Comment: Bangladesh and Maldives – A fractured link

Professor Selina Mohsin was Bangladesh’s High Commissioner to the Maldives between 2008 and 2010.

This article was first published in the Dhaka Tribune. Republished with permission.

In a sudden move, Maldives is closing its mission in Bangladesh on April 1. This is not an April fool’s joke but a final closure. Closure was earlier threatened in 2009, during that time, as the high commissioner of Bangladesh to Maldives, I was able to persuade the then President Nasheed to keep the mission open.

He appreciated the importance of such a bilateral link. A bond was strengthened. It is surprising that because there is a financial crunch in Maldives now, the new government is to close its mission in Bangladesh, which supplies so many migrant workers, while the one in Pakistan remains open although they supply none.

The archipelago of Maldives, renowned for its natural beauty and fabulous water villas on ultramarine blue lagoons, makes it one of the finest tourist destinations. But, behind these remarkable villas lie a dark story of the blood, sweat, tears and death of numerous workers, mostly Bangladeshis. They construct them under hazardous conditions and their lives seem dispensable. Tourism provides 28% of the GDP and 65% of the foreign exchange. It also generates 90% of the revenue from import duties.

Bangladesh has over 70,000 migrant workers in the Maldives – more than from India or Sri Lanka. They face dubious recruitment procedures, their passports are seized by unscrupulous brokers on arrival, and often wages are withheld. The work is arduous and the danger of death is quite prevalent. The situation is dreadful.

As high commissioner (2008-2010) I found that on an average one Bangladeshi worker died each week. For instance one died from poisonous fumes while cleaning a well. He was just 22 years of age. While Bangladeshi labourers were constructing a resort villa, over a lagoon, a wooden pole fell over one of them and he died from head injury. Such events occurred regularly.

There was no legal requirement for compensation but as the bodies of the deceased could not be buried without clearance from the Bangladesh mission, we were able to negotiate with the employers. It was sometimes possible to get an employer to remit $500 to the family of the deceased – a small price to pay for a human life.

It was also possible to legalise over 17,000 migrant workers, but their status was still precarious. Maldives was placed in the end of 2008 by the US State Department’s Tier Two Watch List for Human Trafficking. They identified many expatriate workers as victims of “forced labour, fraudulent recruitment, confiscation of identity and travel documents, withholding or nonpayment of wages, and debt bondage.”

Despite this, during the 15th Saarc Summit in 2008 in Colombo, the president of Maldives requested the prime minister of Bangladesh for skilled and semi-skilled workers. Consequently, the Maldives’ mission in Bangladesh could have negotiated mechanisms to regularise the recruitment procedures to ensure acceptable working conditions. While I was high commissioner, among other bilateral activities, a Cultural Agreement and an MOU on Education were finalised. A manpower MOU was being considered. All efforts were made to strengthen bonds between the two Saarc countries.

A 14-day “Festival of Bangladesh” was organised to display the cultural diversity and rich heritage of our country. It began with a forum on the historical links between the two states.

History of collaboration

Hundreds of years ago the main export of Maldives was “cowry shells” which were used as legal tender in Bengal and parts of South Asia. Boats, known as “Dhonis,” streamed through the Indian Ocean to reach the ports of Bengal, mainly Chittagong. They unloaded the cowry shells and took textiles, non-perishable foods and wooden boxes to Maldives. A Bengali princess was once a queen of that country. We displayed strong ties between the two nations that most had forgotten.

The festive music, dance, songs, and painting exhibition enthralled Maldivians. The events ended with an auction of painting produced by famous Bangladeshi artists.

Bangladesh has always been ready to lend assistance to Maldives. The Bangladeshi Army undertook relief operations within 48 hours of the 2004 tsunami. Victims received pure drinking water, patients were treated, sunken ships were recovered, relief materials distributed and hygiene conditions improved. Again in 2007, Bangladesh offered US $1m to help the flood-affected country.

Currently, Bangladesh provides 97 scholarships to students from Maldives at various medical colleges. Half of them have recently graduated and are undergoing internship training. Furthermore, 30 physicians are already in Maldives working in hospitals and clinics and 15 more doctors are being recruited. In 2012 the Republic of Maldives introduced direct flights from to Dhaka via Chennai and expressed its willingness to introduce a direct shipping link between Male and Chittagong for trade.

Bangladesh and Maldives are two of the nations most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The 2012 UN Climate Summit at DOHA acknowledged both as top countries in adaptation. Both have developed strategies and established “Climate Change Trust Funds” to combat the adverse effects of global warming. They could collaborate in international forums to make lasting impact on climate change policies.

The Maldives economy is suffering from the costs of elections and termination of the GMR airport contract gained during Nasheed’s government. It was India’s largest private investment, over US $500m. Similarly, a Tata Housing Project is facing difficulties. Clearly, decisions based on political antagonism can be counterproductive. Recently, out of desperation, President Yameen visited India for a loan of US $25m after cancelling investments from India! Quite ironic.

