President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih on Monday revealed that 1,500 Bangladeshi nationals with undocumented status are to be repatriated within the following week.
Addressing the nation regarding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, President Solih confirmed that arrangements were underway to repatriate the Bangladeshi workers, following discussions with the Bangladeshi government concerning the rise in COVID-19 infections among the Bangladeshi community.
Presently, of a total of 557 individuals that tested positive for COVID-19 in Maldives, 283 are Bangladeshi nationals.
Highlighting the plight of expatriate workers in his national address, President Solih said that several expatriates in Maldives do not have access to decent housing, job opportunities, or their official immigration documents.
Noting that a large number of these workers were vulnerable to COVID-19 due to their overcrowded accommodations, Solih highlighted government’s ongoing work to construct new accommodation blocks for expatriate workers. He revealed that 3000 expatriate workers will be shifted to the new living quarters during the first phase of the project.
Meanwhile, in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid previously extended a request to his Bangladeshi counterpart AK Abdul Momen, for support in repatriating undocumented workers from Maldives. In his call, Shahid highlighted that undocumented workers were among the most at-risk should a virus outbreak surface in the archipelago.
On April 21, a Bangladeshi military aircraft that assisted the Maldivian government to repatriate 71 Maldivians stranded in Bangladesh and Nepal returned to Bangladesh with 68 undocumented Bangladeshi nationals.
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 expatriate workers on April 19. 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.
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 May 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.