Maldives “enslaving” migrant workers by withholding passports, warns Indian official

A senior Indian diplomatic official in the Maldives has expressed concern over the ongoing practice of confiscating passports of migrant workers arriving to the country from across South Asia – likening the practice to slavery.

The diplomatic source, who wished not to be identified, has told Minivan News that although several government ministries were critical of the practice of withholding the passports of foreign staff coming to work in the country, the state had taken no action.

Some Ministries – such as the Education Ministry – themselves routinely confiscate passports of migrant workers.

“I’ve not met a single government minister who says that such a system [withholding passports] is legal,” the source said, claiming that they had seen little “real progress” from authorities in trying to address these concerns over the last 10 months.

The Maldives has come under strong criticism internationally in recent years over its record in trying to prevent people trafficking, with the country appearing on the US State Department’s Tier Two Watch List for Human Trafficking three years in a row.

In the report, the Maldives is mainly flagged as a destination country for victims of labour exploitation, particularly from Bangladesh and to a lesser extent, India, but was also noted as a destination for sex trafficking.

“An unknown number of the 80,000 to 110,000 foreign workers that government officials estimate are currently working in Maldives – primarily in the construction and service sectors – face conditions indicative of forced labour: fraudulent recruitment, confiscation of identity and travel documents, withholding or nonpayment of wages, or debt bondage,” the 2012 report notes.

According to the source within the Indian High Commission, by impinging on a person’s right of movement – such as by taking their right to travel freely between different countries – migrant workers without passports were essentially being subjected to “slavery” in the Maldives.

“Slavery is of course not permitted under Islam, but this system also incurs cost for the Maldivian people,” the source claimed, pointing to the rising costs of trying to attract skilled workers such as teachers to the country, when compared to other countries like Sri Lanka.

According to the High Commission, Indian workers experienced similar treatment with regard to their passports being withheld when they first began migrating to nations within the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

“This was at a time when there was not much opportunity for work for skilled Indian workers,” he said. “However, now they have the choice of where to work and conditions have greatly improved.”

The diplomatic source said that countries such as Saudi Arabia had moved away from keeping the passports of migrant workers, as well as ensuring improved working conditions so they could attract the best staff for positions.

From the perspective of the Maldives, the high commission representative likened the attitude of many of the country’s employers towards hiring foreign staff as being synonymous with “ownership”, something he said did not reflect the critical need for foreign workers in the Maldives – both skilled and unskilled.

“If you are giving visas to these people then they are obviously needed. But if you need something you must also value it. Should you buy a expensive piece of electronic equipment, you would not go throwing it around and treating it badly,” the source suggested.

Contacted about the passport issue, Abdul Razak Ibrahim, Director General for the Ministry of Human Resources, Youth, and Sport, forwarded enquiries to the Department of Immigration and Emigration, which he said now dealt with employment issues.

Both Immigration Controller Dr Mohamed Ali and Deputy Controller Ibrahim Ashraf were not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.

Indian concerns

The issue of retaining passports is one of a number of concerns about the wider treatment of migrant workers from India and the South Asia region in the Maldives.

Earlier this year, the High Commissioner of Bangladesh in Male’, Rear Admiral Abu Saeed Mohamed Abdul Awal, questioned the treatment of workers from the country, who he said were regularly being brought to the Maldives to perform unskilled work, usually in the construction industry. Awal alleged that upon arriving, expatriates from Bangladesh were suffering from the practices of “bad employers”.

“This is a real problem that is happening here, there have been many raids over the last year on unskilled [expatriate] workers who are suffering because of the companies employing them. They are not being given proper salaries and are paying the price for some of these employers,” he said.

Rear Admiral Awar added that it was the responsibility of employers to ensure expatriate staff had the proper documentation and suitable living standards.

Concerns about the treatment of expatriates from across the South Asia region were also shared by Indian High Commissioner Dynaneshwar Mulay. Speaking to Minivan News, Mulay has previously raised concerns over the general treatment of Indian expatriates in the Maldives, particularly by the country’s police and judiciary.

Mulay claimed that alongside concerns about the treatment of some Indian expatriates in relation to the law, there were significant issues relating to “basic human rights” that needed to be addressed concerning expatriates from countries including Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

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26 thoughts on “Maldives “enslaving” migrant workers by withholding passports, warns Indian official”

  1. It is high time that someone brought this injustice to the surface. Maldives government is the most pernicious practitioner of this practice. Restricting the free movement of people who come to the country freely is slavery.

