A street march organised to mark the International Migrants Day was cancelled on Friday following alleged interference by the police.
The march was planned by the Department of Immigration, diplomatic missions and the Maldives branch of the International Organisation for Migrants, but was called off at the last minute after the police refused a permit for the protest, multiple sources told the The Maldives Independent.
However, Hassan Haleem, information officer at the immigration department, insisted that the march was cancelled due to lack of preparations. “The event was organised in a very short time. There were some logistical things we could not get ready in time,” he said.
The IOM branch in Maldives refused to comment on the issue.
The police spokesperson was not responding at the time of publication.
Home Minister Umar Naseer has banned street protests in the capital following a three-day street protest by the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party in late November.
Some 124,000 migrant workers are believed to reside in the Maldives. More than 30,000 of them are undocumented and many are subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking.
In a statement released on the occasion of Migrants Day, the human rights watchdog meanwhile noted gross human rights abuses against migrant workers in the Maldives and called on state institutions to fully implement the Anti-Human Trafficking Act.
The Human Rights Commission of Maldives said many foreign workers lack access to clean water and decent living conditions. The commission also noted the widespread belief among Maldivians that migrant worker “are of a lower class”.
However, the HRCM defended the government’s plans to impose a three percent tax on remittances from foreign workers, stressing that “all parties should take heed not violate rights” when collecting the tax money.
The commission also urged the government to sign the International Migration Convention.
In late March, migrant workers in Malé attempted to stage a protest following the murder of two Bangladeshi nationals in a spate of violence against expatriates. The demonstration was called off after the department of immigration threatened to cancel visas and take action against the employers of the migrant workers participating in the protest.
The former Bangladeshi High Commissioner for Maldives, Selina Mohsin, at the time described the situation of Bangladeshi workers in Maldives as “bizarre and horrifying.”
The Maldives was meanwhile placed back on the US State Department’s tier 2 watch list for human trafficking in July over lack of progress in the government’s anti-human trafficking efforts. If downgraded to tier 3, the lowest tier, the Maldives may be subject to non-humanitarian and non-trade sanctions.
The 2015 Trafficking in Persons report noted that migrant workers in the Maldives experienced “forced labour, including fraudulent recruitment, confiscation of identity and travel documents, withholding or nonpayment of wages, and debt bondage.”