Almost 100 expatriates suspected of being undocumented have been taken for screening to the expat detention centre in Hulhumalé Thursday.
The Immigration and Emigration Department’s media official Hassan Khaleel told the Maldives Independent it was a routine inspection and not based on a complaint.
The 87 people were standing near Zikra mosque in the capital.
“We target hotspots where they usually hang out. We screen those that are unable to present an ID, those who do not have an ID and those who have expired IDs,” said Khaleel.
All were asked about their IDs before being taken away, he said, adding there may be a case of mistaken identity as someone who “might stop to talk to his friends or walking out from the mosque may also have been mistakenly taken as well.”
He declined to comment on how such a scenario was possible if everyone taken for screening was first asked if they had their documents.
The police said they assisted the immigration department but declined to comment further.
Undocumented workers and others held for visa violations or criminal offences are kept at the detention centre until deportation.
Some 130,000 migrant workers are believed to reside in the Maldives, including 60,000 undocumented workers, the majority of whom are Bangladeshi and Indian men working in the construction and tourism sectors.
In December, in a similar joint operation, 50 expatriate staff working at the cafes in the capital’s area carnival were taken into custody.
In November, three Bangladeshi men were sentenced to 10 years in jail for sex trafficking, under a landmark law criminalising human trafficking that was passed in 2013. No Maldivians have been prosecuted under the law yet.
The authorities have blamed the low rate of conviction for human trafficking on victims’ failure to cooperate.