Rogue recruitment agencies in countries like Bangladesh are bringing workers into the Maldives on the labour quotas of one company before ‘reselling’ them to another party on their arrival in the country, the Immigration department has revealed.
In some cases the workers will even arrive in the Maldives having been told they will be working in a country like Malaysia, Chief Immigration Officer Hassan Khaleel told Minivan News.
“For example, in one case some waiters were recruited and told work they would be working in a resort, but were made to work in a restaurant in Male’,” he said, explaining that many trafficked workers were “uneducated and illiterate” and did not understand their contract or letter of appointment.
It was quite difficult for immigration to determine if someone had been trafficked on their arrival “because be don’t have a Bangladeshi speaker”, he noted.
“After they work a for while and gain a grasp of Dhivehi it is sometimes possible to interview them on their departure,” he said.
Local agencies were not always aware the trafficking had taken place, Khaleel explained, as they had just requested the employee from the overseas counterpart.
There were also reports of Bangladeshi workers arriving at the airport and not being met by anyone, in which case they would travel to Male’ where they would meet other labourers, and simply start working.
Controller of Immigration Illyas Hussain told Miadhu yesterday that workers were sometimes forced to work for no pay until they were sold on to another party. The practice was rife in the fisheries and shipping sectors, he noted, calling on recruitment agencies to respect the rights of the workers they imported.
The immigration department would cease issuing visas to expatriate workers without work permits and employment contracts, he added.
The Human Resources Ministry and the Maldives Police Service have meanwhile launched an operation to find and deport illegal workers in the atolls. The ministry estimates there may be 16,000 illegal workers across the country.
Deputy Minister Hussein Ismail told Haveeru earlier this week that the ministry had already received a list of 30 illegal workers in Addu Atoll.
In April a report on the Maldives in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) review of the Convention on Preventing and Combating Trafficking of Women and Children for Prostitution has highlighted the Maldives as a destination country for human trafficking, “where the primary form of trafficking is forced labour.”
The SAARC report, funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and produced by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), suggested that human trafficking in the Maldives “is presumably is associated with the country’s socio-economic status as the most developed South Asian country, and its reliance on the migration of foreign workers to support sectors such as tourism and construction.”
President of the Human Rights Commission for the Maldives (HRCM), Ahmed Saleem, said at the time that human trafficking was “a modern form of slavery”, and that while the government had acknowledge the existence of the crime “overall efforts to [confront] it are insignificant.”
“The commission is convinced that this is a major human rights issue and that is why we have begun a comprehensive study we hope to complete as soon as possible,” he said.
HRCM said today that the report was several months away from completion, “and had decided to get the facts right before saying anything.”
Speaking yesterday at a seminar organised by the High Commission of Bangladesh in the Maldives, Special Envoy of the President Ibrahim Hussain Zaki said the government needed to strengthen labour laws and protect the rights of expatriate workers in the Maldives, both in and outside the workplace.
He also noted the contributions made by the Bangladesh to the development of the Maldives, and the large number of Bangladeshi workers in the Maldives who were playing “a vital role” in delivering the government’s pledges.