MP Nazim left Maldives on same night travel restrictions were placed

Former Deputy Speaker and Dhiggaru MP Ahmed Nazim reportedly left the Maldives for Malaysia the same night that travel restrictions were placed on him following a Criminal Court order.

Haveeru reported that Nazim left the Maldives last Wednesday night (October 22) while the Criminal Court issued an order to immigration authorities to withhold his passport on the same night at 9.45pm.

Police confirmed that Nazim’s passport has been held but refused to give any further information as to why the passport was held in the first place.

An independent report into the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan also mentioned the Dhiggaru MP’s name, alleging that Nazim had attempted to implicate the tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb in the case.

The report by private UK-based intelligence firm suggested that Nazim had promised to provide a journalist with information linking Adeeb – also deputy leader of the PPM – with corruption if he could be linked to the disappearance of Rilwan.


Maldivian arrested in India released on bail

A Maldivian woman arrested in Trivandrum, India, in late December 2014 has been released on bail on Wednesday, the Maldives consulate has said.

She had been arrested on charges of breaching the Passport Law and Foreigners Registration Amendment Law of India.

The Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate Court issued the order for her release on bail on Tuesday, local media quotes an unnamed official of the Maldivian Consulate in India.

Despite the order being released on Tuesday, she had to remain in detention as extra day until the consulate was able to sort out relevant bureaucratic papers with the concerned authorities of India, local media have said.

The woman’s bail had been granted upon the legal team’s assurance of presenting her to court for a scheduled hearing.

“She was released when two persons from India guaranteed that she will be presented to court. The case is not done yet. We do not know how long it will take for the case to be completed,” the official is quoted as saying.

The official further revealed that the woman had been arrested due to matters involving the tenancy of Maldivians in a rented house in Trivandrum. He stated that the officials had previously released an order looking for the woman, but neither she nor the consulate had known about the notice prior to the arrest.


Government releases MDP MP “Gadhoo” Zahir’s passport

The Department of Immigration has released Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Zahir Adam’s passport today.

The passport was withheld on Friday night at the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) as Zahir attempted to leave the country to get medical treatment.

Immigration Controller Dr Mohamed Ali said Kaafu Atoll Guraidhoo Island had issued an order to withhold the passport, but had ordered its release today.

“We follow the court’s orders. When Guraidhoo court asked us to withhold the passort we did that. When they told us to release the passport, we did that also,” Ali told Minivan News.

In a statement on Saturday, Zahir said he had not been informed of charges against him in any court.

“This is an act to cause trouble for MDP MPs, and to threaten and obstruct MDP’s reform programs,” Zahir said.

Minivan News was unable to reach the Guraidhoo Court at the time of press.

MDP MPs Eva Abdulla and Ali Azim were arrested last week as the party continues demonstrations for elections to expedited after the Supreme Court ordered the police to forcibly halt the second round of presidential elections. The run off had been scheduled for September 28.

Eva was arrested at a protest on Tuesday evening and released after a few hours of detention. Ali Azim was arrested on Sunday last week, and has now been transferred to house arrest.

Meanwhile, the police have said it is investigating MDP MPs Alhan Fahmy, Imthiyaz Fahmy, Mohamed Rasheed (Bonda) and ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik for contempt of court and threatening the police, judges and their families.

MDP MPs Abdulla Jabir and Hamid Abdul Gafoor are currently standing trial on suspicion of possessing drugs and alcohol.


Trapped in the Maldives: foreign nationals stranded due to employers, state failing to resolve visa issues

A growing number of foreign nationals are finding themselves forbidden from leaving the Maldives by immigration staff, due to the failure of state and private employers to renew visa documentation.

The Indian High Commission in the Maldives told Minivan News it was now demanding government intervention after receiving complaints from expatriates claiming they have been blocked from boarding planes at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA), and stranded in the country indefinitely.

Minivan News has learned of cases where expatriates from India, the UK, the US and the Philippines have been blocked from leaving the country due to issues with visa documentation attributable to the negligence of state authorities and employers – in some cases, government ministries.

Unable to leave – and in some cases fined extortionate sums on behalf of the employer – foreigners are complaining of being trapped without funds, accommodation or legal representation.

As employers are responsible for arranging work permits on behalf of their foreign employees, foreign nationals are unable to submit or collect their own visa documentation, effectively stranding them in the Maldives at the mercy of their employers and state authorities while renewals are underway.

