There are about 130,000 migrant workers in the Maldives. Most of them send their earnings back home to their families and the World Bank puts the country’s remittance outflows as US$379 million for 2016. People interviewed by the Maldives Independent described their work as tough and exhausting.
Saiful Islam is a 26-year-old Bangladeshi who has been in the Maldives for two years. He works on Thilafushi, an island where waste is dumped and burned. He earns a monthly salary of $250.
“I send money to my three kids and wife,” he says, struggling to string together the few Dhivehi words he has learned during his time in the country.
He cannot afford to pay rent with the money he earns so he sleeps on a construction site. But he is not the only one who does this.
Tiny rooms and high rents force some to live in the places they work.
Naqori Muhammad, a 29-year-old Nepali, has been living in the capital for five years. He works on a building site, earning $291 dollars a month.
“My mother passed away a year ago from cancer. I was sending her money while she was getting chemo. My wife is the only one I have left as family. I had a child but he died in an accident.”
His employer and company treat him well, but he feels he is not doing enough for his family.
Neeraaja is 40 and comes from Nepal. She has been living in Malé doing domestic work for the past nine years. She has two children.
“My husband is an alcoholic and a drug addict. My kids live with my in-laws. They demand a lot of money to keep my children safe. I visit my children once in a blue moon.”
She explains, in fluent Dhivehi, that she is scared to go back to Nepal because of her husband.
Her employer gives her the chance to go home and the family she works for treat her well, paying her enough money to provide for her children.
Mohamed Kairu, a 20-year-old from Bangladesh, has been living in the Maldives for more than a year and has worked in different sectors. Construction, catering, painting and decorating.
“I’ve seen how my uncles work, I’ve seen how my father works. One job isn’t enough to meet the needs of my family or for myself in the future.” He speaks English fluently.
“I finished my O-Levels and, after I turned 18, I decided to come here. I am privileged enough to be educated. I can’t go for higher studies because I have to save money. And this is how I will have to earn it.”
On Fridays Republic Square is filled with migrant workers as it is their only rest day.
“Today is the day we get to call our family and catch-up,” says 25-year old Al Shaukar, also from Bangladesh. “Friends are nice to be around, but family is what I miss the most.”
Words and photos: Auf Majeed