Report condemns Maldives for inaction on human trafficking

The Maldives has been placed on the US State Department watch-list for human trafficking, following the country’s failure to “investigate or prosecute trafficking-related offenses or take concrete actions to protect trafficking victims and prevent trafficking in the Maldives.”

The State Department’s 2010 Human Trafficking report, which comes less than a month after the Maldives was given a seat on the UN Human Rights Council, is scathing of government inaction, particularly regarding forced labour and exploitation of Bangladeshi nationals.

“An unknown number of the 110,000 foreign workers currently working in the Maldives – primarily in the construction and service sectors – face fraudulent recruitment practices, confiscation of identity and travel documents, withholding or non-payment of wages, or debt bondage,” the report noted.

“Diplomatic sources estimate that half of the 35,000 Bangladeshis in the Maldives went there illegally and that most of these workers are probably victims of trafficking.”

The report noted that even legal workers were vulnerable to conditions of forced labor, and that the Maldives did not provide services such as shelter, counseling, medical care, or legal aid to foreign or Maldivian victims of trafficking.

The government’s “general policy” for dealing with trafficking victims was deportation, the report said, “and it did not provide foreign victims with legal alternatives to their removal to countries where they might face hardship or retribution. On an ad-hoc basis, it provided extremely short-term housing for migrants immediately before deportation.”

The Maldives did not comply with minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking in persons, however the US State Department conceded that the government “is making significant efforts to do so.”

“Despite these efforts, the government lacks systematic procedures for identifying victims of trafficking among vulnerable populations, and during the reporting period it did not investigate or prosecute trafficking-related offenses or take concrete actions to protect trafficking victims and prevent trafficking in the Maldives,” it said, placing the Maldives on a ‘tier 2 watch list’ alongside Afghanistan, Brunei, Laos, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Trafficking offenders

Little progress had been made to identify and prosecute trafficking offenders, the report noted, classing three types: “families that subject domestic servants to forced labor; employment agents who bring low-skilled migrant workers to the Maldives under false terms of employment and upon payment of high fees; and employers who subject the migrants to conditions of forced labor upon arrival.”

The report acknowledged “a small number” of women from Sri Lanka, Thailand, India, China, the Philippines, Eastern Europe, and former Soviet Union countries that had been recruited “for forced prostitution in Male”, while underage Maldivian girls were reportedly also trafficked to Male from other islands for involuntary domestic servitude, “a corruption of the widely acknowledged practice where families send Maldivian girls to live with a host family in Male for educational purposes.”

However in numercial terms, the bulk of country’s human trafficking revolved around illegal recruitment of migrant workers, mostly from Bangladesh, who paid on average between US$1,000 to US$4,000 in recruitment fees in order to migrate to the Maldives, potentially indebting them to an employer or agent and making them vulnerable to forced labor.

Limited enforcement

The government had made “limited” efforts to enforce anti-human trafficking laws during the last year, the report said, noting that while the country did not have explicit laws prohibiting human trafficking, the Constitution forbade forced labour and slavery.

“However, the government did not investigate or prosecute any trafficking cases and the only prescribed penalty for labor trafficking offenses is a fine,” it observed.

It noted that the Labor Tribunal, created as part of the 2008 Employment Act, heard eight cases involving foreign workers whose wages had not been paid, but lacked the legal authority to enforce its decision.

“In addition, employment tribunal members and employees expressed concerns about their ability to resolve cases involving foreign workers because all their proceedings were conducted in [Dhivehi],” it added.

Moreover, the report said that the Maldives may have “inappropriately incarcerated, fined, or otherwise penalised” unlawfully trafficked persons because of a lack of comprehensive victim identification procedures.

“The government did not conduct any anti-trafficking or educational campaigns and it did not take steps to create an inter-agency structure – such as a committee or plan of action – for coordination on anti-trafficking matters,” it said, adding that government additionally made no effort to reduce demand for forced labor on the islands.

It noted that in 2010 the Maldives had enacted a provision requiring all employers to use employment agents, and recommended it take steps to ensure that employers and labor brokers “were not abusing labour recruitment or sponsorship processes in order to subject migrant workers to forced labour.”

Response

President of the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM), Ahmed Saleem, said the US State Department’s report did not reflect well on the country.

“This is something the government had not believed was happening in the Maldives [until recently],” he said.

“This doesn’t reflect well on us, and it’s an issue that has to be addressed. I’m glad the issue of trafficking has been recognised.”

Saleem acknowledged a deeper “cultural issue” concerning the exploitation of Bangladeshi expatriates, one he noted “is getting worse on a daily basis.”

“Usually Maldivians are very tolerant of expats coming and working here,” he observed.

He added that the commission was currently compiling a report on human trafficking in the Maldives, and noted that while the State Department’s report was highly critical of the Maldives, the US itself had committed “gross human rights violations”, and “should hold itself to the same standards to which it holds other countries.”