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  2. what about the rights of the employers also. How many bangladehsi come to Maldives on tourist visa and then they form thier own construction group do the business by themselves.

    Then how many bagladeshi people who were brought by genuine companies and who pays their wages run away with the " Bagladeshi groups Old" with the promise to make them earn more money but in reality they don't earn much money and ended up on the road as illegal workers.

    Whole problem is that initially Government took no action on those who were illegal workers and this Government had started to clean up this big mess we are in.

    So some of these official and other embassy officers who may have direct involvement in bringing those workers may not be happy of the recent activities by the government to clean up the mess . Because this will stop and prevent the illegal workers in the country and people will be afraid to work without having proper work visas.

    This will prevent them them earning money in bringing people to the country and taking money from those labors .

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  3. And they make terrible slaves as that; they're mostly emaciated and incompetent.

    If the rule of God were in place we could be breeding them strong and healthy instead of importing them from lands where cows are worshipped and only vegetables are eaten. Protein deficiencies make for poor labourers.

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  4. This is a basic god given right. Muslims can have slaves of non-Muslims. This is the sunnah.

    Please don't even try to be anti-religious and take this basic right from me.

    You know what happened to the last president who tried to take some god given rights.

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  5. How many local lads are unemployed due to cheap labour from India Bangladesh...?
    I think we should introduce a minimum wage and ensure that employers favour local people!!!
    Stopping the influx of cheap foreign labour will remove this modren slavery tag and also benefit local people!!!

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  6. The arab practice of exploiting poor workers by confiscating passports, changing employment contracts and reneging on agreements after the workers have arrived in the country and not paying salaries on time..........has now arrived in Maldives. Well done!!
    Indian workers should seriously consider whether it worthwhile taking up third rate jobs in fourth rate Maldives...........especially if they are not sunni muslims.
    'Slavery is of course not permitted under islam'...........neither is drug taking.........and you have an addiction to Class A drugs that would shame the Russians.
    May I suggest you lay off the brown sugar and Dunlop for a while and
    Clean your own toilets
    Sweep your own streets
    Build your own houses
    Collect your own garbage
    Treat your own sick
    Teach your own children
    and Modernise your own airports!!

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  7. Ever been to Thilafushi Mody. I have, it was hell on earth. A big employer over there is one Qasim Ibrahim, a hero of yours no doubt.

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  8. Holding people's passports is wrong. Since a passport is the property of a country, and not a person, Maldives imposes on other people's national assets. I know many teachers in Maldives who cannot return to their home countries on vacation or in emergency situations because the Ministry of Education holds their passports and does not apply for their work permit until almost at the end of the school year. This makes it virtually impossible for these teachers to travel outside the country during the teaching session; not even for emergencies.

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  9. Spinner @mody!

    You seem to have some points here. I will agree!

    But, this "Whole problem is that initially Government took no action on those who were illegal workers and this Government had started to clean up this big mess we are in.", is a far out spin! Oh Boy!

    When did Bangladeshi workers started coming?
    Who were people involved and cashing in on this which started well before Nasheed's government took over in 2008?
    What happened to their deposits made with the government?
    Who were the people who swindled deposit money at Trade Ministry and Visa payments at the Immigration?
    And is the "this government" paying deposit money for the many who have been sent back after the "this government" took over?

    There have been incidents where deposit money payment have prolonged for 4 to 5 months after it is recalled!

    Please tell me what is the "this government" doing with depositors money>

    Nasheed's government came in, and assessed the situation!
    They found that a lot of human beings were being taken for rides and took to its heart this grave injustice!
    It understood what could happen to the poor Bangladeshi who coming here after spending a fortune, pawning their valuable items were to be repatriated!

    Yes! Nasheed's government could have easily repatriated many of these poor people and in legal ways! But, would that be justice to the expatriate?

    Nasheed's government did their best, centralized and restricted deposits and visa payment collections such that loony characters within Trade Ministry and Immigration could not have access to it for pocketing in!

    Yes! Nasheed's government gave a fair chance to the for the Bangladeshi's who had no proper documentation to register themselves and fall into proper line and work in decent and dignified manner!

    This is what Nasheed's government tried!

    However, as the illegal "this government" came in, the old crookedness have started coming in to the system!

    With some quota restrictions abandoned, I am dying to see result!

    I am sure that the not so expensive boarder control system that the "this government" bought, will control monitor inflow!

