Presidential hopeful Umar Naseer has pledged to deport all undocumented migrant workers from the Maldives, calling them a “national security threat” who are “taking away Maldivian jobs”.
In a five-minute video posted on Facebook Saturday, Naseer said he would give a deadline for the “40,000-plus” undocumented workers to register and that those who remained unregistered would be kicked out within his first 100 days in office.
Maldivians had become marginalised because the big jobs were taken by the Chinese while the menial work was being done by Bangladeshis, he alleged.
Around 130,000 migrant workers are believed to live in the Maldives, including 60,000 undocumented ones, the majority of whom are Bangladeshi and Indian men working in the construction and tourism sectors.
“We need migrant workers to run our economy. But that is to work with a work permit and while paying fees and taxes they are required to pay.
“The fact that there are this many migrant workers illegally in the Maldives is a national security threat. If this is left unaddressed, it could turn into a huge racial issue few years from now. The Maldives’ ethnicity may become mixed.”
Naseer, who contested and lost in the 2008 presidential elections, is a long-time fan of imposing Islamic Shariah and the death penalty.
Naseer said a joint unit consisting of police, immigration and prison authorities would be tasked with rounding up undocumented workers.
There would be a “special town” on the industrial island of Gulhifalhu for expatriates to solve the issue of them “crowding up” Malé. Ferries would transport them to and from the capital for their work, Naseer said.
– ‘Racial hatred’ –
A former human rights commissioner said Naseer was trying to gain votes through inciting racial hatred.
“He is using the same rhetoric used in other countries to incite racial hatred,” said Ahmed Tholal, who is now at the NGO Transparency Maldives.
“All throughout, he described migrant workers as a problem. He did not talk about the contribution they make to the economy, the inhumane working conditions or the amount of discrimination they face.
“It is concerning because it is an attitude held by many Maldivians. Even during Ramadan you see separate fasting tables set up for expatriates in mosques or even sometimes not allowing expatriates into mosques.”
“What’s most scary is that he believes he can get votes if he says these things. Especially since these ideas are already out there and talking like this will make it stronger. He is appealing to that demographic.”
Tholal said Naseer’s arguments did not hold any weight.
“It is not now, that when he has to run for office, this has suddenly become such a big problem. It’s not yesterday migrant workers started working in the Maldives. It’s been years, there are no big issues because of ethnicity being mixed.
“His tactic seems to be to make people afraid, this will happen, if this is not done. This has to be done.”
Nobody from the India or Bangladesh embassies in the Maldives was available for comment.
Naseer served under President Abdulla Yameen.
After he quit as home minister he came under fire for a misogynistic tweet describing women as one of the “3Ws” that make “make good people bad”.
Elections are due to be held in September.