An additional 342 Indian citizens stranded in Maldives due to the lockdown imposed to contain the spread of COVID-19 left for their home country aboard private chartered flights on Wednesday and Thursday.
The Indian High Commission in Maldives stated that with this repatriation effort, the High Comission has facilitated the travel of over 2000 Indian citizens out of Maldives. Prior to this, 1,400, Indians were repatriated via sea on an Indian navy ship as well.
Speaking to local media Mihaaru, Deputy Commissioner Shree Rohith Rathish expressed gratitude towards the Maldivian government for their assistance in the repatriation efforts organised by the High Commission and private companies.
Approximately 700 Indian nationals are scheduled to depart for India via the sea route on Friday as well. Moreover, the High Commission announced that three Air India flights are scheduled to evacuate Indian citizens on 16, 17 and 18 June.
According to Rohit, the chartered flights were arranged by companies employing Indian citizens and does not fall under the 'Vande Bharat' Mission launched by the Indian government to repatriate its nationals stranded abroad due to the coronavirus lockdown.
He noted that the High Commission's responsibility is facilitating these private charters and providing the necessary permits.
Confirming that the Indigo chartered flights, each carrying 171 passengers, landed in New Delhi, Rohit noted that most of the individuals on board were employed at AIMA Construction Pvt Ltd.
Expatriate workers belonging to AIMA Construction were protesting in Thilafushi since last month, due to poor living conditions and not receiving a one-month salary. The death of a migrant worker who succumbed to a heart attack without proper medical attention on Monday night ignited a series of fresh protests on Tuesday, which resulted in two officers sustaining injuries.
In a joint operation conducted with Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF), Maldives Police Service arrested 133 expatriates regarding Tuesday's riots, of which 126 were later released. Currently, seven Indian nationals are under police custody.
Left-wing political movement 'Navaanavai' condemned the arrest of migrant workers on strike in Thilafushi, describing the police response as an "unacceptable act", adding that "violating migrant workers rights in arresting and detaining them, adds to a long history of systemic failure to protect them".
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 190 Indian nationals have contracted the virus as well.
Presently, Maldives records 1,872 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 1,217 active cases, 648 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.
As per current statstics, migrant workers consist of almost 65 percent of the positive cases identified in the country.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified the spread of COVID-19 as a global pandemic. The new strain of novel coronavirus has infected over 6.6 million people and claimed over 389,900 lives around the world. However, 3.2 million people have recovered from the infection.