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16 December 2021 – Maldives

Security personnel patrol a migrant worker accommodation block under quarantine in Malé, Maldives on 9 May 2020, (HRW,
Security personnel patrol a migrant worker accommodation block under quarantine in Malé, Maldives on 9 May 2020, (HRW, "Maldives: Covid-19 Exposes Abuse of Migrants," 25 August 2020,

The Maldives relies heavily on a migrant labour force, many of whom are undocumented. Estimates vary widely, from 145,000 to over 230,000 migrant workers present in the country. According to an April 2020 UN report on the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 on the Maldives, the country has the largest proportion of migrant workers in South Asia, representing around a third of the resident population. In addition, at least 60,000 are undocumented, and the majority are men from Bangladesh working in construction or tourism.

Between 29 November to 9 December 2021, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) conducted an official visit to the Republic of the Maldives, visiting 14 places of deprivation of liberty including, police custodial facilities, immigration detention centres, prisons, drug treatment and rehabilitation centres, as well as facilities for children, elderly, and those with disabilities. In its preliminary findings, the WGAD highlighted several concerns regarding immigration detention and the limited rights provided to migrant workers in detention. Although Maldives law does not expressly permit for indefinite immigration detention, according to the WGAD, the “Immigration Controller detains individuals, potentially indefinitely, under article 21(d) of the [Immigration Act 2007] . Migrants are typically arrested by the police, referred to Maldives Immigration, and held in a detention facility operated by the Maldives Correctional Service.”

The WGAD reported that migrants are not presented before a judge to review the legality of their detention, they are not provided with any legal assistance, and no interpretation services are provided even though proceedings and communications are conducted in Dhivehi.

The WGAD expressed particular concern over the seeming ad hoc nature of some migration-related detention measures.

“For example, it was informed of an informal unregistered facility of a State-owned company where large numbers of foreign workers were de facto detained following an incident on an island resort. The decision to release a migrant in detention can be based on negotiations between employers and the Maldives Immigration approves the release. The ability of employers to negotiate release places migrants in a position of vulnerability. In addition, while witness testimony can be taken prior to trial under the Criminal Procedure Act, migrants who are witnesses in criminal proceedings remain detained in immigration detention for years. Furthermore, female migrants are currently subjected to a system of citations and monitoring, owing to a lack of a dedicated facility.”

The Maldives is not a Party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees or its 1967 Protocol. The WGAD stated that the Maldives has no asylum system nor any national refugee protection mechanisms, contrary to the right to seek asylum under Article 14(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In consequence, the WGAD urged the government of the Maldives to bring its immigration regime in compliance with international standards and encouraged building Government and local civil society capacity to identify those in need of international protection.

The Maldives has previously received comments regarding its lack of asylum system and lack of ratification of core international human rights treaties. During its review for the third cycle of the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2020, the Maldives received several recommendations, including: “develop a national refugee protection framework by adopting administrative measures and establishing institutions capable of handling asylum issues (Afghanistan) (para. 133.255)” and “ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (Morocco) (para. 133.20)”.