Government to cease issuing work permits to Bangladeshi nationals, launches registration effort

The Maldivian government has halted the issuing of new work permits to Bangladeshi nationals and will begin registering the biometric details of all expatriate workers, in an effort to combat rising human trafficking. Employers will also be advised to cease withholding the passports of foreign nationals.

Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem, Human Resources Minister Hassan Latheef and Home Minister Hassan Afeef announced the measures at a joint press conference on Wednesday, together with the Attorney General.

The government will begin registering the details of Bangladeshi nationals from March 31, using a new database developed by the National Centre for Information Technology (NCIT). This registration will eventually be extended to expatriate workers of all nationalities, who make up a third of the Maldives’ population.

Police and the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) would assist with the registration process, the ministers explained.

Latheef said that the decision implemented recommendations in the as-yet unreleased report produced by the MNDF after it took over counters at immigration and the labour department for two weeks in July 2011.

That investigation unearthed an industry worth an estimated US$123 million and a chain of paper companies being used by unscrupulous recruitment agents, who solicit labourers from mostly Bangladesh with the promise of well-paid jobs in the Maldives, confiscate their passports, and either abandon or offer them different, poorly paid jobs on arrival.

Head of the Commercial Crime Unit, Inspector Mohamed Riyaz, revealed at the time that police had seized 4000 passports confiscated from trafficked workers during the two week takeover, and that 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, bribed or complicit Maldivians, or even the deceased. Police had received many complaints about such forgeries from the confused third party, Riyaz said.

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, he noted.

Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem referred Minivan News to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) when asked for comment as to the extent that corruption had allowed the practice to thrive.

“We are deeply involved in this and are taking steps to counter [human trafficking],” Naseem said.

Prosecuting traffickers was difficult because many victims were reluctant to come forward because of their illegal status, he said.

“Many will not seek legal recourse even if puts them in a very difficult situation,” he observed. “They have sold everything to come here.”

Latheef told Minivan News that the government would extend a part amnesty to the estimated 20,000 illegal workers in the country, inviting them to register and seek employment from a willing sponsor, and legalise their presence in the country.

“They will be given a second chance to register and try to find a local employer,” he said. “But if they have no employment, they will have to leave.”

The government has also submitted a bill on human trafficking to the parliament. A report into the practice was due to be released Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) on Human Rights Day, December 10, but has not yet appeared.

Minivan News in 2010 reported a steep rise in human trafficking, which was calculated to eclipse fishing as the second largest contributor of foreign currency to the Maldives after tourism.

That same year, the United States’ State Department placed the Maldives on its Tier 2 Watchlist for Human Trafficking, following a report that Bangladeshi workers were being exploited in high numbers by fake companies promising work permits.

In December 2011 the Maldives was admitted to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), another significant step towards improving the welfare and lifestyle of migrant workers.

However racism, mistreatment and intolerance towards expatriate workers remains widespread in Maldivian society.

At a meeting in June 2011, members of the Male’ City Council  offered solutions to “the nusiance and bother of expatriates [congregating] at the Republic Square” in the capital.

“[Mid-Henveiru Councillor] Lufshan [Shakeeb] noted that foreigners at the Republic Square were damaging the grass in a number of ways and said that the area should be walled off with a tin fence and cleaned,” read the minutes.

The discussion came under an agenda item titled “Making a decision on the nuisance and bother of Bangalhun [derogatory term for Bangladeshis] at the Republic Square and the problem of Bangalhun sleeping inside the old museum at Sultan Park.”

Machangoalhi South Councillor “Jambu” Hassan Afeef meanwhile claimed that expatriates were “committing indecent acts” behind the National Museum site and other open spaces in Sultan Park, recommending that the grounds be closed to the public.


16 thoughts on “Government to cease issuing work permits to Bangladeshi nationals, launches registration effort”

  1. Great IDEA!!! But just remember to treat them like fellow human beings in the process 🙂

    They are our brothers and sisters too

  2. @JJ - I don't see racism towards expat workers as an issue here. However I do see racism against Maldivians by expats as a growing concern. I was recently very disturbed by an article by one of your expat reporters regarding cluture clash, in which she described Maldivian women as a repulsive breed, the likes of which she has not come across anywhere else in the world. As for Bangladeshis, Indians or Sri Lankans I don't see a racial difference between them and us.