One UK national, seeking to ensure his own work permit was processed, even told Minivan News he was refused service at the immigration office on the grounds of “Where’s your owner?”.

An Indian High Commission source this week accused authorities of persecuting foreign nationals for the failure of the state and private employers to correctly renew or register foreign staff in the required time, depriving expatriates of their freedom of movement.

In just the past few days, the high commission said two Indian nationals had missed flights and been stranded in the Maldives while waiting for employers and government authorities to resolve the outstanding issues with their paperwork.

One of those affected, licensed pathologist at the state-run Indira Ghandi Memorial Hospital (IGMH), Dr Anjula Jain, was prevented from returning to India last week after completing her contract with the Ministry of Health.

She was forced to wait several days before receiving approval to book another flight with her own money.

Dr Jain has since filed an official complaint over her treatment with the Indian High Commission.

A High Commission source said Dr Jain had been told at immigration counter that she could not leave the country as her work visa had expired, despite the Health Ministry being in the process of renewing her documents.

Despite possessing papers showing the renewal process was ongoing, the doctor was still refused permission to leave.

Dr Jain was then asked to obtain a letter from the Health Ministry confirming the renewal of her documents was underway, before finally obtaining clearance from the Department of Immigration to leave the country days later.

The High Commission source said it was extremely concerned that Maldives employers, especially state authorities such as the Health Ministry, were continuing to employ foreign nationals even after their visas had expired, resulting in serious difficulties for the workers.

“There is a serious problem here for expatriates working for private and government companies where a visa is not renewed in time, with some people even having their bank accounts frozen and being deprived of their rights,” the source said.

“One call is too many,” the source said. “Concerns have been raised with [State Foreign Minister] Hassan Saeed as some similar cases have been brought to our attention. [The commission] will be checking with authorities that a systematic resolution can be found by the government to resolve this issue.”

Trapped in Male

Several foreign staff of varying nationalities working in areas ranging from tourism to the NGO sector have told Minivan News they are effectively barred from leaving due to problems with paperwork they are unable to resolve without the assistance of ambivalent employers and immigration staff.

One US national working in the NGO sector told Minivan News that she remains blocked from leaving the country due to a delay in obtaining a visa stamp in her passport, after discovering at the immigration counter that a previous employer had failed to pay outstanding visa charges.

Speaking to Minivan News on condition of anonymity, the woman said that during a recent attempt to fly to Sri Lanka for a medical reasons, immigration staff  had summoned an airline official, who had ripped up her ticket in front of her.

“I spent a year working for my former employer. It took six months of demanding my passport be returned to me before it was, however I was constantly reassured all my documentation was in order and there were just processing delays. So I was very surprised to discover they had failed to pay the appropriate work visa fees,” she said.

“This has not only caused problems for my current employer, it has put me in a very vulnerable position as an expatriate worker. I’ve been prevented from leaving the country – urgently for health reasons – by the Immigration Department because of these unpaid fees resulting in my documentation not being properly updated.”

The US national said she was now effectively at the mercy of previous employers to resolve the outstanding payments, as she was unable to afford the the MVR 15,000 (US$1000) in fines demanded by immigration authorities to allow her to leave the country.

“Despite being in constant contact with my former employer about these issues, and some of the members showing genuine concern, they have still failed to resolve the issue nearly seven months later. Instead they blame me for these issues, when it’s clearly their own professional incompetence. It’s a foul betrayal to have dedicated so much time and energy, as well as made numerous personal sacrifices, in order to partner with this organisation to achieve their mission, merely to be blatantly disrespected as a professional and individual,” she said.

“Foreign workers in the Maldives – of any nationality – are treated like slaves, or indentured servants at best.  As a professional woman, it’s worse because you have to navigate the sexism and endure a lot of harassment – which would never be allowed if this was a country that respected its foreign employees.”

By contrast, the US national believed the only method to have visa documentation approved in a quick manner was to go through recruitment ‘agents’, alleging that corruption seemed to be endemic within the system, despite tight restrictions imposed on foreign professionals.

“The most ridiculous part of the situation is that in addition to my former employer’s incompetence, the department of immigration has been in a state of flux since Feb 2012, but this is not taken into consideration by the government. They don’t care. Illegal foreign workers are brought into the country and exploited in droves, but immigration punishes legitimate workers claiming they know what they are supposed to do,” she argued.

