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Human rights watchdog laments treatment of migrant workers

There was outrage after hundreds of migrant workers were illegally ferried to work.



The Human Rights Commission lamented Thursday the mistreatment and unsuitable living conditions of migrant workers in the Maldives.

HRCM vice president Mohamed Zahid urged employers to “believe that they are also humans” at a ceremony held to launch an information card for expatriates.

The card explains worker’s rights in three languages and provides the number of a hotline to report cases of human trafficking, withholding of payment, termination without notice, discrimination or unlawful arrest.

Zahid conceded that the HRCM needs to do more to protect migrant worker’s rights, but blamed lack of resources.

Around 100,000 documented and 60,000 undocumented migrant workers reside in the Maldives, the majority of whom are Bangladeshi and Indian men working in the construction and tourism sectors.

An unknown number are subjected to “practices indicative of forced labour, including fraudulent recruitment, confiscation of identity and travel documents, withholding or non-payment of wages, and debt bondage,” according to the US state department.

Zahid took note of a video that went viral earlier on Thursday that showed hundreds of migrant workers ferried on a boat during rough weather.

The workers were packed on to the supply vessel well above the legal limit for the number of passengers. The video sparked outrage and concern for their safety.

The HRCM is looking into the case, Zahid said.

Zahid went on to stress the important role of migrant workers in the Maldivian economy.

“This is a truth we need to accept. They are people who do a much needed, very necessary work for the country,” he said.

Speaking to the Maldives Independent, HRCM president Aminath Eenas called the inhumane treatment of migrant workers a “national issue” and identified public participation as key to combating the longstanding problem.  

“It is not something only HRCM can address. We take the issues of migrant worker mistreatment very seriously, and we’ve started looking into the issue that surfaced today. But this is a systemic issue, and a lot of organisations, such as immigration and employers, play a huge role in it. We need to work together.”

The information card was created with the help of Indian and Bangladeshi embassies based in Malé and with the support of the International Organisation for Migration.

It is to be distributed to migrant workers by the HRCM, local councils, and embassies.

Earlier this year, the Maldives was downgraded on a United States watchlist for human trafficking over the failure to meet minimum standards for elimination.