Aly Shameem - Institute of Policy Studies

Presented by
Dr. Aly Shameem, Human Rights Commissioner of
Maldives at the
International Conference on
“Mainstreaming Migration to the Development
Agenda: South Asian Experience”
Colombo, 13-14 June 2013
 The relatively prosperous and fastest growing economy (6% GDP
growth over the past decade and GDP per capita at US $ 4770 in
2010) of South Asia, the Maldives faces a national crisis today due
to long neglected migration issues.
 It is known to be the one of the poorest performers in addressing
and curbing migration issues in the region as both institutional and
legislative frameworks are under-developed to match with rising
trends of migration issues.
As a matter of fact, migration has not been an issue mentioned in
the strategic development plan of the country, neither it has
attracted attention of the national development agenda.
 In my presentation I wish to discuss the state of migration issues in
the Maldives and thereby highlight the challenges faced and action
required towards integrating migration into national development
 The Maldives has a promising migration potential with its
population having 98% literacy rate and 74 years of life expectancy,
the highest in the South Asia region.
 It has also progressively developing tourism and construction
industries for which labor shortage exists and in-bound migration
opportunities spawns.
 Unlike other South Asian countries, the Maldives migration issues
stem from not out-bound migration but in-bound migration as an
attractive destination with steadily growing economy.
 Although for generations, Maldives had skillful seafarers who have
worked as seaman in regional and European shipping lines, there
are no statistics or data recorded up until today for understanding
its potential for revenue and transfer of skills and knowledge.
 There is no state authority mandated to manage and promote outbound migration in search of jobs and skills overseas, neither a
body to protect and promote welfare of in-bond migration.
 Internal migration like in many of the south Asian countries does
exist in the Maldives as rural islanders often migrate to the urban
capital, Male’ in search of higher education and better employment.
 However’ no statistics are recorded on these movements as
Maldivians are free to travel on their will within the country without
any registration or sought of permission.
Beside, no issues of concern has been raised about the fate of outbound Maldivian migrants other than occasionally media reporting
of sporadic cases of persons in distress or imprisonment.
 In my discuss therefore, I would like to confine to problematic area
of migration, which stems from expatriate workers or in-bound
 In 2013 it was estimated that one in every three persons in the
Maldives is a migrant worker and expatriates form 50% of the work
 According to Department of Immigration and Emigration of
Maldives, in 2012, about 100,000 expatriate workers were in the
country with regularized work visa while an estimated 50,000
migrants remained with expired visa or as undocumented workers.
 With high tourism arrivals (more than 1 million in 2012) the
Maldives operates a universal visa-free travel regime which makes
Maldives a favorite transit route for traveller of concern or prone to
visa abuse.
 There were media reports about organized unlawful recruitment of
migrant workers by foreign agents in collaboration with local
 Therefore, recently the Maldives has been suspected of a being a
transnational crime and people smuggling point. In fact, the US has
placed the Maldives on the “Tier 2 Watch list category”, in its 2011
Report of Trafficking in Persons.
Since 2011, the government has taken seriously the issues of
migrant workers in the country, especially undocumented workers
who were observed, to be trafficked and vulnerable to exploitation.
 Regulatory or institutional framework for migration is unstructured
in the Maldives and lack coordination.
 Until 2011, administration of migrant workers were managed by
Ministry of Human Resources Youth and Sports, including issuance of
work permits.
 Department of Immigration and Emigration administered issuance
of work visa and managed border control.
 Labor Relation Authority of Ministry of Human Resource
investigates labor related complaints.
 Human Rights Commission of Maldives receives and investigates
complaints related to migrant workers such as discrimination,
denial of rights and harassment or abuse.
 in 2012, a new Ministry established under the name of Ministry of
Gender, Family and Human Rights took over the mandate of
promotion of welfare of migrant workers.
 Lately, Immigration Department, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs
have made some efforts to raise public awareness about human
trafficking by organizing awareness campaigns.
 Immigration has produced video footages profiling stories of
abused migrant workers and screened at public gatherings and TV
 Ministry of Foreign Affairs in February this year launched a public
awareness campaign against human trafficking known as “Blue
Ribbon Campaign” in collaboration with media.
