A total of 47 Bangladeshi nationals working for a local security firm were seized on Thursday by the Department of Immigration as part of a wider crackdown on unregistered migrant workers.
The detention of the expatriate workers comes after police late last year reported a “day-by-day” increase in human trafficking in the Maldives. The Maldives Police Service’s claims were based on a surge in the numbers of illegal expatriate workers found in the country.
Assistant Controller of the Immigration Department Ibrahim Ashraf told Minivan News that the 47 Bangladesh nationals were all apprehended following a raid of a company providing security guards that was not registered to employ foreigners.
Ashraf claimed that the company the men had been working for had been in operation for 10 -12 years, yet no information could be found on its operations.
“During the raid, we found 47 Bangladeshi nationals all wearing security uniforms along with equipment like walkie talkies and badges,” he said. “They were not registered for this work and we could not find any records linked to the company.”
While the Department of Immigration has said that it was not cracking down specifically on security firms employing expatriate workers, Ashraf added that concerns remained about ensuring the industry had correctly licensed its foreign staff.
“Until recently, the Ministry of Human Resources did not provide [expatriate] work quotas to security firms,” he said. “There has been a growing demand among local businesses to hire security services. The Ministry of Human Resources has therefore begun issuing quotas for hiring expatriates in security services.”
Ashraf added that the Immigration Department’s concerns were not focused just on security firms, but instead on companies from various industries that had failed to obtain and then correctly register staff.
“Right now we are looking for expatriate workers on the run. We have received a lot of reports from employers about staff going missing,” he said. “This is especially true in the outer atolls, where we are getting complaints about unregistered employees travelling between islands.”
Ashraf claimed that the 47 Bangladeshi nationals who had been detained Thursday would not necessarily be deported if a sponsor could be found to provide employment and accommodation for them.
“We will try and give the employees the opportunity to stay here and work if a sponsor is willing to regularise them,” he said.
The High Commission of Bangladesh in Male’ said it had been made aware of the 47 detained workers, who had been seized for not having proper documentation.
The commission said it was often notified regarding such cases, and was presently awaiting travel documentation for the detained expatriates before considering possible deportation.
The High Commissioner of Bangladesh, Rear Admiral Abu Saeed Mohamed Abdul Awal, said today that he believed workers from the country were regularly being brought to the Maldives to perform unskilled work, usually in the construction industry. Awal alleged that upon arriving, expatraites 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 last month, Mulay 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.
Mulay’s comments were made following an alleged attack on a Indian resort worker, who was reported to have been struck with a hammer and mugged while staying in a hotel in Male’. The attack was allegedly committed by a former employee of the same resort.
Beyond concerns about the basic human rights of foreign employees in the country, labour trafficking is also believed to represent a significant national economic issue.
An ongoing police investigation into labour trafficking in the Maldives last year uncovered an industry worth an estimated US$123 million, eclipsing fishing (US$46 million in 2007) as the second greatest contributor of foreign currency to the Maldivian economy after tourism.
The authorities’ findings echo concerns first raised by former Bangladeshi High Commissioner Dr Selina Muhsin, reported by Minivan News in August 2010. The comments by Mushin were made shortly after the country was placed on the US State Department’s Tier 2 watchlist for human trafficking.