“They should also expect criticism,” he said.

Introducing the report, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted that 2010 was the first time the United States had included itself in the rankings,

“The United States takes its first-ever ranking not as a reprieve but as a responsibility to strengthen global efforts against modern slavery, including those within America. This human rights abuse is universal, and no one should claim immunity from its reach or from the responsibility to confront it,” she said.

“Huge scams”

Bangladeshi High Commissioner Professor Selina Mohsin said “unscrupulous brokers” were bringing Bangladeshi nationals into the country by photocopying legitimate work visas – bearing her signature -“hundreds of times”, which authorities were continuing to accept at the border.

“I’ve tried to meet the Human Resources Minister [Hassan Latheef] and ask him to stop accepting photocopies of work permits,” she said.

“I haven’t signed a single work permit since the beginning of April – how is it workers are still coming into the Maldives? Just today I found a copy of my signature on a photocopied work permit. Unless the original is brought over by the employee, we can’t stop this,” she said, suggesting there was “some problem” occurring at either the labour ministry or immigration.

“All they have to do is stop letting [illegal expatriates] into the country. It is ridiculous that this is happening – why can’t the government only accept original work permits?”

Prof Mohsin said the situation was a result of brokers and employers, both in the Maldives and overseas, running “huge scams” reaching up to several hundred million US dollars.

“I just tried to have a Bangladeshi agent deported – I caught him almost red-handed – but his Maldivian friends have taken him to court so he can stay in the country,” she said, noting that the case was still ongoing.

Few of the local authorities had Bangla speakers, she noted, making communication an issue as well. For example, the employment tribunal was conducting cases in Dhivehi and the expatriates involved could not understand what was going on, she said.

“It should be the government providing interpreters, rather than us,” she claimed. “In places like the UK there are policemen who speak other languages.”

When workers arrived and became unemployed, “they can’t be deported because that costs money, and if there’s no employment, people turn to crime,” she noted.

Prof Mohsin was also critical of HRCM, commenting that she “hardly saw [Saleem] anywhere. If he is invisible, what use is it in having a Human Rights Commission?”

Minister for Human Resources Hassan Latheef had not responded to Minivan News at time of press.

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20 thoughts on “Report condemns Maldives for inaction on human trafficking”

  1. Interesting point there by the Bangladeshi High Commissioner. How is it that so many Bangladeshi's are permitted into the country on a fake work permit. Especially when the Labour ministry has stopped issuing new permits. It would not be too difficult to identify these fake work permits. The whole thing reeks of corruption. I would not be too surprised if immigrant officers and high level staff from the Labour ministry along with private companies are involved in the scam.

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  2. This is shameful and absurd! Our government was ready to accept foreign detainees as well and to hold them captive here on the request of the United States.

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  3. We should not let Bangladeshi workers entering the Maldives without work visa issued from the Maldives High Commission in Dhaka. I am sure this is what Bangladeshi High Commissioner Professor Selina Mohsin has been saying, restricting the Bangladeshi workers coming to the Maldives.

    Maldivian also need to obtain a visa from the Bangladesh High Commission in Male' to enter Bangladesh, we can do the same on the reciprocity basis.

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  4. no more bagladheshi's hereafter...mdp activists are good enuf to be labourers at ministerial level..

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  5. Yes, maldivian government should do far better to eradicate this very cruel crime. But then look at us Maldivians. We contantly whinge about how we are treated in Western countries. Look how we treat foreigners in our country. Maldivians are undoubtedly once of the most racist societies on earth. What a shame on us.

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  6. Is this USA (the holier than thou nation) trying to bully Maldives into accepting their Guantanamo Bay victims?

    USA should concentrate on the atrocities being committed in their own backyard; instead of issuing reports on other countries.

    USA portrays themselves as democratic and human rights protector of the world. However, they are the worst offenders.

    Shame on USA !!!

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  7. It's sad but true, but a lot of Maldivians are quite racist towards workers, especially those from Bangladesh.

    It's a common insult to call another Maldivan a "bangaalhi". The attitude seems to be that they are not in the same class of human being as us.

    Even all the comments so far are just going on about kicking them out or not letting them in.

    They of all people didn't want to come here just to become modern day slaves. We should stop blaming the victims here. Especially when most of them are just trying to support their families back home. To an extent the Bangladeshi government should be responsible as well.

    I hate to drag the Islamic ministry in this, but where are they in this issue? Do they not know that Bangladesh is a majority Muslim nation?

    What happened to helping THOSE "brothers in Islam"?

    Or is it only high profile Guantanamo bay people we help.

    With all this talk and no action; the drapery is slowly falling.

    We should solve these issues even if its on the purely selfish basis of saving the tourism industry.

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  8. yes........... the fact........Maldivians has to change their attitude towards bangladeshies

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  9. If Bangladesh workers are not there in male, if they don't clean the roads and garbage's in male.
    Male will get rotten smell through out the male city.
    I am very sad they are exploited in maldives.