  3. @Hameed on Thu, 12th Jan 2012 7:51 PM

    "... in which she described Maldivian women as a repulsive breed, the likes of which she has not come across anywhere else in the world."

    Ah, she probably was talking about the relatively new species only indigeneous to the Maldives, i.e. the Maldivian penguins. I have to say that I find them particularly distasteful, ugly and unbearable. It's true that they are unique to only these God-forsaken islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

    They have spread like wild rabbits over the last several years. I wonder if there are any methods of containment for these ugly creatures.

  4. Let's see what happens to this latest initiative in controlling the "Bangalhis". Numerous such initiatives have gone no where in the past.

    This is probably another stunt by the government to deflect international attention away from it, in the face of growing criticsm over human trafficking.

    This government is particularly good at these sort of stunts that look good on paper, but deliver absolutely nil, nada, nothing, zero! I will be standing on my head for a day to celebrate, if this initiative brings about any positive outcome.

    I'm quire certain, it will be forgotten in a month or two and we will have "Bangalhis" coming out of every coral crack in these islands, just like our hermit crabs!

    If the government really wants to do something about it, they could do it easily. There's no point in trying to find employers for the illegals. They've been illegally working here for many years. Round them up, put them in a cargo ship and cast away towards Dhaka. Close the borders to them forever. End of problem. Next please...

  5. @Hameed on Thu, 12th Jan 2012 7:51 PM

    "As for Bangladeshis, Indians or Sri Lankans I don’t see a racial difference between them and us."

    Racial difference means absolutely nothing in this case. You may know that the present day nations of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh used to be just one, i.e India. Do you know why and how they broke up into three entities? Do you know anything about the history of Bangladesh; how the country came about etc? Do you know anything about present day Bangladesh? I'll let you do the research.

    All brown skinned South Asians might look alike, but that's ONLY skin deep. Skin colour is not even 1% of a persons characteristic. Language, culture, religion, values, education etc make 99.9% of who a person or persons are.

    Despite their racial similarities, I'm sure most Maldivians will spot a "Bangalhi" from a million miles, and I'd assume vice versa.

  6. @Addu:

    Personal preferences aside, your comments are a clear example of the growing rift in our society.

    I for one do not support the wholesale adoption of the Burqa trend but we have to learn to tolerate and respect different modes of dress and different codes of conduct in our society.

    We all talk so self-righteously about tolerance and cultural maturity but we tend to deliberately distance ourselves from the economically inferior among us and the socio-culturally different.

    I am not proposing a utopian love-in. Just try and think about the reasons why certain women adopt the Burqa so easily and wear it in such a casual and colorless fashion.

    The government has maintained the policy of refusing to impart a solid education rather opting to display numbers on a ridiculous national top-ten and spoon-feeding material to our young so that they would pass their O'levels and A'levels by default.

    These youth have low levels of awareness and often come from financially-disadvantaged backgrounds. Their parents do not impart much in the way of worldly knowledge to them and mostly focus on enforcing religious rituals as a disciplinary tactic. Also, Burqa-wearing has become a sort of norm among the working class so that peer-pressure and natural emulative behavior forces women in certain communities and classes to adopt it without much thought.

    Living conditions have been on the decline for some time now so an increasingly distraught public flocks to religious sermons hoping that they would provide some meaning to their life. These sermons reinforce their belief in a better tomorrow and also fuel their anger at the excesses of the middle-class and the rich. This is hard to explain in a simple comment post but I hope you get the picture.

    More understanding and less confrontation is what we need. We do not have to hop on the Western bandwagon of hysterical fear for all things Islamic.

  7. @ahmed

    Who will do the work that keeps your country functioning?

    Same situation in the U.S. The illegal Mexican immigrants do all the jobs Americans don't want to do for very little money. Then they get blamed for creating social problems.

    If Americans (or Maldivians) didn't think they were too good for manual labor jobs, then you wouldn't need foreigners to do the work.

    If global warming does force the residents of Maldives to relocate to other countries, you're going to have a rude awakening. Your brothers in the Middle East will have jobs waiting for you but they won't be in an office.

