The Maldives will not become “a nest for human trafficking”, President Mohamed Nasheed pledged during his weekly radio address, although he acknowledged “many failures in the efforts by government agencies to maintain expatriate records.”
Speaking during his weekly radio address, Nasheed said there were discrepancies between the numbers of expatriate workers reported by the Human Resources, Youth and Sports and the Department of Immigration and Emigration.
The Human Resources Ministry claimed there were 74,000 foreign workers in the country, Nasheed said, while records at the Department of Immigration said there were 94,000 – suggesting that at least six percent of the country’s population is unaccounted for.
Nasheed said the government estimated that 40,000 expatriates in the country were working illegally. The situation had reached “an alarming level”, he said, “due to failure to investigate illegal workers, and lack of a systematic approach to [monitor] arrivals, employment and living conditions of expatriates.”
The President said he had tasked the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) with overseeing the upgrade of IT and infrastructure at both the Human Resources Ministry and the Immigration Department.
He also announced the launch of a special police investigation into “any unlawful activity that might have led to the increasing number of illegal workers.”
“We will do everything possible to make the Maldives a country that respects human dignity, and ensure all Maldivians respect human rights and pursue a civilised lifestyle,” Nasheed said.
The government has placed greater urgency on addressing the problem of labour trafficking amid wider concerns over the health of the economy – particularly the foreign currency shortage. One report from the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) estimates that every expatriate worker remits US$100 per month to their families back home, for a total drain of US$8 million every month – a greater amount than the country earns from its new Tourism Goods and Services Tax.
By far the greatest number of expatriate labourers in the country are Bangladeshi nationals, and to a much lesser extent, Sri Lanka.
Former High Commissioner of Bangladesh Professor Selia Mohsin told Minivan News last year that 40 Bangladeshi nationals were arriving at the High Commission’s reception desk daily, “having come to the Maldives and found they have nothing to do”. She claimed that unscrupulous employment brokers in both countries were exploiting potentially hundreds of millions of dollars a year from illiterate and uneducated rural Bangladeshi families desperate for better opportunities.
Under Maldivian law, foreign workers arriving in the Maldives must have a work permit issued by the Immigration Department. This is obtained through an employer or agent, who must first request a foreign worker quota from the Ministry of Trade and Human Resources.
“The Maldivian [side] gets into connection with the Bangladeshi brokers, gets a business permit from the Ministry of Human Resources, says they want to recruit and gets a quota for more workers than they require – if they require any at all – and then ask a Bangladeshi counterpart to bring in the workers,” Professor Mohsin told Minivan News last year.
Brokers charged individual workers up to US$4000 to arrange their employment in the Maldives, she said, explaining that in many cases the family home and land was sold or mortgaged to raise this fee, split two-thirds in favour of the Maldivian broker.
One case that arrived on her desk – an application approved by the Ministry of Human Resources – was a request for 1800 workers for an unspecified construction project.
“Those people would have come [to Male’] had I not checked. Had I not done it, 1800 people would have sold their homes and become delinquent in the Maldives. This did not bother a Maldivian broker,” she said at the time. “Hell is not good enough for the people who are doing this.”
More recently, Immigration Controller Abdulla Shahid revealed that Bangladeshi nationals will be issued work visas by the Maldives High Commission in the national capital of Dhaka, in an attempt to address booming numbers of workers arriving in the country. These workers would require additional documents verified and issued in Bangladesh before their work visas and ID cards could be issued in the Maldives.