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.


Maldives marks 70th National Day

Official speeches, flag hoisting and military events marked the 70th National Day in the Maldives on Sunday, which celebrates Mohammed Thakurufaanu ending the country’s 15-year Portuguese occupation.

Festivities took place on the island of Fonadhoo in Laamu Atoll with speeches by President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik and Minister of Home Affairs Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed.

President Waheed focused on the migrant worker threat to “Maldivianness, culture and nationhood”, while Ahmed stressed the importance of not complaining or questioning what the country has done for Maldivians, local media reported.

These speeches were accompanied by a flag raising ceremony, ceremonial march by the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF), stage show and Children’s Evening on Fonadhoo, reported local media. A fireworks display on the same island is planned on Monday night (January 14). The MNDF and Fonadhoo community undertook extensive preparations for the festivities.

Additional flag hoisting ceremonies, including in the capital Male’, were led by the MNDF on various islands nationwide in celebration of Thakurufaanu liberating the Maldives from the Portuguese in 1573.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed also made a National Day statement emphasising the need for an “impartial and honest” security force, and calling for recognition that the Maldivian people were “the true guardians of the system.”

“The nationalism that defended [our] freedom [in the past] should be beneficial to the people and their progress,” Nasheed said.

Not so ancient history

Mohamed Thakurufaanu is hailed as “one of the most illustrious heroes of the nation” for his victory over the Portuguese and his influence is embedded in the heart of Maldivian culture. He coined the traditional title of the State “Ad-Dawlat Al-Mahaldheebiyya” – which can be found on the Maldivian national emblem – and his namesake literally encircles Male’ as “Boduthakurufaanu Magu.”

Originally from a royal family on Utheemu in Haa Alif Atoll (traditionally known as Thiladhunmathi) Thakurufaanu traveled to Male’ with supporters from his island and defeated the Portuguese colonisers on the first day of Rabee ul Awwal, the third month in the Hijree (Islamic) calendar. This date is now commemorated annually as National Day.


Rising migrant worker population threat to “Maldivianness, culture and nationhood”: President Waheed

President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik has warned the Maldives will face difficulties in seeking foreign assistance should it descend to Tier 3 of the US State Department’s human-trafficking watch list.

Speaking at a ceremony to celebrate National Day, Waheed stated the Maldives is now “forced” to take measures against changes to the “national character” due to the rising number of migrant workers in the country.

The Maldives has been listed on the tier 2 watch list for human trafficking for three years in a row. Waheed stated that if the country descends to Tier 3, “it would face difficulties, among other issues, in seeking foreign assistance”.

In 2012, the Maldives only narrowly avoided a descent to Tier 3 – the worst category – after presenting a written plan that, “if implemented, would constitute making significant efforts to meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.”

In his speech today (January 13), Waheed said the government was taking measures to prevent the country from falling into Tier 3 category of human trafficking, by initiating an awareness campaign underway and a draft bill on anti-trafficking submitted to the People’s Majlis.

Foreign influence threatens “Maldivianness”: President Waheed

In his National Day speech, Waheed also warned that the Maldivian population risks being overtaken by the migrant population in just six years if immigration continues to grow at its current rate.

Waheed stated that this was something “no Maldivian can and will, want to accept”.

“If the number of migrant workers continues to increase, [Maldivian] national character will be lost,” the President was reported as saying on the island of Fonadhoo in Laamu Atoll.

“If the influence of foreigners grows, [the] threat of negative impacts on Maldivianness, culture and nationhood is not unrealistic,” he added.

Border control system crucial in addressing human-trafficking

At the National Day speech, the President was reported as saying that an effective border control system was crucial for addressing trafficking.

Last month, parliament voted unanimously to instruct the government to terminate the border control project agreement with Malaysia-based IT group Nexbis, over allegations of corruption.

Speaking about the BSC project last month, Majlis Finance Committee member Ahmed Hamza told Minivan News at the time there was a “worry” within the immigration department that their own border control system would not be sufficient.

Furthermore, Hamza stated there was a “possibility” that human trafficking could increase should the Nexbis contract be cancelled, and to combat this parliament will need to provide a “sufficient solution to deal with these problems”.

Speaking at National Day, President Waheed claimed there were approximately 111,000 migrant workers using work visas and over 40,000 illegal migrant workers in the Maldives.

‘Blue Ribbon Campaign Against Human Trafficking’

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently inaugurated an initiative targeted at raising awareness of the human trafficking issue in the Maldives.

The strategy, entitled ‘Blue Ribbon Campaign Against Human Trafficking’ is expected to include activities to try and raise awareness among students and the business community.

The Foreign Ministry announced that it had signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with multiple local media outlets in the country as part of the campaign’s aim to raising awareness of human trafficking and other related issues.

The MOU states that the media outlets will produce and broadcast programmes aimed at disseminating information on the issue of human trafficking.

Nasheed’s National Day statement

Meanwhile, former President Mohamed Nasheed gave his own National Day statement calling for a security force that is “impartial and honest” to help build the nation.

“The nationalism that had defended [our] freedom [in the past] should be beneficial to the people and their progress.

“The true guardians of this system are the people. Today, due to an uninvited interference by the security forces to the people’s rightfully elected government and their interference to the progress of the nation has resulted in re-emergence of the old political culture,” Nasheed said, in a statement.