Employees must take responsibility: Immigration

The Department of Immigration confirmed it was aware that foreign nationals had been prevented from leaving due to their employers not having obtained visas correctly.

However, the immigration authority argued that the Maldives, like countries all over the world, required foreign nationals to have the correct visa documentation to enter or leave the country, even to their homeland.

Immigration Department spokesperson Ibrahim Ashraf said all expatriates would be aware that, in order to stay in a foreign country, it was mandatory to have the correct and valid visa.

Ashraf said that there had been a “huge backlog” of visas that were required to be processed by employers such as the health and education ministries, claiming that immigration authorities had made special arrangements to fast track visa renewals.

“This should not be happening,” he said of expatriates being prevented from boarding flights out of the country.

Ashraf claimed the Immigration Department had not been made aware of any concerns raised by the Indian High Commission over the issue of stranded workers, suggesting some issues may have been related to a “huge misunderstanding” of the visa system by employers.

“Payments for visas have to be made to the Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA), with passports then officially needing to be processed with the Department of Immigration once payment is complete,” he said. “The visa sticker has to be there in the passport.”

Ashraf stressed that a correct visa sticker was requested by airlines as well as foreign authorities to allow a foreign national to board any international flight.

Health Ministry backlog

Responding to the Indian High Commission’s concerns about Dr Jain, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Health Geela Ali told Minivan News said she was unaware of the case.

However, she accepted there had been issues with foreign doctors not being able to leave the country as a result of problems relating to visa extension issues, such as the transfer of staff from health corporations established under the previous government back to the ministry.

Geela insisted there were no longer recurring problems with visa extension of expatriates working for the health ministry, despite a backlog of outstanding documentation preventing staff from leaving, and said many issues had been resolved.

“The matter is now under control, but obviously there will sometimes be employees who cannot leave over visa issues,” she said.

Geela said IGMH was responsible for its large foreign workforce, and any workers who were facing issues leaving the country.

Indian authorities meanwhile last year slammed the government and some private employers for failing to reissue visa documentation to expatriates who were forced in some cases to wait weeks in Male to return home for visits and emergencies, including one worker’s own wedding.

In January, the high commission provided local media with a list of 11 grievances affecting its relationship with the Maldives, including discrimination, the keeping of passports of Indian nationals by employers, and the failure to repatriate mortal remains of foreign workers.

The source expressed confidence that authorities would find a resolution to the various grievances raised, despite claiming that no progress had made on any of the issues raised at time of press.


Immigration Department dismisses reports of expat system “flaw”, won’t rule out abuse by employers

Immigration officials have dismissed reports of a “flaw” in the country’s online expatriate registration system despite expressing concerns the system may be open to abuse by registered companies.

A department spokesperson confirmed this week that although new online registration introduced to try and streamline providing work visas to foreigners was not itself flawed, the system was nonetheless open to abuse from employers who allowed others to access their password-protected accounts.

The Department of Immigration and Emigration has also confirmed it has faced challenges in verifying whether construction projects were real or a front to smuggle foreign labour into the country, but told Minivan News it expects to resolve the issue from next month.

The comments were made after local newspaper Haveeru last week reported that a “serious issue” had been identified within the expatriate registration system installed by the National Centre for Information Technology (NCIT) that had allowed a steep rise in the number of foreign workers coming to the Maldives in May 2013.

Citing an anonymous immigration source, the paper reported that 4,000 expatriate workers had entered the country last month due to certain recruitment agencies abusing a “critical flaw” in the system.  According to the report, the flaw allowed recruiters to obtain an extra quota of foreign workers in order to profit from their transfer into the Maldives.

The NCIT, which was charged with installing the component of the monitoring system, this week rejected suggestions that such a flaw existed in the program in a joint statement (Dhivehi) issued with the Department of Immigration and Emigration.

The expatriate quota system had been assigned through procedures set out by the Immigration Department to the NCIT, the statement read.

Once a quota is obtained, the NCIT stated that an expatriate would only be granted entry into the country upon providing a photograph, their passport bio page and other official documents required by immigration officials that are required to be entered into the system.

“Therefore, we can confirm that 4000 expatriates have not entered the country unknown,” the statement added.