    And yes! There is talk of some fishy business (which is not an uncommon thing in Asian countries where even the guard at the gate may collect some "paan") going on within missions

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  10. I know some Bangladeshi and Indian workers that haven't been paid their wages by their employers for months. The employing companies neither bother to pay the work visa fee. As a result even regular workers don't carry proper identification. On the other hand the human trafficking doesn't seem to reduce.

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  11. There are both sides to this argument. Both employees and employers have right. There are both genuine employees and employers who are working with each other for their mutual benefit. We can't just take one side of the argument and come up with policies to resolve the existing issues. Employers can't enslave employees and employees can't be allowed to take advantage of employers either. There are many instances when employers don't pay wages and prevent the employee from finding another job as well, and there are just as many instances where employees cheat the employer and leave the country. Both these instances make it impossiple for either party to seek justice. So the embassies and the government and the employment sector together should work to come up with policies that best protect both employers and employees. It isnt about the indians, bangladeshis or Sri Lankans. There are lots of maldivian employees too who suffer because of poor employment policies and likewise employers are also disadvantaged by lots of loopholes in the Employment Act. Let's not blame just one party, it's about both employees and employers. As long as we view to see this issue as a concern for just one party, the real issues won't get addressed.

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  12. @Dhivehi Hanguraama: How can you insult others that they were cow wershippers when your great grandparents were the same. You were ultimately originated from the seed of cow wershippers and now you are boasting, pretending to be originated from Arabs.Dont you respect your great elders??? You are insulting yourself. Shame on you man.....

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  13. some of my learned friends forget that it is tourism that is holding this country together..
    Lots of development has taken place not because of the hard work put in by the 'locals' but by the expats..the 'locals' only believe in talking...
    Old Indian saying- 'empty vessels make the most noise', that is very true for my 'local' friends...
    It will be nice for you to understand & work with the expats to help develop your country rather than driving them away..
    I have spent two decades in this beautiful paradise & i can tell from my experience that if the guest do not get good service they will not come to the country, then what...

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  14. Maryam. I could agree with you more.

    There are problems with Employers and Employees and we need to have solid policies to protect both sides and then all illegal workers to repatriate regardless of what people will say about that.

    But if we are hesitant to repatriate them then this issue will not be solved .

    Patriot, I am not only referring to Nasheed and i am referring to Gayyoom and Nasheed too.

    This Government had raided Thilafushi and and caught some illegal workers and many of those were repatriated. This has given a strong message to those illegal workers and they are now bit more careful and some of them even had come forward to get them send back.

    I know many people who had just disappeared from the country without knowing the employer and even taking money from the company . But if those guys pass port is held with the company admin this kind of diappearnec will not happened.

    Other way to go about is to change the policy to have a letter from the employer confirming their departure as being approved by the company to allow them to travel out of the country.

    For the workers , if they have any issues with the employer then let them go labor ministry and report and then get tribunal investigate the issue and punish the employer accordingly.

    The Government need to have the guts to implement the plaices and then parliament need to have a fair solid policies to eliminate this problem.

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  15. Did this Indian diplomat see the February 7th disaster created by Police & MNDF together???

    A government that was formed because of that DISASTER can never ever understand or feel what we call human trafficking or even killing humans, my dear Indian diplomat

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  16. Mulay is the master of this regime. On 7 February, the day of the coup that brought the first democratically elected government of the Maldives down and set up an unelected regime, the Indian High Commissioner was receiving at the Chancery members of the opposition including MPs protesting against president Nasheed. His support to bring in an unelected government did not end there. He continues to provide the military junta huge financial support without which the regime would not have survived.

    Such a powerful diplomat to only talk about ill-treatment and suffering of his fellow people at the hands of employers in a country depending heavily on his support is a shame and is only betraying his government, country and the people. If he supports a people as he does the Maldives he must actually demand goodwill to his country and people in return.

    He is giving these people the Indian taxpayer money for free. Why should the same taxpayers suffer here?

    If Mulay wants the practice of Indian passports to be withheld from his countrymen working or otherwise living here to stop, it is nothing difficult to him. If he were able to back the opposition politician to make good the coup of 7 February why can’t he see that the practice badly affecting his fellow men here ends sooner rather than later?

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  17. Mulley was one who ahd helped Anni to acquire huge amount of money from GMR deal. Mulley does not need to bow his heads to Anni all the time.

    Most of the diplomats were aware of what had done by Anni and how he was threatening the vary democratic values in this country.

