Bangladesh has temporarily blocked its nationals from migrating to the Maldives – an action described by one key local employer as a response to decades of failure by Maldivian authorities to deal with “human trafficking” and labour management.
The ‘Dhaka Tribune’ newspaper reported yesterday (September 23) that the country’s Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET) had decided to halt migration to the Maldives over concerns nationals were arriving in the country only to find promised jobs were not available.
It was believed that Bangladesh nationals were – in certain cases – becoming unwitting victims of a “section of unscrupulous recruiting agencies,” the report added.
BMET Director General Shamsun Nahar was quoted in local media as claiming that the number of workers from Bangladesh within the Maldives was thought to be at the “maximum limit” for such a small country.
The High Commissioner of Bangladesh in the Maldives, Rear Admiral Abu Saeed Mohamed Abdul Awal, today confirmed that the decision was made to check on the eligibility of workers.
“This is a temporary measure for review, genuine job seekers will be allowed to come through the proper procedure,” he said, adding that there were no plans to inspect the wider employment practices of Bangladesh nationals in the country.
Maldives Immigration Controller Dr Mohamed Ali said he had not received any notice of the decision, while other sources in his department were only aware of the matter through media reports.
Foreign low-wage workers are often lured to the country by brokers, paying a ‘recruitment’ fee – sometimes as high as several thousand dollars – that is shared between local agents and recruiters in the country of origin.
In June, the Maldives was placed on the US State Department’s Tier Two Watch List for Human Trafficking for the fourth consecutive year – the US State Department noting conditions of “forced labour: fraudulent recruitment, confiscation of identity and travel documents, withholding or nonpayment of wages, and debt bondage” of expatriate workers.
Former Maldives Association of Construction Industry (MACI) President Mohamed Ali Janah said he was “shocked” by the position taken by Bangladesh authorities to halt migration.
“This represents the ongoing failure of labour management in the Maldives over the last two decades,” he said. “We have seen rampant corruption in how the labour management business has been run by organised criminals for a long time.”
Janah alleged that, as a result the action by Bangladeshi authorities this week, many businesses in the industry were likely to suffer “collateral damage” from the impact on the available foreign workforce.
“We need at least 2,000 to 3,000 workers in the next two weeks for a number of projects overseen by my company,” he said.
Janah said that while his company wished to employ a larger number of Maldivian staff, even if he paid wages of MVR10,000 (US$650) he claimed there was limited interest among the local population to be labourers.
While Janah estimated earlier this year that the country’s illegal foreign workforce was potentially at 100,000 people, he said the failure to implement a functioning system of labour management in the Maldives had made it hugely difficult to find legitimate workers among the expatriate population.
“Why would we want to hire potentially illegal labour, we don’t know who these people are,” he said. “We have a huge number of projects in the country right now, so we will have to find the people to work, even if it is from China or Cambodia or another country.”
According to Janah, the alleged mismanagement of foreign labour in the country could be resolved within months if local authorities took a genuine effort to resolve the problems through measures such as proper screening of foreign nationals or even DNA testing.
He argued, however, that such a focus would require an elected government with a democratic mandate to conduct such work.
Earlier this year, the Immigration Department confirmed that authorities had targeted the return of 10,000 unregistered workers by the end of the year.
This pledge to return a predetermined number of expatriates was criticised at the time by the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM), which raised concerns that some workers were being punished for the actions of employers and agents acting outside the law.