Human trafficking worth US$123 million, authorities estimate

An ongoing police investigation into labour trafficking in the Maldives has uncovered an industry worth an estimated US$123 million, eclipsing fishing (US$46 million in 2007) as the second greatest contributor of foreign currency to the Maldivian economy after tourism.

The authorities’ findings echo those first raised by former Bangladeshi High Commissioner Dr Selina Mohsin, reported by Minivan News in August last year, and which saw the country placed on the US State Department’s Tier 2 watchlist for human trafficking.

However prior to the current investigation, ordered by President Mohamed Nasheed and which involved the military taking over immigration and human resources duties for a two week period, few facts were known about the Maldivian side of the operation.

“People have been creating fraudulent companies and using them to apply for fraudulent work permit quotas, and then diverting these quotas to keep bringing in illegal workers,” said President Nasheed’s Spokesperson, Mohamed Zuhair.

“A would-be worker [overseas] pays money and ends up here on fraudulent papers obtained by a bogus agent, from quotas at a non-existent company,” Zuhair said. “Sometimes they are expected to work for 3-4 years to make the payment – workers have told police that this is often as much as US$2000.”

Authorities currently estimated the industry to be worth US$123 million a year, he said.

Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam told Minivan News that many illegal workers identified by police through the investigation – the majority from Bangladesh – had sold their land, their property and moved their families to pay the fees demanded by the bogus recruiters.

When they arrive they find the job a totally different prospect from what they were led to expect, he said.

“Sometimes there is no job and they are released straight onto the street. We found some people who had paid before coming – they arrived at the airport and nobody came to pick them up,” said Shiyam. ”The case is very serious – this is not the way things should be, and it has been going on for a long time.”

Zuhair said that in some cases workers brought to the Maldives were themselves recruited to help enlist others from their country – in addition to seven Maldivians, 12 expatriates have been arrested during the case so far.

Paper companies and ministerial corruption

The expansive investigation has seen 18 ‘paper companies’ raided by the police commercial crime unit, headed by Inspector Mohamed Riyaz, who revealed to the media last week that police had seized 4000 passports confiscated from trafficked workers.

Two of the seven bogus companies identified as trafficking workers, Ozone Investments Pvt Ltd and Arisco Maldives Pvt Ltd, had brought in 3000 workers between them.

Using the fake companies, the traffickers fraudulently obtained work permit quotas for non-existent projects from the Human Resources Ministry by stealing the identities of unwitting Maldivians, or even the deceased. Police had received many complaints about such forgeries from the confused third party, Riyaz told the media.

Moreover, many of the quotas requested from the Human Resources Ministry had been approved despite obvious warning signs such as the importing of construction workers for specialised IT projects, Riyaz said.

Zuhair told Minivan News that while he was unable to “point fingers” as the investigation was ongoing, the current findings implicated senior officials in both the Immigration Department and the Ministry of Human Resources.

In addition, the persistent use of fraudulent companies implied further scrutiny of the Ministry of Trade was required, Zuhair said.

Trade Minister Mahmoud Razee confirmed to Minivan News that the Ministry was providing information to police as requested. Establishing a company in the Maldives carried few requirements under existing laws, he explained, “and even before this we have been proposing amendments to company law to require additional clearances for directors, based on their records.”

Even for those individuals found guilty of the crime labour trafficking presently represents a violation of the Employment Act, and only carries a small fine.

Zuhair said punishment was a matter for the judiciary “and I’m confident justice will be done”. However he acknowledged that the greatest impact would come from exposing those involved: “The people involved will be named and shamed,” he pledged, which would limit their capacity for further fraud or criminal enterprise and hopefully ward off further victims.

The investigation was ordered by the President, he noted, as the Immigration Department and the Human Resources Ministry “were each accusing the other for the problem. The government has stepped in as a neutral party to conduct a holistic investigation, without incrimination.”

He said the government would need to “seek assistance” to deport the large numbers of illegal workers the investigation was likely to uncover.

“The origin countries also have a responsibility to repatriate their nationals,” he said.

Minivan News asked Zuhair why the government had only acted after several years of accusations that labor trafficking was prolific in the country – the US State Department recently renewed the Maldives’ position on the trafficking watch list for the second year running.

“The accusations have been apparent for the last few years, but the extent to which the situation has developed, and the lines between system error, human error and intentional fraud have been unclear. It has now become clearer,” he said.


15 thoughts on “Human trafficking worth US$123 million, authorities estimate”

  1. This is stale news, JJ.
    This was all over the news channels a few days ago. Why didn't you publish this article then?

  2. And from where did this US$ 123 million figure come, or is it Rufiyaa?

  3. Juhaa it is very simple to deport the Bangalhis, charter a cargo ship it will not cost much. If you won’t assistance from Bangalhi high commission it will be waste of time. Even when one of the Bangalhi dies the bloody high commissions don’t even bother to enquire the circumstance of the death.

  4. First, we got to understand that human trafficking is just another word for slavery, we should update these domestic judges in the Maldives, to an international level if we want combat transnational organized crimes in this tiny nation, also we really need a police force which is pro active! we need to follow up the legislation with tougher prosecution of these criminals, (even now the traffickers are on the roads, roaming freely, why? ) also a greater support and protection for victims,. every country can do more, even the Bangaldheshis."!! we seriously need a "Broad-scale awareness" of two or three generations, it is the surest way to induce systemic change.. It's saddening to witness our law enforcement agencies sleeping while atrocious crime against humanity at it's peak .. Thank you

  5. I am glad this is out in the open. We have to make structural adjustments to avoid this in the future. I think we need an independent private watch dog

  6. the ppl involved in this shall NOT be named or shamed, but tortured till the end.. holistic? kon holistic e kiyaaka.. how many families have they broken, how much anger and sadness. even Bangladeshis are humans, they also have families and lands they sold to come here unwittingly as slaves. how can we still say we shall conduct holistic investigations without recrimination. the rascals who were involved in this scam shall get no mercy.

  7. Saabahey Police!!!! we love u for your loyalty and the hard challenging work for the Nation.

    Please keep it up!

  8. i heard one of these companies has some connection with waheed-deen. maybe that has something to do with the 'holistic' investigation? can minivan verify this?

  9. The Maldives Police Service needs to work harder. With better investment in their training and development, better human resource policies for the rank and file, improved chances of career advancement and less politicization the development of the police services will accelerate.

    Currently the MPS is on a trend of extreme politicization, mismanagement and poor human resource management.

  10. it will be very easy for the government to ensure that the bangladheshis are paid as per their contract, unfortunately some of the companies who have not paid these poor labourers are also funding the big political parties.

  11. This is a crime against humanity. So is the state enforced religion shoved down every ones throat.

  12. Why can't the lazy superiority complex do their work themselves? Do they really need a Bangladeshi or any other foreighner always do their work? A nation gets sucked into doing these kind of things when their own people lose the will and interest of doing their own jobs. Shame to Maldives.

  13. so far no immigration officials have been questioned with regard to MNDF take over. How can zuhair say that senior officials from immigration are involved... shame on him...

    why is no body talking about Economic Ministry, the place where registration for companies are done... this is the place where companies are registered with bogus breeder documents... so called paper companies are formed then.... then quota and employment approval is obtained... deposit paid ... worker brought and stranded.. this how the process is .. Zuhair kaley waahaka dhakkaathi adhives

  14. Name and Shame them then take their money. Clearly they cannot show a legal way in which they earned their money or assets so freeze them and take the money. Then throw the criminals in jail, have them learn a craft in jail and work in a prison work shop which they sell their handy work for peanuts.
    It is rather simple!


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