Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that the first batch of undocumented migrant workers in Maldives were repatriated on Tuesday.
According to the ministry, 68 undocumented Bangladeshi nationals were flown out in a Bangladesh Air Force plane that arrived on Monday, although Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid had formerly revealed that the number of expats repatriated on this flight would be 70.
On Sunday, the foreign minister confirmed arrangements with the Bangladeshi government to bring Maldivians stranded in Bangladesh and Nepal on Monday.
Arriving on Monday, the Bangladeshi military aircraft brought home a total of 71 Maldivians; 53 stranded in Bangladesh and 8 Maldivians from Nepal. In addition, the flight carried a team of 10 medical professionals from Bangladesh, journeying to assist with Maldives' efforts to combat COVID-19.
At the time, Minister Shahid said that the evacuation flight will depart Maldives with 70 undocumented Bangladeshi nationals.
As per the ministry, these Bangladeshi workers were transported back to their home country as part of the state's efforts to repatriate undocumented foreign labourers, in collaboration with the Ministry of Economic Development.
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 COVID-19 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 the virus.
Presently, of the 29 expatriates that tested positive for COVID-19 in Maldives, 23 are Bangladeshi nationals.