Now, one result of the financial constraint is the closure of the Maldives mission in Bangladesh. It is the wrong move. Diplomatic continuity is a necessity and reciprocity is essential to foster good relations with a friendly Saarc state. But countries are not always ruled by rational consideration of advantages, but often by unthinking foolhardiness.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


23 thoughts on “Comment: Bangladesh and Maldives – A fractured link”

  1. Bangladesh is country, most Maldivians consider beneath us in the hierarchy.

    Maldivians rank ourselves equal to a rich western or the Saudi / Emirates.

    You can feel this when talking to a Maldivian.

    Maldivian spits at Bangaalhees. ahhchook!

    A revered Maldivian Embassy cannot stand on the lowly Bangladeshi soil!

  2. Only solution is for the Bangladesh government to stop allowing their citizens to work in Maldives. Most Maldivians have no respect for Bangladesh or its people, nor do they have any concept of basic human rights.

    The problem will not be solved on the Maldivian side of the situation. Too much money is made from exploiting their Muslim brothers. And it's obvious there are some Bangladeshi government officials getting paid (by Maldivian businesses, politicians, etc.) to look the other way. These men are just as bad since they clearly don't care about their own people.

  3. GMR contract was terminated because GMR and together with Nasheed had done a dirty deal and they were robbing this country.

    Yameen never went to India out of desperation .

    Most of the illegal workers were brought or recruited by Bangaldeshi living in this country and they are running these agencies by themselves .

    At least this Government had started doing a good job in curbing these illegal activities and the result will be seen in few years.

  4. From where did the former HE get her facts? A Bangladeshi worker dying every week (on average)?You must be kidding dear Professor. We've had more Chinese tourist deaths than those of Bangladeshis. During Professor Mohsin's time in the Maldives, the Bangladesh mission was renowned for corruption; levying underhand charges from both the Maldivian recruiters and Bangladeshi workers. Anyone who stepped foot in the mission was a ' payable' person..There have been so many undiplomatic incidents within the chancery during this lady's time.She was a constant thorn who kept on making unnecessary presence at different ceremonies. Almost all senior government officials wanted to avoid her.. Besides, this lady doesn't know anything other than to brag about herself which is the only thing she did when in Maldives n the only thing she knows to do!!!

  5. I think the regime wants to keep the very profitable business of slave-trafficking.

    Maybe it's time Maldives was ejected from the SAARC, and embargos placed because of the callous way the Mordisian authorities exploit people, be they from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.

    Bangladesh should also declare war, and make life miserable for the occupational regime.

  6. What actually keeps Maldives from suffering any real consequences for things like human trafficking, sexual abuse of children, etc.? This country has fish and tourism and absolutely nothing else to offer the outside world.

    It must be that so many Western/multinational resorts are based here? And the owners of these resorts must lobby their home governments not to place financial penalties on Maldives that could negatively impact tourism and hurt their profit margin. There's really no other logical explanation.

    Or maybe it's just that the West doesn't like brown people and/or Muslims in general and therefore doesn't really care that one group is screwing the other over. That's probably more realistic than any "economic conspiracy theory".

    Infidels come to Maldives to drink alcohol and fornicate at resorts, Western resort companies make lots of money, corrupt Maldives government makes a bit of cash as well, average Maldivian gets crap education/healthcare/social services and Bangladeshis get nothing.

    One more question, I can never get answered from people like Hero and Facts... isn't it haram for a Muslim to profit from the sale of alcohol and pork? What about profiting from resorts that allow unmarried infidels to have sex? I thought profiting from things that are specifically forbidden in Islam is also haram. I know I'm a bit off topic now but it does all tie together really.

  7. My experience with Bangladeshi people is that they are gentle, kind and hospitable. Bangladesh is an extremely poor country, thus it is not surprising that they often choose to leave to look for work in other countries. But the poor have no role and no voice in the present-day globalized economy, thus Bangladeshi laborers are routinely humiliated, when not tortured, in the wealthier countries where they work. The countries using most Bangladeshi laborers, beginning with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Malaysia, have an abysmal record regarding workers'rights and civil rights anyway. The Maldives reflect the same situation, and talking about religion only clouds the main issue: The humiliation of the poor at the hands of the powerful and greedy and the absence of proper civic institutions protecting the rights of the workers in Muslim-majority countries.

  8. Nothing new, Once upon a time Bengali Queen ruling over the Maldive Islands. Her name was Rehendi Khadija. Her father, Sultan Jalal ud-DIn 'Umar and grandfather, Sultan Salah ud-Din Salih, of Bengal, had ruled over these Islands

  9. waste of time, the answer to why the West doesn't put penalties on the Maldives, has got nothing to do with xenophobia or islamophobia. The answer is quite simple: the Maldives is marginal and insignificant and I don't mean that offensive. Problems in the maldives are point 1048392 on the agenda of most foreign governments. There are so many countries with similar or worse problems and that on a much larger scale. At the end all governments think about "what do we gain if we make that decision". Putting financial penalties on the Maldives doesn't gain most countries anything.

