Foreign workers locked in house after allegedly “refusing to work and attempting to flee”

Police have discovered six foreign workers locked in a house after they were reportedly accused “of refusing to work and attempting to flee”.

All six of the male workers were found in a house located in the Male’ neighbourhood of Henveiru, according to local media.

While responding to a report made by a foreigner, the police discovered the the workers at approximately 10:30am Monday (April 8).

As the foreign workers exited the house, spectators claimed the workers had refused to do their jobs and as a result had not been receiving their salaries. The man responsible for the workers was also present, reported local media.

Immigration Controller Dr Mohamed Ali told Minivan News that police were investigating the case and would report back to the Department of Immigration and Emigration.

“We are working on it,” Ali said.

Police Spokesperson Chief Inspector Hassan Haneef was not responding to calls at time of press.

The workers’ nationalities, the conditions of their employment and housing have yet to be confirmed.

Migrant workers

Last week the Department of Immigration said 57 unregistered foreign workers were detained by police on April 1 and were being processed by authorities ahead of a decision on whether they will face deportation.

In February, a Maldivian trade union alleged that corrupt immigration practices and the use of unregulated employment agencies by private and state employers was limiting efforts to curb abuse of migrant workers and prevent illegal practices such as retaining their passports.

The Tourism Employees Association of Maldives (TEAM) claimed that while companies are not permitted to retain the passports of foreign workers, some hospitality operators – as well as unregulated third party agencies and government ministries – are still keeping employee travel documents without consent.

At the same time, a source with knowledge of the current immigration system told Minivan News that the practice of retaining passports – a long-standing habit of Maldivian employers – was a key contributor to human trafficking in the country.

In May 2012, a total of 47 Bangladeshi nationals working for a local security firm were seized by the Department of Immigration as part of a wider crackdown on unregistered migrant workers.

Immigration officials at the time 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 a subsequent investigation by authorities.

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.

Human trafficking

The Maldives has appeared on the US State Department’s Tier Two Watch List for Human Trafficking consecutively for three years. Should the Maldives drop to tier three – the worst category – then the country is expected to face significant reductions in aid and potential travel restrictions on its citizens.

The Maldivian government recently launched a special campaign intended to raise awareness of foreign workers’ rights, while earlier this year eight “fundamental” International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions were ratified in order to bring legislation on employee rights and trade unions in line with international standards.

However, independent institutions in the Maldives have maintained that the country – under successive governments – has yet to ratify a core convention on protecting migrant worker rights, while no legislation is in place to punish those involved in smuggling workers though the country’s borders.

The Prosecutor General (PG’s) Office has also confirmed that a lack of legislation has meant no cases have been prosecuted against human traffickers in the Maldives at present.

Meanwhile, the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) has accused state and private sector employers in the country of lacking consistency in their efforts to address human trafficking, preventing “real” change in controlling illegal migration.

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