Maldives gov't deports 6,400 migrant workers in 2014, plans more

Maldives gov't deports 6,400 migrant workers in 2014, plans more

COLOMBO, July 23 (Xinhua) -- Maldives immigration officials deported 6,400 migrant workers in the first seven months of 2014 and are holding another 159 in detention, an official said here on Wednesday.

Barring a handful arrested on criminal offenses, all were undocumented migrant workers some having worked illegally for up to 12 years.

"This is not just a program we carry out for this period, it will be a continuous process," Controller of Maldives Immigration Hassan Ali told reporters, adding that legal action will be taken against employers of migrant workers as well.

"We have been warning about this for several years now, but there will be no warning anymore. We are taking action."

The controller has made assurances that immigration staff are aware of the risk of deporting trafficking victims, and said that no legal rights were being infringed upon during the detention of migrant workers.

He urged small businesses to ensure recruitment agencies provide the correct information to migrant workers prior to their arrival. Long-term plans to check company immigration records before awarding government contracts is also being considered.

The current special operation to deport undocumented workers was announced on April 24, with Minister of Defense and National Security Mohamed Nazim also in charge of the immigration department promising "the whole Male will be cleaned (of migrant workers)."

In December 2013 the department also conducted a voluntary repatriation program to allow for the regularization of workers through easier documentation processes and the option to return legally after six months.

Those detained under the current program are deported as soon as possible, and will be unable to return to the Maldives within the next ten years.

Their documents are arranged through their respective foreign offices and the travel fare is arranged with money deposited at the department prior to their arrival, or through their employers.

The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives has previously expressed concern over the program, stating that victims of human trafficking may also be deported.

While the national anti-trafficking steering committee established under the new Anti-Trafficking Act has drafted a national guideline of internationally accepted standards, it is yet to be approved and used at a national level.

However, the Maldives government insists immigration officials are vigilant of potential trafficking victims.