The government has launched a nationwide operation to address the issue of undocumented migrants. The ‘Operation Kurangi’ was initiated on Himmafushi Island in Kaafu Atoll.

The operation, led by the Ministry of Homeland Security and Technology, Maldives Immigration, and the Maldives Police Service, aims to identify undocumented immigrants, reintegrate them into the system, and regularise their status.

Homeland Security Minister Ali Ihusaan announced the commencement of the first phase of the operation on Himmafushi Island. “Operation Kurangi aims to confront the enduring challenge of undocumented immigrants and devise a definitive resolution. We perceive this as a matter of national security and are addressing it with corresponding gravity,” said Ihusaan.

The operation, which is expected to span three years, will initially focus on identifying undocumented immigrants and reintegrating them into the system. This phase is planned to be completed within a year.

Ihusaan underscored the issue of migrant workers being employed by an individual or company other than their sponsor. “Numerous individuals [immigrants] are engaging in this practice persistently. The societal implications of these actions are substantial. The risk posed to the state is also significant,” he said.

Through the operation, authorities have successfully identified undocumented immigrants working in the construction industry and roles such as cooks and cleaners on Himmafushi Island, Ihusaan noted. The operation leverages the existing infrastructure for migrant worker registration, supplemented by a dedicated portal designed to collect fingerprint biometric data and identification photographs.

In the second and third years of the operation, authorities will use biometric data and photographic IDs to identify immigrants. If they are undocumented, the authorities will liaise with foreign offices of other countries in the Maldives to identify the immigrants, after which the migrants will be deported, according to Ihusaan.

However, Ihusaan emphasised that the operation’s primary focus is not to arrest and deport immigrants but to identify them and their activities. He also stated that the authorities would facilitate undocumented immigrants seeking new sponsors and regularising within the system.

The minister also acknowledged the demand for unskilled labour in the Maldives, which he expects to increase with the launch of the government’s infrastructure development projects. He added that the authorities would create a list of immigrants working on each island and provide that list to the respective local councils.

The challenge of undocumented immigrants has been a significant concern since the late 2000s, with the population of undocumented migrant workers experiencing a considerable surge. Predominantly, these workers in the Maldives hail from Bangladesh.

A comparable initiative was undertaken by the preceding administration under Ibrahim Mohamed Solih in 2019. With the objective of addressing the substantial number of undocumented migrants in the country, over 40,000 immigrants were registered through this programme.

The MDP-led administration had also suspended the issuance of work permits for unskilled labour from Bangladesh, as part of a comprehensive strategy to combat illegal immigration. However, this policy decision has been reversed by the current administration.

The previous government also initiated a programme to secure legal status for undocumented workers. The legislative cap on the number of migrant workers from a single country, who are permitted to enter and work in the country at any given time, stands at 100,000.