Left-wing political movement 'Navaanavai' condemned the arrest of migrant workers on strike in Thilafushi, Kaafu Atoll, on Tuesday.
Maldives Police Service arrested seven Indian nationals in a joint operation conducted with Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF), after Police personnel were assaulted in a heated dispute following a period of protests by the workers.
Navaanavai, a collective that "aims to empower the public politically, socially and economically" - tweeted against the "systemic discrimination and xenophobia against migrant workers by the state", and called for immediate action.
Describing the police response as an "unacceptable act", the movement noted that "violating migrant workers rights in arresting and detaining them, adds to a long history of systemic failure to protect them".
Navaanavai further stated that migrant workers make up half of the country's labour force, adding that many are victims of human trafficking and other human rights violations.
"It's the state's duty to protect rights of all migrant workers,& hold companies employing them accountable for flagrant violations of their rights".
Noting that various expatriates have been victims of unsafe work environments and hate crimes, Navaanavai said that it was "unconscionable that another worker under state care has died last night without timely medical assistance".
Although authorities have yet to provide any details of the incident, local media Mihaaru reported that the migrant workers rioted following the death of an expat who succumbed to a heart attack on Monday night. He reportedly passed away while they were attempting to take him to the hospital.
Prior to this incident, expatriate workers employed at a local construction company had been protesting due to their poor living conditions at Thilafushi, in addition to not receiving one month's salary, Mihaaru wrote. Citing credible sources, the local media stated that the workers were accommodated in a company go-down.
Reports state that the expat who died on Monday night does not belong to the construction company. However, Mihaaru stated that his death sparked more concerns amongst the migrant workers, igniting fresh protests on Tuesday.
Navaanavai also highlighted the effects of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic on migrant workers in Maldives -- which has been pointed out by the public and various concerned parties repeatedly.
"The disproportionate number of COVID-19 cases among migrant workers, lack of financial support & inadequate access to healthcare shows state failure at all levels in protecting the rights of migrant workers in the Maldives".
The virus outbreak in capital Male' severely affected its migrant worker population, the majority of whom are Bangladeshi nationals living in highly congested quarters where it is impossible to reduce contact or exercise social distancing. Their often small-spaced living conditions have been described by local and international civil society organizations as, "claustrophobic", "unsanitary" and "overcrowded".
Maldives recorded its first case involving a migrant worker, who was from Bangladesh, on April 19. Since, the total number of Bangladeshi workers that have tested positive for COVID-19 have surpassed 1,000, while 187 Indian nationals have contracted the virus as well.
Presently, Maldives records 1,841 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 1,224 active cases, 608 recoveries and seven fatalities. Capital Malé, one of the most densely populated places in the world, has recorded a significant increase in COVID-19 cases since recording its first local transmission on April 15.
Currently, migrant workers consist of 65 percent of the positive cases identified in the country.
Navaanavai ended their statement declaring that "due representation begins with unionisation, and as such we support all collective action efforts by workers".