President Waheed calls on Maldivians to improve conditions of expatriate workers

President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik has called upon Maldivians to “do everything possible” in order to improve the working conditions of Bangladeshi expatriate workers in the Maldives.

Speaking at a function to mark the Bangladesh Independence and National Day on Tuesday (March 26), Waheed stated that Bangladeshi expatriate workers make a huge contribution to the economic growth and development of the Maldives.

Acknowledging to the fact that Bangladesh accounts for the largest group of expatriate workers in the Maldives, President Waheed stated the importance of reflecting on the conditions of foreign workers in the country.

“Let me reiterate here the government’s unfailing commitment to ensure the rights of the expatriate workers in the Maldives are fully protected in accordance with the relevant laws of the Maldives.

“I take this opportunity to appeal to my compatriots in the Maldives to reflect on this current condition and do everything possible to improve the working conditions of our brothers and sisters and to ensure that their rights are always guaranteed,” said Waheed.

In 2010, it was claimed that the exploitation of foreign workers in the Maldives rivals fishing as the most profitable sector in the Maldivian economy after tourism.

High Commissioner of Bangladesh Rear Admiral Abu Saeed Mohamed Abdul Awal said that the commission was working closely with the Maldives government to address the issue.

Awal stated that the commission is dedicated to ensuring the treatment of expatriate workers by Maldivian employers, adding that the working conditions and rights of the employees need to be protected.

Last month, the head of Maldives Association of Construction Industry Mohamed Ali Janah alleged that almost half of all foreign employees in the construction industry were thought not to be legally registered.

A report on human trafficking in the Maldives saw the country remain on Tier 2 of the US State Department’s Watch List for Human Trafficking for the third year in a row, only narrowly avoiding a decent to Tier 3 – the most severe category.

Various government ministries claim to have stepped up efforts to address the problem in the past few months in the build up to this year’s human trafficking categorisation by the US State Department.

In January, President Waheed expressed concern about the rising number immigrants in the Maldives, claiming that the “foreign influence” threatens the country’s “Maldivianness”.

In regard to a potential decent to Tier 3 of the US State Department’s human-trafficking watch list this year, Waheed warned that the Maldives would face difficulties in seeking foreign assistance should it slip to the most severe category.

Speaking at the function on Tuesday night, President Waheed said that in order to become a modern democracy, Maldives must follow the “democratic experience” of Bangladesh and other developing countries in order to learn from their experience.


Bangladeshi waiter stabbed while delivering food

A Bangladeshi waiter was stabbed with a knife on the island of Hinnavaru in Lhaviyani Atoll whilst delivering food, local media reports.

A council member from Hinnavaru told local media that the victim had worked at “Ibiza” restaurant on the island, and was stabbed while delivering food to a house.

The councillor said that the Bangladeshi man was stabbed in the stomach, and is currently being treated in the island medical centre. His condition is not serious, the councillor said.

Police told local media that a 17-year-old had been taken into custody in relation to the attack.


HRCM calls for end to discrimination against foreign workers following murder of Bangladeshi

The murder of a Bangladeshi worker has prompted the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) to call for an end to discrimination against foreign workers.

HRCM condemned the killing of 25-year-old Bangladeshi worker, Muneerul Islam, who was found stabbed to death on Monday (November 28).

A statement from HRCM pointed out that Maldivians fail to recognise the significant contribution foreign workers make to the economic development of the country.

HRCM further stated that all humans – regardless of country or race – have the right to human rights, and called for the authorities to bring those responsible to justice.

Muneerul Islam was found murdered in his apartment located on the sixth floor of a building on Chaandhanee Magu, Male’s main tourist strip.

Earlier this year a senior Indian diplomatic official in the Maldives 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 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.

Police have said that the murder of the Bangladeshi national is a “serious case”, but said no arrests had been made.


Bangladeshi construction worker dies after fall

A Bangladeshi expatriate construction worker has died after falling six stories in the Maafannu area of the capital Male’, local media has reported.

The fall was reported to have occurred at around 8:15AM this morning. The man was rushed to Indira Ghandi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) before succumbing to his injuries at around 11:45AM.

Police are said to be investigating the circumstances surrounding the accident.

Bangladeshi expatriates make up a significant number of workers in the Maldivian construction industry.


