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Maldives: Inhumane Treatment of Migrant Workers

The Maldivian government was able to prevent Bangladeshi migrant workers’ community in the capital Malé from holding a demonstration on Friday, by using the threat of deportation. The Bangladeshi community, consisting of mainly unskilled workers, was trying to protest against the rise of xenophobia in the Maldives, and increasing attacks targeted at Bangladeshis.

In August organized gangs in Malé repeatedly attacked some Bangladeshi workers in their living quarters while in the northern island of Kulhudhuffushi a male worker was castrated and brutally murdered. Police claim that the murder was sexually motivated and has arrested a fellow Bangladeshi worker of the victim. In two separate incidents two Bangladeshi workers were found chained in two houses in Malé. One of them was chained to a tree.

The Bangladeshi High Commissioner to Maldives was so alarmed by the developments that he cautioned that he might have to pull out Bangladeshi workers from the Maldives.

Malé, which is a small island of about two square kilometers, has a population of over 30,000 migrant workers. Most of them come from the neighbouring countries of Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh. Majority of them are unskilled workers, who find the wage of US$100 attractive enough to work in the Maldives. In most cases families back home are dependent on the income the workers earn.

The high population of Malé and the scarcity of land have created a high demand for housing. It has also made rent in Malé comparatively one of the highest in the world. A construction boom during the last 15 years had created a high demand for migrant workers.

While there are several foreign professional workers such as doctors, accountants and teachers, the increase in xenophobia is mainly directed towards unskilled workers. Recently there was a report of attacks against foreign workers in the country’s tourist resorts, self-contained islands where Europeans spend their holidays, ignorant of what happens in this ‘paradise’.

The increase in xenophobia could also be related to the rise in organized crime and the proliferation of gangs in Malé. A large percentage of youth in the Maldives are brown sugar addicts.

Apart from the rise of xenophobia, an issue of equal concern is how the foreign workers are treated by their employees. Normally migrant workers work long hours while they are offered a very low wage. In most cases, their accommodation is pathetic as well. It is hardly surprising as the Maldives does not have a labour law and even the Maldivian workers are not enjoying workers’ rights. There is no minimum wage.

The inhumane treatment of the foreign workers in Maldives had been documented in the past. However, the problems persist. The cruel treatment of South Asian migrant workers in the Persian Gulf region has been publicised by international human rights organisations. However, few people outside Maldives are aware that South Asian migrant workers are subjected to inhumane treatment in another South Asian country.

Blogger Jaa criticizes the Maldivian society for the increase in xenophobia and details the extent of the inhumane treatment of expatriate workers.

We (supposedly) once were a tolerant country, welcoming all sorts of people and treated them with due respect. But things have changed and for the worse. Notions of equality and humanity has been devalued to such an extent that xenophobia seems almost universal in the country and racism is building up like never before. As such, mistreatment of and disrespect for expats is a truth many are well aware of. People often treat the many unskilled/semi-skilled workers as “subhuman”. I might be tempted to go as far as summarising the prevalent attitude as being a combination of viewing workers as non-tiring machines, incapable and devoid of emotion and feelings and their lives worth no more than a pet cat! They are given accommodation in tiny enclosures made of tin roofing and little ventilation with more workers packed into such places than sardines in a box. They are harassed on the streets and harassed at work. Too many a time do you see workers beg and cry themselves wet over salaries unpaid. Sometimes months would go by without the employer paying the workers their full wage (if at all!) – which the workers often send to their starving families back in their home country. Few regulations keep employers in check – facilitating them to overwork their employers through day and night and give little consideration to the health and safety of the employees. What more, when their “official” work ends, the workers are often made run personal errands and chores for their employer – they really are slaves to the whims and desires of their “master”. I was shocked to find the word “owner” used in the popular local newspaper Haveeru, in reference to the employer of the recently murdered Bangladesh worker in Kulhudhuffushi! (Owner? Isn't that slave mentality??)

Threat of deportation was enough to coerce the Bangladeshi community from organizing their demonstration. It is not surprising as the government of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who has been the President of Maldives for over 28 years, utilizes similar tactics to silence even Maldivian demonstrators. However, beneath the silence the expatriate community, especially Bangladeshis, are still living in fear.

14 comments

  • Dinesh Bhaskar

    I work in the Maldives and am an Indian National. Even though I do not condone this terrible treatment meted out in any way, I would certainly like to highlight that the entire Maldives is NOT AT ALL like this.

    I have been here for the past 15 years and have a number of Maldivian friends and colleagues and have never been treated in any malicious manner till date!

    This is an unfortunate minority of Maldivians who are using this kind of channel to get their voices heard for other hidden agendas of theirs or to vent out their frustrations.

    Also, please do appreciate, in all our countries like India, Srilanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh , we do have such self-centered miscreants who do things totally out of line and against the norms.

    Hence, it would be extremely unfair and terrible to assess the entire Maldivian community based on this unfortunate and terrible incident. Maldivians in general are absolutely peace loving, decent, dignified people and would be the FIRST people to raise alarms at this terribly unfortunate incident.