Human Rights Commission of Maldives actively advocates
protection of rights of migrant workers and have produced literature
and posters in languages of migrant workers in educating them as
to their rights in the Maldives.
HRCM has also an in-house Working Group known as Migrant
Workers Thematic Group which works actively in lobbying state
authorities in ensuring their rights and educating migrant workers
as to their legitimate rights.
 International Organization for Migration and Migration Forum Asia
collaborate with state authorities in Maldives to build capacity in
addressing issues of migration and to sensitize policy makers on the
grave implications resulting from mismanagement of migration.
 Again, Department of Immigration and Emigration keep redoubling their
efforts to combat illegal migrants and to effectively manage border
control. Currently they are using temporary border control high-tech
system and the US has agreed to donate soon a comprehensive border
control system for the Maldives.
 As mentioned before, again I would like to highlight that there is no
dedicated state body to promote out-bound migration as a prospective
source of generation of employment and revenue. Similarly, neither an
institution exist for skill development and improving work condition of inbound migrant workers.
The new democratic constitution enacted in 2008 guarantees the
protection of fundamental rights for all living and working in the
However, there is no law that describes and regulate affairs of
migrant workers effectively.
The only existing law that covers some regulatory aspects of migrant
workers is the Immigration Act of 2007.
Nevertheless, this Act has a number of deficiencies and gaps and
need to be revised to effectively manage migrant workers and to halt
fraud and abuse in recruitment and regularizing of visa process.
 The Maldives is not a signatory to the UN International Convention on
Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of their
Families, even though HRCM and UN Human Rights Committee have
strong recommended to do so.
 Also, the Maldives is not known to take part in the regional consultative
processes that aim to promote cooperation on migration issues such as
Colombo Process, and South Asian Migration Commission.
 Nevertheless, I am happy to note that in January this year, the Maldives
have ratified 8 co-conventions of ILO and is currently in the process of
drafting a national labor policy and putting in place domestic legal
mechanisms to implement these conventions.
 I am also happy to acknowledge that the new Human Rights
Ministry has submitted a Bill to the People’s Majlis or Parliament
early this year, aimed at criminalizing human trafficking and halting
exploitation of migrant workers.
 It is hoped that this Bill will be adopted soon and thereby enable to
ease the current crisis of undocumented workers and victimization
of innocent migrants.
The situation of migration in the Maldives has reached to a state of
national crisis as mentioned in the beginning of my discussion. Frequent
incidences of abuse and victimization of innocent migrants surfaces almost
There were reports in the media recently which stated that the current
situation of migrant workers tends to pose threats to national security too.
The main challenge though recognized by a workshop held in December
2012 in the Maldives, was lack of information on the part of migrant
workers and lack of public awareness on the issue.
Lack of effective legislative framework to curb the situation and difficulty to
facilitate collaboration between sending or source countries was another
bottleneck in the process.
 Institutional constraint that bars effectively addressing the
migration issues can be attributed to lack of centralized Ministry or
authority to coordinate and manage the migration.
 To compound this problem is the lack of state capacity in terms of
expertise and technical knowledge to devise remedial measures.
 The advanced nature of organized syndicates in the region and
readily available supply of unskilled labor who are mostly illiterate
too make the situation a formidable task to control.
Immediate enactment of comprehensive act to curb the worsening
situation of in-bound migrant worker is urgently required in the
A state authority more dedicated to regulating, protecting and
promotion of migrant workers and recording and
statistics is needed too for the Maldives.
Public awareness raising and education of current migrant workers
is equally vital to ease the rising trend of victimization of innocent
migrant workers.
 To build state capacity and to forge closer collaboration with source
countries, the Maldives need to take part in the regional
consultative processes as mentioned before.
 It must be recommended that civil society organizations and trade
unions must be incentivized and empowered to include in-bound
migrant workers in their bargaining and advocacy processes.
 To become more responsible and to be responsive to international
calls on Maldives to curb worsening migration situation in the
country, it is imperative for the Maldives to expedite ratification of
the migrant workers convention.
 More importantly, the migration issues need to be integrated into
national development agenda and incorporated in the forthcoming
Strategic Development Plan.
 HRCM and civil society organizations within the country also need
to intensify their lobby with the help of resourceful and supportive
international bodies like IOM and Migrant Forum in Asia.
Thank you all for your kind attention