Immigrant workers “slipping through the cracks”: The Sunday Leader

The immigration detention centre on the island of Hulhumale’ is a world away from nearby Ibrahim Nasir Internaitonal Airport, writes Raisa Wickrematunge for the Sri Lanka-based newspaper, The Sunday Leader.

“Hulhumale’ is known as the airport island of the Maldives- it’s where tourists from all over the world fly in. But the other section of Hulhumale’ is a world away from the runway. It houses a detention centre, one which takes in migrant workers who have fallen foul of the law.

This centre is manned by a single immigration officer and two police guards, who have just been appointed. Indeed, they are so new to the job that they do not even check our paperwork when we arrive at the gate.

‘When I got here, it was just thick trees and scrub. No one could live here,’ the immigration officer said, emphatically. He and two officers cleared the area and set up the centre- a long building with an aluminium roof.

There is a separate section for the toilets. The stench is indescribable. There are a couple of shower stalls, simple taps with running water, one of them outdoors.

Around 20 Bangladeshis are currently living here, although the number could swell to around 70, and often does. They say they are here because they have been cheated by unscrupulous agents. Many have no travel documents. The immigration officer says many of them are here because they committed petty crimes.”

Read More


Land plots awarded under Veshi Fahi program

Fifteen land plots were awarded today to Maldivian citizens qualifying for housing under Category A of the Veshi Fahi Male’ housing program, a government initiative to decongest the capital Male’ by expanding residential and industrial infrastructure to surrounding islands.

The plots are part of a 250 land plot package currently being awarded to applicants, along with 1000 newly constructed flats with a capacity of 7,000. Although the 21,000 applications for the housing program exceed the government’s initial pledge to house 10,000 people by 2016, Veshi Fahi program officials indicate that the government steering committee is considering adding an extra 100 plots to the program.

Speaking at today’s inaugural ceremony on Hulhumale’, President Mohamed Nasheed pledged to provide housing to all applicants. “In the Maldives every citizen should be have the option of living in whichever part of the Maldives he or she wishes,” he said.

Connecting today’s event with the ongoing judicial crisis which has gripped the country since January 16, the President observed that “national development involves all parts of a system.” Veshi Fahi Program Director “Sarangu” Adam Manik elaborated that the housing project’s success leans heavily on a robust judiciary.

“What we need is a proper judiciary to interpret land and housing contracts,” he told Minivan News. “If a judge does not have the proper education, degree and qualifications to interpret such contracts as well as the law, how can the system work?”

Affordable housing is one of the five pledges which form the backbone of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) manifesto, along with pledges for a nation-wide transport system, affordable living costs, affordable quality healthcare, and the prevention of drugs and narcotics trafficking.

On January 1 2012, all Maldivian citizens became eligible for free health care. Ferry systems have gradually improved transportation and communication within atolls as well, while the southern island of Fuvahmulah opened a new airport last year.

In July 2011, the President awarded documents of guarantee to the recipients of ten flats on Hulhumale’.

Male’ is the most densely populated city in the world with approximately 50,000 people per square kilometre, eclipsing Mumbai. Approximately one-third of the national population of 350,000 live on the capital island. Manik claims the pressure is already being released.

Launched in November 2010, the Veshi Fahi program aims to combine the development of Malé, Vilingili, Guli Falhu, Thilafushi, Hulhumalé and Malé International Airport. Under the program, applicants are categorised according to need: those living in extremely overcrowded conditions, those with land in Male but an interest in living in Hulhumale’, and those interested in housing in any of the nearby islands.

Under the program Male’ residents are asked to trade their land on the capital island for land in the nearby developing suburb- allowing Male’ City Council to develop areas of Male’ for community needs such as parking, dust bins and small parks. However, given the dire conditions of some Male’ housing units 3,000 new units will be constructed on the capital.

“We are very much on track,” Manik said. “Some projects are even ahead of schedule, such as this one,” he added, gesturing to the construction site where the basic structures of 1,000 flats have already been raised by Chinese and Bangladeshi laborers.

“By 2016 there will be no problems with shelter on Male,” he claimed.

As the housing issue dissipates, rent costs are expected to drop. Rent in Male’ currently rivals rates in New York in London, however officials expect half that sum on Hulhumale’ will give a person the same facilities and even more space than a flat on the capital island.

While people are expected to begin moving into the new housing on Hulhumale’ in July of this year, land plot recipients have two years from the date they receive the land title to construct their new home and move across the water.