    I sincerely hope and pray that the Maldives government is able to catch hold of the miscreants and do the needful fairly / take some strict action, on an urgent basis before this gets blown totally out of propotion… Dinesh

  • Ali Futha

    Dinesh Bhaskar. The issue here is not whether you have been maltreated or not. The issue here is hundreds of migrant workers have been treated inhumanely in the Maldives over the course of a couple of years. Nobody is saying “entire Maldives is like this”. After reading this post, I think what is discussed is that xenophobia is becoming a new trend in the society. Nobody is assessing “the entire Maldivian community” here. Dinesh. You talk as if only one incident has occurred. Read the post again. How many incidents have occurred?

  • […] zumeist ungelernten Arbeiter zu einer Demonstration gegen Fremdenfeindlichkeit aufgerufen, schreibt Nihan Zafar. Ausgeführt wurden die Demo jedoch nicht, die Maledivische Regierung drohte den Prostesten mit […]

  • raju

    Hey dinesh,

    Did you know how expetriate teachers are treated in schools and how doctors are treated in hospitals?

    Workers are here tolarating all these due to their financial difficulties and unemployment in their countries!!!!!
    -Raju

  • watchemm

    hello everyone!esp.ly raju!

    i am very intersted in knowing what the state of expat teachers, doctors n professionals is in the maldives.
    while it is true that the financially malnourished are always walked over in any part of the world; true xenophobia does not not restrict itself to a certain pecuniary strata of a multiethnic soceity.
    in other words, if financially sound members of the soceity are also discriminated on the basis of their ethnicity or origin; that i think goes to say more about this “growing trend” of xenophobia.
    also, is this discrimination restricted only expats or are there gender inequalities as well?
    because I’v always noticed that it is not unusual for the abovesaid problems to go hand in hand

    • Dr R.Lingam

      Just like workers ,even expat doctors & teacher are treated very badly here .There is lot of discrimination against expact doctors &teachers.Treating patients is a risky job. The People of this place & administration constantly interfere with the treatment .On medicine like subject, they would like you to towe their line. If you refuse to do so ,yoy will be harassed. They would blame you for every thing . If something goes wrong with the patient due to their interference or the negligence of local nursing staff .All blame would be put on expac doctor,he will be penalised while local staff would go scott free.This is the state of affairs here ,really very bad.

  • Dr R .raju

    Doctors emloyed under Minstry of Health Maldives are not happy the way they are treated by locals or by MOH.There is lot of discrimination .Working conditions are also not good.For salary u have to wait for months togather before it is released

  • ginadhuvasruli

    Here’s the lowdown on what it is to be doctor working for the ministry of health in the maldives. It’s a story that will never be fully told. As for the maldivian soceity being kind – it comes only at face value and only under pre-conditions of their personal satisfaction far from good service. The ministry has never ever lifted it’s finger once to investigate claims about misbehaviours – esply the numerous allegations of sexual misbehaviours of doctors in some places- this lack of investigation doesn provide justice for either the victim or a misjudged doctor. .doctors and teachers get harassed everyday on the streets by students, jobless youngsters, even middle-aged men standing inside a mosque compound at prayer times – all maldivian . None of the other members of the maldivian soceity think that a foreigner esp one who is getting paid more than a manual labourer deserves none of the money let alone the right to a little dignity. The harassment continues in the workplace. The only communiques the moh sends to the doctors in english – the contract papers and the resignation acceptance papers. Increase in work timings and decrease in pay are practised differently in different places depending on the pattern of how the health centre in charge of that place decides to interpret the presidents tv speech about the civil service commission or guidelines faxed to him by the moh. Doctors are not allowed to make important decisions about the healthcare of their patients but are immediately blamed for anythin that might go wrong with his health. .should they object to the well-oiled and endemic nepotism and favouritism at the workplace , it’s a “complaint call -> punishment transfer” awaits instantly.

  • R lingam

    The contracts for doctors under MOH is for name sake .The MOH is changing rules one sided with scant regards to the doctors who have signed them .Its more of a slavery.You have to work as they want .You have got no say in anything. You are totally at their mercy. The contract is a mean to fool the overseas doctors.Once your passport is deposited at Male u see their true color.It is no less than a hell.

  • R Raju

    With the change of Govt., life of expac.doctors have become pathetic.Local administration of some of the hospitals are exploiting doctors in the name of shortage of funds.They aere extracting works from them like any thing but denying them their genuine over time in the name of shortage of fund .I dont know whether M.O.H. is aware of this injustice commited to these poor doctors or not .Otherwise also ,hospital adminisrtration treat doctors very badly .They put lot of restrictions on the doctors and treat them like a slave .They even interfere with the treatment of patients

  • R Raju

    Some times back administration people of hospital have been charged with commiting bribary in the name of giving favourable report for renewal of contracts.Those doctors who refused to pay the money were harassed like anything.Many false chrges were brought against them so that they are compelled to oblige them.What a inhuman treatment?

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