The government of Bangladesh is investigating a Bangladeshi broker believed to be involved in a potential employment trafficking scam worth US$3.6 million in the Maldives.
Bangladesh’s Ministry of Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment has launched a case against the recruitment agent who was attempting to send 2800 Bangladeshi workers to the Maldives, according to former Bangladeshi High Commissioner Professor Selina Mohsin.
“He has been caught and there is now a case against him. He is in a very difficult situation, as he should be – we want brokers to be caught,” Professor Mohsin told Minivan News.
Professor Mohsin has vocally called for stricter controls on the employment of Bangladeshi workers in the Maldives, greater vigilance among the authorities, and a clamp down on unscrupulous recruitment brokers.
In an earlier interview with Minivan News, she explained that brokers solicit a fee of up to US$4000 from often illiterate rural workers through promises of well paid jobs in the Maldives. It was not uncommon for workers to sell their land, go into debt or move their wives and families in with relatives to be able to afford this fee, Professor Mohsin told Minivan News.
The workers are then brought to the Maldives and either paid far less than they were promised or abandoned at the airport with nothing but an unreachable phone number, she explained.
The 30-50 such cases presenting at the High Commission every day, “without passports and in very dire straits”, suggest an exploitative worker trafficking industry worth upwards of US$43.8 million a year – a sum rivalling the country’s US$46 million fishing industry.
The government estimates there to be 35,000 Bangladeshi nationals working in the Maldives – over 11 percent of the total population – of which the authorities consider 17,000 to be employed legally.
“The Maldives brokers not the only unscrupulous parties – the Bangladeshi brokers are even more unscruplous,” Professor Mohsin said. “If we can catch 1-2 brokers, it will put the others on alert.”
The High Commission had forwarded details of the Maldivian counterpart involved in the US$3.6 million operation to the Maldives Foreign Ministry, Professor Mohsin noted.
Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed confirmed the Ministry had received the information last year, “raising questions about a party who applied to recruit a large number of workers.”
“After she alerted us we verified the matter with the [Human Resources] Ministry, which confirmed it was a genuine recruitment party and quota,” Dr Shaheed said.
The Immigration Department has previously complained that workers are being brought into the country by rogue recruitment agents “juggling” the labour quotas allocated by the Ministry of Human Resources.
Workers are brought into the Maldives on the labour quotas of one company before being ‘resold’ to another party on arrival. In some cases the workers will even arrive in the Maldives having been told they will be working in a country such as Malaysia, Chief Immigration Officer Hassan Khaleel told Minivan News in June.
It was quite difficult for immigration to determine if someone had been trafficked on their arrival “because be don’t have a Bangladeshi speaker”, he noted.
“After they work a for while and gain a grasp of Dhivehi it is sometimes possible to interview them on their departure,” he said.
Professor Mohsin acknowledged the responsibility of the Bangladeshi government in preventing the trafficking of its nationals, but noted that Bangladesh “is a huge country with many airports – and even if we could control it, we are bordered with India.”
“The Maldives is a small country with one international airport, and it is much easier to stop the problem there,” she said.
She added that she had submitted a memorandum of understanding on manpower to the Maldives government and the Minister of Human Resources in October, streamlining the process of worker recruitment, but “it is taking a long time. Bangladesh is ready to sign, so I hope [the Maldives] will finalise it soon.”
Dr Shaheed confirmed “there is a discussion going on over tightening the loopholes allowing [trafficking] to take place. It is a matter of great concern for us that trafficking is going on.”
Professor Mohsin acknowledged elements of the Maldives government for their support in tackling the problem, including President Mohamed Nasheed, Home Minister Mohamed Shihab “and particularly Vice President [Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan], who was instrumental in helping us legalise 17,000 Bangladeshi workers currently in the Maldives.”
“We also received good support from the Police Commissioner when it became necessary to protect the High commission from employers seeking to intimidate workers,” she noted.
“I worked very hard to strengthen our relationship and have deep appreciation for the Maldives’ heritage – the resorts are enchanting. I had a wonderful experience in the Maldives and made many good friends. We want Bangladesh to be able to provide skilled workers, but we don’t want human suffering to take place,” she said.