    They all knew Anni came in power using democracy but when he got hold of the power he had forgotten what the all of the democratic principles and values.

    In a democratic society , we have the right to criticize the leader if he try to saw his muscles . We have the right to express our dissatisfaction about the president if he breaches our constitution .

    We have the right to remove democratically elected president if he is in breach of the constitution. It is not a warranty that people give to stay him for 5 years and he was allowed to rule the country the way he wants. It is a promise to allow him to stay in power for 5 years provided that he stays within the constitutional boundaries .

    If president goes "out side Map" as challenged by Anni, the result be to bring him back to the map.

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  18. The thought of the people of a country that those who are not Muslims are infidels one can't expect better civilized behavior from them! This attitude need to change.

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  19. The worship of cows is not civilized behaviour at all.

    Hindus posess naught but ignorance and were bereft of culture until the Mughal empire imposed virtue upon them. Alas, they have not returned to such a happy state of affairs since.

    We do them a favour by keeping them here where there is at least some sembleance of obesiance paid to the one true God, the creator of Djinn and Dankind.

    May the foolish and errant ones learn from our ways and embrace Tahweed. Amen. Alhamdulillaah.

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  20. Arab world has been employing slaves (and expatriates) because they can't do anything themselves. They can't build roads, buildings, treat people or educate kids. Heck, they can't dig oil on their own.
    Now the Maldivians have somehow gotten the notion that they are Arab too (just because you follow the same religion??). You guys have no resource (no oil, no mineral, nothing to export, no money). You are following the wrong people. Learn to work yourself before you start writing about kicking out expatriates.
    @Dhivehi Hanguraama, you need to learn a lot and see a lot of world before you start equating India with Hinduism. BTW people from Land of Cow Worshippers are biggest creditors and bond holders of your country - you would have been bankrupt by now otherwise.

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  21. People don't know much about how teachers are treated in Maldives. They are treated worst then unskilled laborers. With holding the passport made last year many teachers waiting in queue at Ministry of education department for their passport in emergencies for medical treatment and especially when their parents are dead in their native country. The lazy person called AHMED IBRAHIM who was working in expatriate section was least bothered when people waiting to get their work visa card and passport for traveling to Sri Lanka and India to attend the funeral of their parents. Most of the teachers returned to the school after spending weeks in Male' lodges as their parents funerals were completed and it was nothing but to spend money to find nothing but funeral ashes, Because of their work visas are not made ready or their passports were not given on a holiday they had to forgo their parents funeral and keep the pain of not attending the funeral for whole life. These Maldivians don't know the respect to a dead body of a father or mother and they make jokes even. Not only this with holding the passports with the ministry made teachers to work like unskilled laborer. I don't know why Indian embassy keep a check or take action when their citizens work here as laborers. Teachers were given wall painting and cleaning work by the local principals. My friend reported in Upper north province one school principal continuously give them cleaning job wall cleaning and painting work,( funny thing is principal himself kept the photos of foreign teachers working like labors and washing the walls were kept on his facebook status ! ) Carrying the sand and chairs on their shoulders etc. I think these Maldivian ( local ) principals think they are lords and don't have a culture of respecting the educated people. I heard this was even reported to Indian Embassy ( about Upper North province H.Dhal atoll incident )but no action was taken against such principals who assign labor job to their foreign teachers keeping the workers idle just because the principal wants good relationship with the locals. This type of things should be taken seriously and such principals should be terminated out of their service of principal job. Is it just because they are locals so they can treat foreign teachers badly like this? Is their no voice against so called white collar crime ?

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  22. Some of these Maldivian are not only arrogant but think themselves to be the smartest people on this planet.They forget that Maldives is a tiny state whose very survival depends on foreign aids & foreign workers.It stands nowhere before military might of India or Bangladesh. They should be thankful to Bangladeshi workers who are meeting their labor demands as these young Maldivians are basically lazy, moron & known drug addicts.Similarly your Islamist megalomaniac outlook will not serve any purpose(a reply to Dhivehi Hanguraama) & will create only bad feelings among others .If these neighboring countries stop their aids to your country, within no time you will be reduced to beggary, mind it.

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  23. For you air worshipping slave driving empty headed women and children killing Muslims, India doesn't worship cows. How stupid can you be? Cows are sacred and holy that doesn't mean we worship cows. And even if Indians did at least we would be worshipping something with a form and not air!!!

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