    Even in gulf bangladeshi, indian and pakistanis are the people who works hard and keep the cities claen.
    if these people leave the country even Gulf Will Be smelling.

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  10. There is a simple solution. Bangladeshis must get work visa stamped in our Dhaka Embassy. Indians and Nepalis can get it done in Delhi or Trivandrum Consulate. Sri Lankans get it done at our Lanka Embassy. The local sponsor must sign a legaly binding contract and should be held responsible if he doesnt follow it. Do this and 90% of our workforce will be legal. Those who are here illegally must be given 03 months to make a decesion to get legal visas/documents or face deportation. When it comes to deportation forget human rights and US and Banlga High Commisioner's concerns. When it comes to clean-up stage follow "Nike" slogan JUST DO IT.

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  11. We will rush into denial mode and find excuses such as the US can't talk of human rights violations because of Guantanomo and Bagram etc.

    Many of us treat foreign workers shabbily and without any respect. Sometimes there is outright xenophobia like refusing to sit next to Bangladeshi at the hospital waiting area.

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  12. Maldivians as a society are more racist than most nations, and yet we claim to be equal etc etc. It's shameful.

    Good point about brothers in Islam. Why does the President want to help two high profile 'possible' terrorists whereas the government doesn't even consider the plight of the brothers in Islam that are already working here, cleaning our homes, constructing our buildings and doing all the jobs that we are too high and mighty to do? Condoning the slavery-like conditions of many foreigners is shameful, especially when there is a double standard even there. If it comes to the matter of any Caucasian person, they're treated with difference and respect, even in the same situation where the next moment someone from an Asian country might be treated harshly and unfairly.

    The government needs to address the whole issue of differentiation in our midst, including looking down on and exploiting citizens from the outer islands. Just bandying around platitudes and trying to hide reality isn't enough!

    The Human Rights Commission itself ought to be more active too, especially when we are now on the UN Human Rights Council. If we can't do something solid about this, Maldives should resign, and let more worthy nations be represented.

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  13. This is definitely a big issue in the Maldives. Racial discrimination against expatriates from countries such as Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka goes on every day in the country.

    However, I'd like to point out that the UK policemen being able to speak other languages is because UK is a mult-cultural country with people from all over the world. So you would find British Bangladeshi, British Pakistani policemen. In fact I'm fairly certain there won't be many white British policemen who could speak the Bangladeshi language.

    Please do not compare a fourth world country to one of the most developed nations in the world!

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  14. It is a pity that the view of HR Ministry is not included in the article and since I recruit expatriates, I know the article (specially the part concerning the Bangladeshi High Commission's views) is misleading, or misquoted. The current procedure is, Work Permits are signed and originals are issued by the HR Ministry. Based on this, Work Visas are issued by the Dept of Immigration and Emigration after the arrival of the expatriate to Male' on Work Permit. I do not see why the Work Permits issued by the Maldivian Government have to be signed by Bangladeshi High Commission. It is quoted in the article that the High Commissioned stated " “I haven’t signed a single work permit since the beginning of April – how is it workers are still coming into the Maldives? " . If the Bangladeshi High Commissioner is so concerned, she could have controlled the emigration authority of her own country so that their workers can't come to Maldives unless they meet the criteria approved by their authorities. With all due respect, i see this more like a joke! Labor rights protection is still novel in Maldives (even for Maldivian Labor). I believe that the Maldivian Authorities and HRCM are doing a good job.

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  15. Baazu - my sentiments exactly. Bgladheshi high commissioner should be able to handle things from her own end instead of pointing fingers at others... wierd!

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  16. The Babgladesh Highcommission some staffs are also enganged in this wealthy bussiness started couple of years ago.

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  17. The report is just about Human Trafficking and What about the other aspects of violation of Human Rights??

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  18. I want information about the sinking of the Maldives to the optional forward. [email protected] Because it will take to Peng's part of the report, Chiang Mai University's Faculty of Social Sre.
    Thank you

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  19. Rights and Dignity to all - this is the issue here; not illegal immigrant workers and work permits. This is about respecting everyone's rights and treating tem equally, regardless of whether they are Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans, Maldivians, Europeans or Africans. If you employ someone, given them basic rights, food, agreed pay, basic living conditions and most of all treat them as you would want them treated.

    I agree, like most people in the world that the US are among the worst human rights offenders of the world, drone attacks on rural villages (for training and political purpose), shooting at civilians around the world, snooping on people's private affairs around the world, selling arms to armies and gangs that kill civilians on a regularly basis and legalising arrests of civilians without charge etc.. even if we Maldivians don't commit such acts, it is the reality that we need to learn and understand what another human rights and dignity is. Current and subsequent government should monitor and take action on this matter. Educational and school syllabuses should play a vital role on this issue of respecting workers' rights.

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