Maldives requested Bangladesh on Sunday to help repatriate undocumented Bangladeshi workers from the island nation.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdulla Shahid made the request during a telephone call with his Bangladeshi counterpart AK Abdul Momen to discuss the situations of their respective countries amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the call, Shahid noted that the government mobilised efforts to regularise undocumented expatriates in Maldives prior to the emergence of the coronavirus.
He emphasised that undocumented workers would be among those most at risk should there be an outbreak in the archipelago, and thus requested Bangladesh's support for repatriation.
The foreign ministry stated that Momen assured Bangladesh's cooperation.
Bangladeshi nationals make up the majority of the expatriate population in Maldives, which numbers at over 144,600 out of which authorities earlier estimated that 63,000 were undocumented. As many expatriates live in small, congested spaces, particularly in capital Male' City, officials have expressed concern that a COVID-19 outbreak would put them at most risk of contracting and spreading the infection, and that it would be extremely difficult to control.
The National Emergency Operation Centre (NEOC) revealed late Sunday that the government was working to transfer expatriates living in congested residences to better environments but did not disclose details.
In a move to regularise undocumented immigrants in the country, the government announced re-registration for undocumented expatriates in 2019, to be completed within a six-month period. By late February, Ministry of Economic Development revealed that 32,000 immigrants were registered under this initiative.
Maldives Immigration also established a portal to identify and monitor the movements of undocumented immigrants in late February, while Male' City Council commenced an assessment of the residences and living conditions of expatriates in the capital city in March, to identify the number of foreign nationals living in or using a certain residence and to ensure that efficient protective measures are implemented should an expatriate test positive for the virus.
Other steps by the administration to curb undocumented migration include a one-year ban on contracting Bangladeshi labourers, in effect from September 18, 2019 onwards.