The NCIT’s dismissal of the media report’s comes as the Maldives faces increasing pressure to tackle the issue of unregistered expatriates, with the country appearing on the US State Department’s Tier Two Watch List for Human Trafficking.  The country has appeared on the list for three years in a row.

Employer responsibility

Although claiming no technical flaw had been found by authorities within the expat system, immigration spokesperson Ibrahim Ashraf told Minivan News that registered employers had a responsibility to prevent abuse of their company accounts.

Ashraf said all companies employing foreigners had to be registered on the expatriate registration system through official documents like a business registration certificate and a valid national ID.

If approved, he said the employer was then assigned through the online account a maximum quota of foreign workers depending on the size of their business or the specific project they were working on.  These accounts are protected with a password.

Ashraf said there were suspicions in the Immigration Department that some employers may have provided access to their unique account to employees, who were in turn bringing in foreign workers under the company’s name – and while personally profiting from trafficking them into the country.

He compared the practice to a member of the public giving their ATM bank card and pin number to another individual, then trusting them not to draw money out from their account.

“People that are being trusted to use [the expat online system] may be doing wrong. I think this is what has been happening. Management maybe putting too much trust in other people to use this system,” Ashraf claimed.

“Systematic abuse”

Immigration Controller Dr Mohamed Ali has previously told Minivan News that while almost all foreign workers coming to the Maldives arrive under registered companies, some were finding themselves “illegally used” by employers due to “systematic abuse” of the visa system.

Foreign low-wage workers are often lured to the country by agents after paying a ‘recruitment’ fee or entering into debt – sometimes as high as several thousand dollars – that is shared between local agents and recruiters in the country of origin, most significantly Bangladesh.

In many cases the workers are then brought into the country ‘legitimately’ by a specially-created paper company, created using the ID of a complicit or unwitting Maldivian national, for the stated purpose of working on a ‘construction project’ of dubious existence.

Senior immigration sources confided to Minivan News in April this year that almost no human verification was undertaken by authorities to ensure workers were genuinely employed once a business or construction project was approved.

Ashraf this week confirmed that there had been “issues” in inspecting construction sites across both the country’s inhabited and resort islands due to a shortage of staff.

However, he claimed that by July 31, 2013, the Immigration Department was to begin inspecting construction and other projects requiring foreign labour with the assistance of local councils and key industry associations.

These groups are expected to include the Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) and the Maldives Association of Construction Industry (MACI), according to the Immigration Department.

Ashraf added that the government had recently approved the hiring of an additional 30 staff for the department in order to help oversee what is expected to be a comprehensive audit of the visa system.  Officials would then move to penalise any abuse of the system by local employers.

Unregistered workforce

The exact scale of the Maldives’ unregistered foreign workforce remains unknown, with estimates ranging from between around 40,000 people to potentially double that amount.

Earlier this year, former MACI President Mohamed Ali Janah said an estimated 40 percent of the foreign employees in the construction sector were thought not to be legally registered.

Considering these numbers, Janah said at the time that 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.

Janah claimed that 95 percent of construction groups operating in the country were Maldivian owned. However, as the country’s second largest industry on a GDP basis, the vast majority of employees in the sector were migrant workers, he said.

“We employ a huge workforce of some 60,000 to 70,000 people,” he explained at the time. “Of these people, sadly we have 40,000 to 50,000 who are expatriates.

By April of this year, Immigration Controller Dr Mohamed Ali confirmed that authorities had targeted the return of 10,000 unregistered workers by the end of the 2013.

The pledge to return a predetermined number of expatriates was criticised at the time by the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM), which raised concerns that some workers were potentially being punished for the actions of employers or agents acting outside the law.

While the government earlier this year launched a special campaign intended to raising awareness of the rights of foreign workers, NGOs and independent institutions continue to identify human trafficking as a significant issue needing to be addressed in the country.

Human rights groups in the Maldives have for instance continued to criticise both the present and former governments for failing to pass legislation that would allow authorities to press charges against individuals directly for the offence of human trafficking.  The legal measures to do so are presently under review in parliament.


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.


“Technical problem” prevented former President Nasheed from leaving, Immigration Department claims

Former President Mohamed Nasheed was prevented from leaving the country yesterday (December 21) to visit his ill father in Bangkok, Thailand due to a “technical problem,” the Department of Immigration and Emigration has claimed.