    And don't even bother with types as Hero and Facts. Obviously it's true there's many deadly accidents with Bangladeshi involved, but they don't know about it so it didn't happen. They'll only see what they like to see.

  10. Personal comments from Maldivians criticizing the writer on matters that are untrue displays lack of objectivity and insular thinking. The writer is talking of strengthening friendship between 2 SAARC nations. A Maldivian Mission in Bangladesh would do that plus help to regulate migrant workers from Bangladesh. There are many areas where friendship from Bangladesh would help Maldives, a very tiny country without facilities for higher education and training in many areas.

    Maldives has also been branded by USA for mistreatment of foreign workers by employers. Let it improve its internal administrative system. No migrant worker can enter Maldives without the collusion and assistance from corrupt Maldivians. Also, Bangladeshi brokers who are corrupt should be punished appropriately as has been done in Bangladesh. Adequate mechanism should be in place in Maldives for transparent recruitment procedures.

    Bangladesh had stopped recruitment of workers to Maldives for a time for questionable dealings. The President of Maldives had requested for migrant workers from the Prime Minister of Bangladesh during Colombo SAARC Summit.

    Bangladesh, according to population is the 6th largest country in the world and the 2nd largest garment producer (RMG) after China. Bangladesh has helped Maldives during natural disasters more than once and would do so again.

    But, many Maldivians need to broaden their outlook and be more humane. Islam promotes tolerance of others, respect for basic human rights of all, humility, courtesy and peace.

  11. I just like to put Hero, Facts, etc. on the spot and then note their silence once they're backed into a corner (especially when they can't blame Nasheed/MDP).

  12. And yes, Maldives is insignificant to the rest of the world (and I don't mean that as an insult either). I just think the West might be a bit more concerned if it were white people/Christians that were systematically exploited and trafficked by Arab countries and Maldives. Since it's mainly south Asians, not really a concern for most.

  13. Dear Prof. Mohsin,

    Surely you must recall during your tenure as High Commissioner, numerous efforts were made by the Maldives Government to establish a system of verification, through the Maldives High Commission in Dhaka under the then Maldives High Commissioner Amb. Ahmed Sareer. All these efforts to combat human trafficking and limiting the number of unskilled labour in the Maldives fell through. It was not in the Bangladesh Government's interest to have any system in place. The Bangladesh High Commission was known for its corrupt practices, it was an unpleasanent institution to do business with, exacerbating the dire situation of Bangladeshi workers in the country.

    When Bangladeshi workers in Male' ran into problems such as seizure of passports, their first stop was the High Commission of Bangladesh. You, however turned a blind eye to all this, and also the Bangladeshi authorities were not interested in any mechanisms that could restrict or inhibit the flow of unskilled labour to the Maldives.

    Why? one of Bangladesh's main source of foreign income is from its army of workers living abroad. Through remittances sent back home. Labour is one of Bangladesh's most revered and important exports to the rest of the world. Unfortunately the remittances have had a huge negative impact on the Maldives economy.

    Most Maldivians, sad as it may be, view Bangladesh the country, through the prism they see every day -through the Bangladeshi workers. Therefore, their opinion is of a negative type and borders on racism and xenophobia.

    As for international cooperation, Maldives and Bangladesh find itselt at loggerheads in various climate change fora. Bangladesh prefers to work through the G-77, where as Maldives sees countries like China and India (with all their polluting) part of the problem as much as the West. No wonder the Climate Vulnerability Forum (CVF) failed.

    I support the closure of the High Commission in Dhaka. It was a waste of public money, and we were not getting much out it. Either in the Nasheed, Waheed or Yameen governments, the High Commission was a very low priority with only 1 staff stationed there. It was the right move!

  14. Among SAARC countries , Maldives is not the worst of all.

    Check India , how many children are working under paid , and their living condition and deprivation of education and health ?

    Check what is minimum Salary India, Bagladehsi, Pakistan , Afghanistan, Bhutan and Nepal etc. All these countries have no minimum wages and the people are being paid much lower wage than what Maldives is paying.
    Look at the living condition of these countries for its labor force, it is much worse than Maldives.

    Look at living conditions of its citizen, majority of these country lives beyond poverty line and they are less than dollar per day.? Yet you call its fine.

    Look at the crimes rates and check how many gang rapes and child abuses happen daily in India?

    Minivan is a propaganda machine of Nasheed and they have a responsibility to defame this country with the hope of bringing back Nasheed in power.

