The Philippines’ Bureau of Immigration has declared it is tightening monitoring of Filipino nationals traveling to the Maldives, over fears the country is being used as a transit point for labour trafficking of its citizens.
The government of the Philippines, which depends heavily on remitted income from its massive expatriate workforce, restricts its nationals from working in countries with a record of poor treatment of low-wage foreign workers, such as Lebanon and Jordan.
However the Bureau’s Immigration Minister Ricardo David Jr issued a statement revealing traffickers were circumventing this restriction by obtaining ‘legitimate’ employment papers for workers in Dubai and the Maldives, and routing workers to restricted countries through these destinations.
David revealed 17 Filipino workers were victimised in such a fashion by illegal recruitment agencies in June, noting that none of the workers had employment contracts and had instead only been ‘promised’ salaries of US$300-$1500 a month once they reach their destination.
The Maldives is recognised as a destination country for labour trafficking, and to a lesser extent, sex trafficking. Various reports into the practice have identified key appeals to traffickers in the form of poor oversight and monitoring of work permit requests, and a near-total lack of enforcement or investigation of traffickers in favour of swiftly deporting victims – many of whom go into substantial debt paying bogus ‘recruitment fees’ of up to US$4000.
However the statement from the Philippines suggests the country’s lack of oversight of foreign worker employment is also being exploited by traffickers to transit victims.
Domestically, “Recruitment agents in source countries collude with employers and agents in Maldives to facilitate fraudulent recruitment and forced labor of migrant workers”, read a recent report from the US State Department’s human trafficking monitoring office.
Despite widespread acknowledgement of the practice and the government’s submission of a draft anti-trafficking bill to parliament in December 2012, the Maldives still has no specific laws prohibiting human trafficking and “the government of the Maldives made minimal anti-trafficking enforcement efforts during the year.”
While forced labour was prohibited under the 2009 Employment Act, it was not penalised, the report noted.
“The government reported investigating four and prosecuting two sex trafficking cases in 2012, compared to no prosecutions recorded in 2011,” the report stated.
However “the government did not report any prosecutions of government employees for alleged complicity in trafficking-related offenses [and] the absence of government translators prevented foreign trafficking victims from pursuing recourse through the Maldivian legal system.”
The Maldives was placed on the US State Department’s Tier Two Watch List for Human Trafficking for the fourth consecutive year, and faces mandatory downgrading to Tier 3 next year along with Afghanistan, Barbados, Chad, Malaysia, Thailand unless it addresses the problem.
Tier 3 countries are defined by the State Department as those which “neither satisfy the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking nor demonstrate a significant effort to do so”, and are open to non-humanitarian and non-trade international sanctions.