freedom from discrimination based on race, religion, social standing, political beliefs, marital status, gender, or family obligations.
It is a common misconception that ‘human trafficking’ or ‘trafficking in persons’ requires illegal entry, similar to ‘human smuggling.’ Human trafficking sometimes begins as smuggling, can end up as exploitation and trafficking, but not all trafficking involves crossing-borders.The United Nations (UN) defines ‘trafficking in persons’ as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation or the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.
The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Convention on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution was ratified by the Maldives in May 2003; a legal instrument recognizing the importance of establishing effective regional cooperation for preventing trafficking for prostitution and for investigation, detection, interdiction, prosecution, and punishment of those responsible for such trafficking.
The ILO defines the following as elements of forced labour: withholding payment and identity documents; abusive working and living conditions; debt bondage; restriction of movement; excessive overtime; deception; isolation; physical and sexual violence; and intimidation and threats. All of which are daily grievances faced by most low-skilled expatriate workers in the Maldives.
A report by the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) in February 2009 states that Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan and Indian nationals are detained at the Malé Immigration Detention Center, managed by the Expatriate Monitoring Center under the Department of Immigration and Emigration. Ordinarily detained for not holding a valid passport, visa or work permit. HRCM urged the Maldives to become a member of the International Convention on the Rights of All Migrant Workers (ICRMW). The national human rights committee’s report recommended development and implementation of systematic procedures for government officials to identify victims of trafficking among vulnerable groups such as undocumented migrants and women in prostitution, who are human trafficking victims. It also urged identified victims of trafficking to be provided necessary assistance and not be penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of them being trafficked.
The US State Department has consistently raised the issue of increasing debt bondage among South Asian migrant workers under its annual Trafficking in Persons report. According to its most recent report, migrant workers pay agents around US$2,000-4,000 to work in the Maldives. There have been reports that some of the 200 registered agents bring migrant workers to the Maldives under terms of employment that amount to criminal acts of deception or fraud, entangling employees in a vicious cycle of debt. The report also recommends that Maldives accede to the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons.
The government has failed at implementing enacted laws, and it appears to be using the rise in violent crime to militarize the police service, and enact legislations that strip away the protections, freedoms and liberties enshrined under the Constitution that introduced democratization to the Maldives. As the focus remains on suppressing dissent from citizens who oppose the regime, the plight of the subaltern stays at the political periphery. The Maldives has yet to fulfill the minimum standards required to eliminate human trafficking.
Human trafficking victims are regularly penalized for acts that are the result of being trafficked; excluded from the legal system; and viewed as offenders. Maldivian authorities are known to detain such victims under inhumane conditions. The real perpetrators of trafficking such as employers, officials, recruitment agents or firms are rarely brought to justice, giving full impunity to these powerful offenders who have connections to transnational organized crime. The insularity observed among majority of Maldivians is reinforced on an institutional level by denying inalienable rights that are to be afforded to all citizens and non-citizens indiscriminately. Sex trafficking, forced labour, debt bondage and other forms of exploitation do not end with enacting legislations or acceding to treaties in order to be accepted as a member of the international community. A stipulation under law is only powerful to the extent to which it is realized, and for the subaltern – without the qualification to even speak – those rights are continually denied.
Mushfique Mohamed is a practising lawyer at Hisaan, Riffath & Co., and also works as a consultant for Maldivian Democracy Network.
A ban on foreigners working as cashiers took effect today in an attempt to boost employment among local young people, almost a third of whom are jobless.
However, overseas workers were still seen working as cashiers, while some employers said they had trouble finding young Maldivians to fill the roles.
The Ministry of Economic Development changed the regulation on migrant workers earlier this year to bar foreigners from working as cashiers in cafés, restaurants and shops.
The ministry also began free training programs in collaboration with businesses for Maldivians wishing to be cashiers, but some businesses remain unprepared for the change.
“My boss came today because I can’t work behind the counter anymore,” said an migrant worker who was previously a cashier at Mariyam Café in Malé.
He is still employed at the cafe but will take on a different role.
Although the new regulation aims to increase employment among young Maldivians, some businesses have experienced problems with younger local staff.
“I employed three or four [Maldivian] youths before. But I can’t manage the business with them because they do not come to work regularly,” said Mohamed Sanah, who runs Laasany, a family-run shop on Orchid Road in the capital.
Ali jaleel, owner of a local goods shop, praised the change in the rules.
“I’m the one who is always behind this counter,” he said. “I see a lot of foreigners working as cashiers.
“It would be a good change for Maldivians to do the job instead of them. At least the money wouldn’t go outside the country then.”
Some 26.5 per cent of Maldivians aged 15 to 24 are unemployed, according to World Bank figures from 2013, the most recent figures available.
Government figures place the number of overseas workers in the Maldives at 58,000, but other estimates place as high as twice that figure. Most are in the construction industry.
