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Undocumented workers denied healthcare

A Bangladeshi man died last week as hospitals refuse to treat expatriates without passports or work permits.



Bangladeshi migrant worker died last week after he was unable to seek treatment as hospitals refuse to serve expatriates without passports or work permits.

Kobeer Hussain, who worked as a cashier at a shop in the capital, was one of many migrant workers denied treatment from hospitals in the Maldives, according to a report published Tuesday by local daily Mihaaru

The report highlighted the plight of undocumented workers in Maldives, most of whom are brought in by recruitment agents with the promise of resort jobs only to have their passports confiscated and be left to fend for themselves.

Many workers who spoke to the newspaper were unable to get treatment from emergency rooms and out-patient departments as they are asked to show work permits. 

“We do not know how the health system works in the Maldives. They first check if we have the documentation. We do not get the basic right we should get because we are human beings,” an man who was turned away from an emergency room after his nails were torn off was quoted as saying.

The state-run Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital, however, denied refusing emergency room treatment for undocumented workers. But OPD services could not be provided if the patient fails to show identification documents, a spokesman said. 

In 2018, the Maldives was downgraded on a United States watchlist for human trafficking over the failure to meet minimum standards for elimination.

“The government’s investigation of possible trafficking cases decreased sharply, possibly as a result of poor victim identification efforts,” according to the 2018 trafficking in persons report.

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.”

A government report in 2011 revealed human trafficking to be the second most lucrative industry after tourism – worth an estimated US$123 million a year.

Workers pay US$2,500 to US$4,000 in recruitment fees to come to the Maldives.

“Recruitment agents in source countries collude with employers and agents in Maldives to facilitate fraudulent recruitment and forced labour of migrant workers,” the TIP report observed.

The first cases under the 2013 anti-human trafficking law were prosecuted in 2016. Three Bangladeshi men were sentenced to 10 years in jail for sex trafficking in November that year.

There have been no convictions since.

Trials continued in four trafficking cases against five Maldivian and seven Bangladeshi defendants whilst the Prosecutor General’s office pressed sex trafficking charges against one Maldivian defendant.

In October, three prosecution witnesses testified in favour of the first Maldivians charged with human trafficking.

“Observers stated some traffickers operated with impunity because of their connections with influential Maldivians and alleged the government was more likely to prosecute foreign suspects than Maldivian suspects,” the report stated.

The Prosecutor General’s office was unable to provide information on the progress of human trafficking cases.

“It is a bit difficult to find the numbers right now. We are now compiling statistics of all cases we and will publish the records soon” a PG spokesperson told the Maldives Independent.