  15. For god's's closure of a mission.Not closure of friendship, I wonder why this lady and those who comment are trying to make mountain out of a mall-hill about this...

  16. Yes, Hero, I'm sure Gayoom, Yameen and PPM will have this country in tip top shape in just a few years. Looking forward to this wonderful utopia that's just right around the corner.

    In reality, the economy, standard of living for average Maldivians and human rights abuses will only get worse. But of course, you'll still be blaming Nasheed and MDP's 3 whole years of power for every problem this country faces 5, 10, 20... years from now.

    And I love when defenders of human rights abuses compare themselves to other places that are supposedly worse. Only to distract everyone from the reality of the situation in Maldives. Just because local media, government and police don't report or investigate crimes and abuses, doesn't mean they aren't happening.

    The fact is that Maldivian employers confiscate passports and withhold payment of salaries from immigrant workers all the time. And the living and working conditions are appalling. Yes, there's also corruption on the Bangladeshi end of the situation because Maldivians are paying them off so local employers here can continue to exploit poor people from South Asia. Just because it's done in other countries doesn't make it any less wrong. And shame on the Maldivians who treat their Muslim brothers from Bangladesh like dogs. I'm sure there's a special place waiting for you in the after life!

  17. Maldives closing their diplomatic mission in Dhaka makes no sense - given the extent of trade & immigration and the fact that both of them are South Asian nations with common history (and religion) makes it difficult to digest this. For saving money, is Maldives also planning to close its missions in Middle East and Europe? Guess not.

  18. I'm totally agree with the above facts given by waste of time . the only this g I can say is Allah will punish these people for humiliating Muslim brothers . God sees the truth but waits .

  19. it is sad if Maldives is closing the mission. as a Maldivian I have no discrimination between Bangladeshi or an Indian or a sri lankan

  20. brother waste of time,this sad little country is 99% HERO type.The type who had only reached the shores of kerela and because the keralese people don't lug an ipad around their necks HERO thought that they are baabarians unlike the Maldivians who carry ipads and S4.HERO and their lot had been fed a constant diet of great leader maumoons nationalistic rhetoric,no wonder why these morons believe that this country is the greatest country on the whole face of the earth and they are the chosen ones by GOD.A bit ironical isn't it.the chosen ones live in crappy homes,eating crap and generally living like any other not chosen ones from Bengaladesh or India or sometimes worse than them.HEROs voted in criminal thugs like reeko moosa,riyaz rasheed,adhurey and ilham,thimarafushee musthafa into parliament,but still they believe that they are ten times better than the norweigians or the singaporians (of course umar naseer told HERO that they are infidels so they are inferior).A typical Maldivian is HERO who believe anything coming out of the mouth of maumoon or an incest loving sheihk (Maumoon and the incest loving sheihk knows how gullible HERO,s are)

  21. Retards like Hero and Facts are always droning on about the development indices of Maldives which makes me laugh so much.....thanks for the entertainment guys. Its like comparing a behemoth with the fastest growing economy in the world with an insignificant pinprick in the Indian Ocean with the population and economy equivalent to a suburb of our capital city. Noida alone has an economy many times greater than yours. Please compare yourselves with Somalia, North Korea, Afghanistan and Zimbabwe!!
    I am not sure there is a Maldivian mission in India but if there is one, please close it. With the amount of aid and handouts given to Maldives, you are a drain on the hardworking taxpayers of India, most of whom are Hindus like me.
    The fact that the Maldivian mission in Terroristan is still functional is great news and diplomatic relations between you true believers is to be encouraged. After all you have sôooooo much in common you are like twins separated at birth:
    Same intolerant hate filled religious follow the only true religion in the world and everyone else is garbage
    Same preoccupation with fundamental Islam.....let's behead all the kuffars and apostates and save islam
    Same addictions to heroin and opiates.....50% of the population are crackheads. Seriously guys you should rename Male, Junkie Heaven
    Same violent and unstable politics.....when is the next coup due I wonder?
    Same bankrupt economies.....Tuna, tuna more bloody tuna and sod all else
    Same dumb belief that you are the descendants of Arabs.....just don't tell the Arabs.
    Sent from my iPad from the back seat of my big black limo.

  22. most of these comments are from non maldivians.they dont understand that on every road they are the root cause of garbage. i have never seen maldivians spit at bangladhesh people.they work at almost every shop in maldives.they turn Their noses at us.THEY spit everywhere.They critisce every thing.And we dont consider people Beneath us.Apperently some people influenced by minivan news thinks so

  23. and if Nasheed's presidency was SOOOOO GREAT.I dont see why the need for every maldivian citizen having to go on a rampage to get him ousted??And miss dheli.even if india has one of the fastest growing economies in the world .india is still full of poverty, corruption, malnutrition, inadequate public healthcare, and terrorism.And we dont have beliefs that we are decendants of arabs.


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