The Ministry of Economic Development and Youth Ministry were unavailable for comment at the time of going to press.
President Abdulla Yameen pledged to create 95,000 jobs in his five-year term. He claimed 17,000 jobs were created within his first year, and claimed credit, but did not provide details.
The Department of Immigration and Emigration today warned migrant workers against participating in protests and threatened to cancel work visas for protesting expatriates.
The warning came after local media today announced migrant workers had called for a mass protest on Friday against entrenched discrimination and a recent spike in violence which saw two Bangladeshi nationals murdered and three stabbed in Malé.
A 25-year old Bangladeshi, Shaheen Mia, was stabbed to death in a Malé café in the early hours of the morning on Sunday (March 22), while a Bangladeshi national identified as Bilal was found dead in Alif Alif Atoll Thoddoo Island on Monday night.
Meanwhile, three expatriate workers were stabbed on Tuesday between 7:20pm and 7:40pm in three different locations in Malé.
But the Controller of Immigration and Emigration Mohamed Anwar in a statement today said expatriates protesting for their rights was against the terms of their work permits, and threatened to cancel visas without a second warning.
If action was taken against an expatriate worker for protesting, Anwar said the Immigration Department would also suspend services to their employers.
He called on employers to remind migrant workers to respect Maldivian laws and stay away from protests.
“The immigration department will not hesitate in penalising those who participate in protests,” he added.
The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives’ (HRCM) Vice President Ahmed Tholal said the ban on migrant worker protests was unconstitutional.
“The constitution guarantees every person on Maldivian soil the right to protest. A clause in a migrant worker’s contract cannot override the constitution,” he told Minivan News.
Expressing grave concern, Tholal said the recent fatal attacks amount to hate crimes as the violence appears to be targeted against migrant workers.
He noted discrimination and inhumane treatment of migrant workers were entrenched issues in the Maldives, and said this week’s violence further marginalised an already vulnerable group.
Tholal called on the Maldives to immediately initiate discussions with diplomatic missions and take urgent action to ensure the safety of migrant workers.
According to the 2014 national census, there are 58,683 migrant workers in the Maldives. However, the department of national planning said the figure was much lower than the official figure recorded by the Immigration Department.
The US State Department in its 2014 Trafficking in Persons report described the Maldives as a “destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking.”
Migrant workers – primarily Bangladeshi and Indian men in the construction and service sectors – experienced forced labor, including fraudulent recruitment, confiscation of identity and travel documents, withholding and nonpayment of wages, and debt bondage, the report said.
The State Department welcomed the Maldives passing its first anti-trafficking law in 2013, but decried “serious problems in anti-trafficking law enforcement and victim protection.”
“The government did not adequately train police and other officials on trafficking, nor did it provide authorities with procedures to identify victims among vulnerable populations and refer those victims to protective services. Consequently, the government penalised some victims for offences committed as a result of being trafficked and also deported thousands of migrants without adequately screening for indications of forced labor,” the report said.
Following the enactment of the Anti-Human Trafficking Act in 2013, the Maldives avoided relegation to Tier 3 and possible international sanctions.
Human rights group Transparency Maldives (TM) has also described the Immigration Department’s protest ban as unconstitutional and called on the government to listen to worker’s concerns.
TM also urged law enforcement agencies to expedite investigations into migrant worker murders and called on the government to sign the International Covenant on Migrant Workers immediately.
The recently introduced exit permit scheme has been suspended indefinitely after complaints about the regulation, which requires foreign workers to obtain permission from their employers before leaving the country.
Immigration Information Officer Hassan Khaleel told Minivan News today that the regulation was suspended after several complaints from different organisations, including numerous airlines and NGOs.
“The exit permit issue has been suspended from today onwards. We will consider and address every single complaint received and look at the regulation from several perspectives before re-implementing,” he explained.
Speaking at the time, Khaleel explained that the introduction of the exit permit system came after requests from employers concerned at the number of expatriate workers leaving the country without their employer’s permission.
He added that the immigration department believed the new regulations might help lessen the illegal practice of withholding passports – which has been described as ‘rampant’ in the Maldives by the US State Department.
Local NGO Transparency Maldives (TM) expressed concern, however, that the exit permits would exacerbate the well-documented abuses within the immigration system.
Advocacy and communications manager at TM, Aiman Rasheed, said that the regulation might have the same effect of withholding the travel documents of the worker, leading to the “employer having control over the mobility of the worker”.
“While this is an infringement on the freedom of movement for workers, it also presents opportunities for perpetuation of bondage, trafficking, etc, by limiting movement of the worker,” said Aiman.
While exact figures are unavailable, the number of expatriate workers in the Maldives has been estimated to be as high as 200,000 – equivalent to two thirds of the local population.
Exit permit systems are also operated in other nations with large numbers of expatriate workers – such as the UAE and Qatar, although Qatar announced earlier this year that it was to abolish the practice after pressure from human rights groups.