Nasheed was told by immigration officials on Friday morning that his passport was held because of a court order by the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court that had been sent to the department on December 18 imposing a travel ban on the former president.

The formerly ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) presidential candidate is currently on trial at the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court over charges of illegally detaining Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed in January this year.

However, on December 18, the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court authorised the former President to travel overseas between December 19, 2012 and January 6, 2013. The letter granting permission to travel was signed by Magistrate Hussain Mazeed.

Following the incident on Friday morning, the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court confirmed to local media that the Immigration Department was informed of the decision on December 18.

In a statement later in the day, the Immigration Department said the court order lifting the travel ban was received and entered into the system.

However, Nasheed was told his passport had been withheld due to a “technical problem with the system,” the Immigration Department claimed.

“The issue has now been identified and fixed a short while ago,” the statement read. The department did not elaborate on the nature of the “technical problem”.

Controller of Immigration Dr Mohamed Ali told Minivan News today that the system error “affected both arrivals and departures from 7:30am to about 2:00pm.”

He added that the incident involving the former President was “the only case” of a passport being held due to the disruption.

“The system at airport did not show the release, while the release was entered on Wednesday (December 18). It was a simple system dependent decision by the duty officer at that time.  We have apologised to [Nasheed] and all who were affected and even have a letter sent to him assuring that he can leave during the specified period,” Dr Ali said.

However, the Immigration Controller told newspaper Haveeru on Friday that Nasheed’s passport was held due to a court order.

“He cannot leave until the court orders [the passport] to be released. When he wants to go somewhere, the court will instruct us to release it within a certain period,” Dr Mohamed Ali was quoted as saying.

Nasheed was reportedly due to leave for Bangkok on a private visit ahead of his father’s surgery.

Former President Nasheed’s office meanwhile issued a statement contending the move blocking the former President’s departure was in violation of the constitution.

The statement noted that article 128 of the constitution entitles former Presidents to “the highest honour, dignity, protection, financial privileges and other privileges entitled to a person who has served in the highest office of the land.”

Moreover, article 41 of the constitution guarantees “the freedom to enter, remain in and leave the Maldives” to every citizen.

“This office condemns in the harshest terms the act by the current government to deliberately obstruct President Nasheed from leaving the country for his father’s operation,” the press release stated.

It added that the Immigration Controller’s claims in the media that a travel ban had been imposed by a court order on December 18 was a “deliberate falsehood.”

The Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court informed Nasheed’s lawyers on Friday afternoon that the Immigration Department was sent the court order lifting the travel ban.

The statement called on the government to “respect the constitution and immediately cease these attempts to harass and hassle President Nasheed.”

The former President’s office also called on the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court to take action against the Controller of Immigration for making false claims regarding the court.


Civil Court to hold passport of 82 year old historian Shafeeg

A Civil Court Judge overseeing a defamation case filed by former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom today ordered that the passport of 82 year-old historian Ahmed Shafeeg be held.

The judge said the court would seize Shafeeg’s his passport after Gayoom’s lawyer said he had information that Shafeeg was about to leave the country.

Shafeeg was unable to appear at today’s hearing, with media reporting that it was the sixth hearing that had to be cancelled because Shafeeg could not attend the court because of his medical condition.

A medical certificate was presented to the court today by Shafeeg, which Gayoom’s lawyer said was against procedure and that Shefeeg would have to fill a form stating that he could not appear at court due to his medical condition.

Gayoom’s lawyer told the judge that Shafeeg was intentionally dismissing the summons “because he has been attending other functions.”

The lawyer requested the judge summon the doctor who had issued the medical certificate, citing an the incident where former president of Egypt Hosni Mubarak was summoned to the court despite his weak medical condition, and requested the judge to apply the same procedure to Shafeeg’s case.

According to daily newspaper Haveeru, before dismissing today’s hearing the judge said that Shafeeg’s doctor would be summoned to the next hearing.

A spokesperson of the Civil Court confirmed that the media reports were correct and that the judge has ordered Shafeeg’s passport held.

‘’I can confirm that the reports about his passport detention is correct. The judge also said that Shafeeg’s medical service provider will be summoned to the court during the next hearing,’’ he said.

The former President sued Shafeeg after he published a book alleging that 111 inmates disappeared in custody during Gayoom’s administration.