Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdulla Shahid revealed late Sunday that 70 Bangladeshi nationals with undocumented status will be repatriated on Monday.
The foreign minister confirmed that arrangements were made with the Bangladeshi government to bring Maldivians stranded in Bangladesh and Nepal on Monday, adding that the evacuation flight will depart Maldives with 70 undocumented Bangladeshi nationals.
According to the ministry, the Bangladeshi military aircraft will carry a total of 71 Maldivians—53 stranded in Bangladesh, in additon to 18 Maldivians in Nepal. Additionally, a team of 10 medical professionals from Bangladesh will arrive in the Maldives to assist Maldivian government's efforts to combat COVID-19.
The foreign minister via a tweet thanked his Bangladeshi counterpart, AK Abdul Momen for assisting the Maldivian government to repatriate its citizens stranded in Nepal and Bangladesh, and for his cooperation in repatriating undocumented Bangladeshi nationals. Shahid reassured that the Maldivian government will continue to repatriate undocumented workers.
Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid had earlier requested his Bangladeshi counterpart, AK Abdul Momen, for support in repatriating undocumented workers from Maldives. In a previous call with the Bangladeshi foreign minister, Shahid noted the Maldivian government's efforts to regularise undocumented expatriates in Maldives prior to the emergence of COVID-19 in the country. He further highlighted that undocumented workers was among the most at-risk should an outbreak surface in the archipelago, and urged Bangladesh's support for repatriation.
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.
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.
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.
As many expatriates live in small, unhygienic and 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.
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.
In April, the government revealed a decongestion plan to relocate approximately 1500 expatriate workers living in cramped conditions, designating Amin Hiya located in the suburb of Hulhumalé, for expatriate housing amidst the outbreak.
Maldives recorded its first cases involving expatriates on Sunday. Thirteen Bangladeshi workers employed at Lily Store, linked to an existing cluster involving a confirmed patient in the capital, MAV027, tested positive for COVID-19.
Presently, of the 23 expatriates that tested positive for COVID-19 in Maldives, 21 are Bangladeshi nationals.
Internationally, Maldives has been pinpointed as a destination country in which numerous men, women, and children are subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking. It is widely known that migrants, primarily those of Bangladeshi and Indian nationality, who are working both legally and illegally in the construction and service sectors are often faced with conditions such as forced labour including fraudulent recruitment, confiscation of identity and travel documents, nonpayment and withholding of wages as well as debt bondage.
In March 2020, Maldives does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking. The US State department has placed the country on Tier 2 Watch List, meaning that at this time, Maldives does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking.