Statement by His Excellency Mr. Ahmed Sareer, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Maldives at Round Table 2: Protection of the human rights of migrants in the context of preventing and combating trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants and addressing situations in crisis at the High Level Meeting of the General Assembly on Migration and Development
I would like to begin my expressing my Government’s shock and sadness in hearing about the boat that sank off the coast of the southern Italian island of Lampedusa, killing at least 94 people. These incidents remind us of the necessity and urgency of the work we have begun today in addressing the global phenomenon of migrants and people fleeing from zones of conflict or from persecution.
Distinguished Chair, esteemed panelists, Excellencies,
I would like to thank the panelists for their insightful thoughts and comments on the important issue of human trafficking and people smuggling. The Maldives welcomes the declaration of the high level dialogue on international migration and development that was adopted this morning.
Migration is an important issue for a small country like the Maldives, which is limited in terms of its technical capacity and labour force. Migrants from around the world, in particular our neighbours, fill the gaps and address the human capacity problems within the key industries: most notably the tourism and construction sector. Thus, migrants provide an invaluable contribution to the economy and the development of the Maldives.
There are approximately 150,000 migrant workers in the Maldives, which has a population of 350,000. With such a high number of foreign workers, and the demand increasing due to the expanding construction and tourism sectors, the ills associated with migration have also come to the fore. As noted by previous speakers, migrants are highly susceptible to trafficking in persons and exploitation in different forms, thereby affecting their basic human rights. The Government of Maldives is particularly concerned about the unknown number of migrants who are suspected to have been smuggled or trafficked to work in inhumane conditions across the country.
The Government has always expressed concern for the safety and the protection of migrant workers. In the past three years, the Government has intensified its efforts to tackle the issue within the Maldives.
The Government of Maldives formulated the anti-human trafficking national action plan, which was subsequently endorsed by the cabinet in February this year. This action plan identified actions and priorities and assigned specific focal points within the government to carry out the specific programs to combat human trafficking. An anti-trafficking steering committee was established under the auspices of the Ministry of Gender, Family and Human Rights for better coordination among the key agencies responsible to implement the action plan. The Anti- Human Trafficking Unit, within that Ministry is now operational and has introduced a 24-hour hotline. Pursuant to the action plan, a safe shelter for female victims of human trafficking was recently opened.
The Government views increasing public awareness as part of the solution to address trafficking issues. In this regard, in January this year, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs unveiled a national campaign known as the “Blue Ribbon Campaign: Stand against Human Trafficking” with the purpose of increasing public awareness about the causes and effects of human trafficking. The campaign, launched in partnership with all the key media outlets in the Maldives, was aimed to educate the public on how to identify and help victims of trafficking.
Meanwhile, the Maldives has begun to address the issue of transnational criminals who have attempted to take advantage of migrant workers, and the number of investigations and prosecutions are increasing. A number of national policies have been formulated to address the various aspects of human trafficking, including the Employment Act of 2009, which prohibits most forms of forced labor and the Act on measures for perpetrators of Child Sexual Abuse was enacted in 2009, which criminalizes the prostitution of children.
On the international front, the Maldives became a State Party to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime in February 2013. The Maldives is currently working towards completing its accession to the Optional Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children. In our efforts to promote safe migration and mobility, we are seeking international support and are closely working with ILO and IOM. The Labour Relations Authority is working with ILO on a project to promote fundamental rights and strengthening labour market governance in the Maldives. It is the Government’s earnest hope that these measures will help alleviate the problem of human trafficking and people smuggling in the Maldives.
Despite much work carried out in a short span of time, key challenges still remain. The national efforts to confront human trafficking should be further strengthened with a solid legal framework, together with a strong intelligence sharing and border control mechanism. It is in view of this that a draft bill criminalizing human trafficking was submitted to the parliament last year?. This bill aims to ensure victims of trafficking are properly identified, and all forms of trafficking in persons are prohibited and punished. Systematic procedures for government officials to identify victims of trafficking need to be established as well. These procedures would enable the concerned authorities to investigate and prosecute suspected trafficking cases more effectively. Translators should also be provided to help police and law enforcement officials, so that foreign workers can participate in investigation and prosecutions against their alleged traffickers.
The Maldives further believes that national policies and measures must be complemented by bilateral and regional initiatives to fight against trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants. This problem cannot be solved by one nation alone! The efforts need regional and international coordination, as well as cooperation and partnerships made more effective. National governments, however, need to ensure that measures that address human trafficking do not restrict legal migration.
It is my Delegation’s belief that international community must address the enabling factors of human trafficking. Poverty, lack of gender equality, limited employment opportunities, lack of education and information remain as key challenges if we are to address the issue of human trafficking in a holistic manner. This is why achieving the the Millennium Development Goals aimed at tackling all these core issues, become a vital tool for the entire international system.
Human trafficking and people smuggling are among the most pressing concerns of our time. Both these phenomena are against our shared beliefs about humanity and human dignity. And national governments and the international community needs to do everything they can to address this form of modern slavery.