“Many people can’t afford the move right away, so they need time to get loans and make plans. The concern is not that land will be left untouched, but rather that people need the time to connect the dots and establish their home,” said an official from the Veshi Fahi office, who requested anonymity.

Minivan News understands that recipients of the 250 land plots on Hulhumale’ will also receive housing loans from the Housing Development Corporation (HDC).

Meanwhile, the program’s rapid progress has encouraged more Male’ residents to apply for new housing.

“The previous government didn’t give people hope for these things,” said the official. “Now, people are seeing titles and deeds being awarded, they are seeing the flats go up- I think more are interested in applying during the second round.”


International Organisation for Migration admits Maldives in bid to improve worker welfare

The Maldives was yesterday admitted to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in a significant step towards improving the welfare and lifestyle of migrant workers.

The Maldives joined the IOM with thirteen other states during the 2011 IOM Council in Geneva this week, raising total membership to 146 nations from all global regions.

This year’s session also marks IOM’s 60th anniversary. The organisation currently runs 2,900 projects in over 400 field locations. It’s 2010 expenditure exceeded US$1.4 billion.

IOM was established in 1951 as an inter-governmental organisation which supports orderly management, international cooperation, practical solutions and humanitarian assistance among countries addressing migrant issues, particularly those dealing with refugees and internally displaced people.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated in a press release that “IOM experts have already begun work with the Maldives Government to help with the better management of migration in the country – especially in the context of the large numbers of migrant workers in the Maldives.”

Minivan News recently reported a steep rise in human trafficking, which was earlier calculated to be the second largest contributor of foreign currency to the Maldives at US$123 million.

In 2010, the United States’ State Department listed the Maldives second 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.

This year 308 cases have been reported to police involving expatriates leaving their sponsors, and more than 4000 passports belonging to illegal migrants have been found.

Thirty-five police officers were subsequently trained trained to combat human trafficking, and took part in the workshop ‘Integrated Approach to Combating Trafficking in Persons’, organised by the IOM.

Maldives Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Iruthisham Adam, said IOM membership was an honor for the Maldives.

“The Maldives is in the particular situation of being a Small Island Developing State, until very recently a member of the UN’s Least Developed Country category, which nevertheless is a major destination country for economic migrants.”

Economic migrants primarily from South Asia account for approximately one quarter of the country’s population, she noted.

“The Maldives greatly values the contribution they have made and continue to make to our economy and society,” said Adam. “However, the situation also raises a range of challenges, especially relating to our human, technical and financial capacity to manage such population movements.”

Adam said IOM membership would provide valuable support and expertise to the Maldives as it strives to manage internal and external migration “in a way which fully benefits the migrants themselves and the wider Maldivian society.”

Welcoming the Maldives’ membership, IOM Director General Ambassador William Lacy Swing praised the government for raising awareness of the effects of climate change on Small Island Developing States.

Other new members are Ethiopia, South Sudan, the Holy See, Antigua and Barbuda, Chad, Comoros, Djibouti, Guyana, Micronesia, Mozambique, Nauru, the Seychelles and Vanuatu.


Three MNDF officers arrested on robbery charges

Police have arrested three officers of the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) accused of entering an expatriate residence in Male’ in army uniform and robbing the Bangladeshi workers with threats of violence.

Lance Corporal Ali Ibrahim, 26, of Lhaviyani Hinnavaru Aaramuge, and Private Hussein Mahir, 23, of Laamu Mundhoo Finifenmaage, were taken into custody Monday night with stolen cash.

Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam told Minivan News today that the third suspect, Saad Ibrahim, of Kaafu Gaafaru Noovina, was arrested yesterday after conducting a search for the accomplice.

All three were working at the MNDF coastguard. Ali Ibrahim, who joined the force in November 2004, was employed at coastguard operations while Hussein Mahir, who joined in June 2008, was a security officer at the coastguard building.

In a statement on Tuesday (August 30), the MNDF said it was “working with the police to take the harshest legal action possible” against the errant officers.

According to local media reports, the three officers robbed the expatriate workers living in Maafanu Pink Rose on Fareedhee Magu on a number of occasions during Ramadan.

Newspaper Haveeru reported that the uniformed officers entered the house on three consecutive nights and took Rf30,000 (US$1,945), Rf24,000 (US$1,556) and Rf12,000 (US$778) respectively.

The two officers were reportedly confronted by members of the public on the third night, who informed the police.