  8. @Ahmed bin Addu bin Suvadheeb on Thu, 12th Jan 2012 9:40 PM

    "Ah, she probably was talking about the relatively new species only indigeneous to the Maldives, i.e. the Maldivian penguins. I have to say that I find them particularly distasteful, ugly and unbearable. It’s true that they are unique to only these God-forsaken islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

    I have to say that I find them particularly distasteful, ugly and unbearable. It’s true that they are unique to only these God-forsaken islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

    They have spread like wild rabbits over the last several years. I wonder if there are any methods of containment for these ugly creatures."

    What business is it of yours if they wear that attire? They do you no harm.

  9. @ Dhivehi Hanguraama

    You seem to have mellowed down a bit. I've read a couple of posts by you the past day or two, and you didn't even mention garoting Suvadheeb. I'm amazed. What happened, are you feeling ill?

  10. @tsk tsk on Thu, 12th Jan 2012 10:51 PM

    I understand exactly what you're saying. It's true that people turn to God mostly for comfort when facing seemingly insurmountable hurdles. I agree that our growing society has not been well looked after by the State partly by a lack of resources, and partly by a just pure neglect on the part of our elected (and unelected) leaders.

    The working class may well feel that they're somehow getting closer to God and therefore securing a better future by wearning a particular form of dress or by maintaining a particular length of beard. You and I know that this is just non-sense, but as you said, lacking the educational background, we don't really expect people to understand that.

    Herd mentality is a big factor and yes we all have a duty to educate our fellow country men and women. We shouldn't them fall to victims of firebrand rhetoric from anyone.

    Note that even if I find it distasteful, I fully respect anyone to wear whatever they wish! Our aim should be to empower every single person to fully utilise their Allah given intelligence.

  11. @Amber on Thu, 12th Jan 2012 11:13 PM

    "If Americans (or Maldivians) didn’t think they were too good for manual labor jobs, then you wouldn’t need foreigners to do the work."

    Hold it right there dude. My argument had nothing to do with Maldivians who think they're too good for manual laboUr or anything else.

    I am saying we have gone beyond sustainability in terms of illegal immigrants! Of course, we need immigrants for various industries and services. But we need CONTROLLED immigration. We need to know who is here and why they are here. We need to ensure immigrant workers have a decent standard of living.

    Here's the problem we have. We have a multi-million dollar human trafficking industry where the majority of the victims happen to be Bangladeshis. We need to get to grips with this and deal with it fast and with certainty. Pussy footing about this has gone on for a decade!

    The situation is so grave that it poses a danger to our national security. Uncontrolled immigration will break this place apart faster than any Jihadi suicide bomber!

  12. Of course I agree with controlled immigration. I don't agree with racist attitudes towards people who are coerced into leaving their home country to do work that could easily be done by the hordes of unemployed men sitting in coffee shops smoking cigarettes all day.
    Overcrowding and high real estate costs from limited supply are two common complaints about Male' life. What if the government actually enforced a skilled immigrant policy? Like if the job can be done by a Maldivian, the foreigner can't get a work visa. Of course I'm not naive enough to believe that your government would ever enforce such regulations. The blame for the current situation should fall squarely on the government, employers/traffickers and Maldivians who don't want to do their own work. Blaming the immigrants (who are the victims) and for all the problems caused by trafficking is absurd.

  13. About time they start taking this issue seriously. I think in a decade or so, they'll outnumber Maldivians. At the moment there's probably more than 150,000 of them with the local population at over 300,000 and fertility rate decreasing rapidly. What if they start a major revolt or something? I doubt we have any sort of capability to deal with something like that.

    Maldivians want to live like the rich Arabs who laze around doing nothing and let the immigrant laborer's do it all for them but the reality is unlike the Arabs, there are no highly sought after natural resources here to sell and way too much of the money the country makes ends up being leached out by these workers.

  14. Very good move. Issue the rest of the workers fool proof electronic work permits and soon you can weed out the rest. Senior Gayoom elements are behind this including former Immigration Chief.

  15. If human trafficking is considered having anything to do with foreign employment, an effort to contain it should include training the local manpower thereby increasing their employability; regulating more thoroughly the process of employment by the industry, public or private; and make the employment regulation more effective.

    Counting heads from time to time will not change or reverse the trend to recruit foreigners in preference to local counterparts. It'll be a waste of time unless necessary measures are taken in time to reduce the industry's dependence on foreign labour.


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