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Weekend roundup: Undocumented migrant workers fill up stadium

A roundup of the weekend’s top stories.



Migrant workers queue up for regularisation programme

Thousands of undocumented migrant workers filled up the national stadium in Malé on Saturday morning as the economic development ministry resumed its “regularisation programme” after a week-long hiatus.

The government launched the six-month programme to register irregular migrants last month after banning the recruitment of unskilled Bangladeshi workers for one year. An estimated 63,000 foreign nationals work in the Maldives illegally out of a migrant worker population of 144,600, predominantly Bangladeshi and Indian men who work in the construction and tourism industries.

After long lines stretched outside its registration office in the capital, the economic development ministry started using the Galolhu stadium on Saturdays. But the registration progress did not continue last Saturday and hundreds of workers resumed queuing outside the office on Majeedhee Magu.

As the process resumed this weekend, police officers assisted in managing lines and leading workers up to counters staffed by economic ministry officials. The registered individuals are offered appointments to complete the process at the economic ministry.

Immigration officials told the press in January that workers arrive with valid work permits but some fail to perform a medical evaluation and obtain work visas. Several migrants who arrive to work in resorts also flee and join a labour black market, officials said.

But according to an annual human trafficking report by the United States, many workers from South Asian countries are brought in by recruitment agents with the promise of resort jobs only to be left to fend for themselves after their passports are confiscated. Foreign workers are subjected to “practices indicative of forced labour, including fraudulent recruitment, confiscation of identity and travel documents, withholding or non-payment of wages, and debt bondage.”

Last year, the Maldives was downgraded on a US watchlist for human trafficking over the failure to meet minimum standards for elimination.

Lawmaker and minister compete for MDP vice presidency

MP Mohamed Aslam will be taking on incumbent Mohamed Shifaz in the upcoming internal elections for the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party’s vice presidency.

Both men filed candidacy papers at the party office on Saturday morning. A veteran lawmaker, Aslam represents the Hithadhoo North constituency in Addu City. Shifaz, a former lawmaker and incumbent vice president of the MDP, is a minister at the president’s office.

Speaker Mohamed Nasheed is seeking a second term as MDP president. The former president is the sole candidate again after  being elected to the MDP presidency uncontested in August 2014, winning 33,709 votes from a total of 57,203 registered members. The MDP’s membership stood at 53,590 by the end of last month.

The internal elections are due to take on November 22.

On Friday, the MDP conducted by-elections to fill vacant leadership posts in five branches.

MDN officials summoned for police investigation

Police have summoned senior officials of the Maldivian Democracy Network to appear for questioning over the alleged mocking of Islam and the prophet in the NGO’s 2016 report on radicalisation.

Summons chits have been sent out, a police media official told the press on Saturday, declining to provide further information. But none of the authors of the ‘Preliminary Assessment of Radicalisation in the Maldives’ are presently in the country. Shahindha Ismail, the NGO’s executive director, was in Germany when local clerics launched a campaign to ban MDN after screenshots of offensive sections were widely shared on social media.

In the face of a public outcry, MDN removed the report from its website and apologised for offending public sensitivities with its use of language. President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih promised to take action and the registrar of associations suspended the rights group pending the outcome of a police investigation.

But religious scholars reiterated calls to ban MDN last Monday and the campaign has been continuing across the country. Some 30 atoll and island councils have released statements condemning the report and calling for action as protest marches took place on Friday afternoon on several islands, including Thaa Hirilandhoo, Raa Hulhudhuffaru, Raa Rasgetheemu, Lhaviyani Naifaru, Noonu Maafaru, Thaa Vilufushi and Haa Alif Kelaa.

Salaf files complaint against Nasheed

The religious conservative NGO Jamiyyathul Salaf filed a complaint against Speaker Mohamed Nasheed on Thursday, accusing the former president of defending an “anti-Islamic” report by the Maldivian Democracy Network and asking the Islamic ministry to punish him under the 1994 religious unity law.

The suspended human rights group’s 2016 report on radicalisation in the Maldives insulted Islam, demeaned the character of Prophet Mohamed, dismissed God’s messages in the Quran as fables, and “demolished all the tenets of the religion,” Salaf’s president Abdulla bin Mohamed Ibrahim wrote in a letter to the Islamic minister.

Salaf accused the speaker of parliament of trying to “normalise” the mocking of Islam and the prophet with a “deceitful, cunning estimate” in his remarks at various places, which the NGO warned could cause of loss of public order and harmony “in this Maldivian Islamic society.”

Speaking at a function earlier this month, Nasheed said he did not believe that the authors of the MDN report had intended to incite hatred towards Islam. But there was inappropriate language in the report and some passages were disrespectful towards the prophet, he said at book launching of Sheikh Hussain Rasheed Ahmed’s 10th volume of translations and interpretations of Prophet Mohamed’s hadith (teachings).

In a meeting with members of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party last Thursday night, Nasheed slammed the branding of MDP members as laadheenee (secular or irreligious). “The days ahead could be difficult for us. In my view, it won’t be too easy for us. None of you should under any circumstances think that we are a laadheenee party, laadheenee people,” he told supporters.

President Solih departs for Japan

President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and First Lady Fazna Ahmed departed on Friday night for a seven-day officials visit to Japan, during which the pair will attend the enthronement ceremony of Empror Naruhito.

The president will also hold talks with top Japanese government “focused on further strengthening cooperation between the two countries in various avenues,” the president’s office said.

“Japan’s aid and support has been crucial to addressing vulnerabilities and assisting sustainable economic development of the Maldives, fostering local industries, addressing the adverse impacts of climate change and environmental issues and managing disasters.”

The president’s office noted the support provided by Japan over the past several decades, including “the mechanisation of boats, development of the seawall around Malé, coastal fisheries promotion, electrification projects in numerous islands, construction and renovation of multiple schools across the country, cultural aid grants, assistance to tsunami reconstruction project, and clean energy promotion in Malé with the installation of solar panels in government buildings.”

More recently, Japan granted ambulances, medical equipment, and disaster reduction equipment.

Japanese non-project grants to the Maldives include the provision of equipment for the education and health sectors, Japanese disaster reduction equipment and grant aid to enhance public security efforts.

An agreement was signed in December for Japan to grant MVR42.19 million (¥300 million) to procure related equipment and material for oil spill prevention. In June 2019, an MVR70 million (¥500 million) aid agreement was signed for the provision of a fireboat and a landing craft.

On Twitter this weekend: