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RIX refuses responsibility for expats over human trafficking claim

Mariyam Malsa
14 July 2020, MVT 16:13
Representatives of the Public Interest Law Center working on Bodufinolhu, Baa Atoll. PHOTO: PUBLIC INTEREST LAW CENTRE
Mariyam Malsa
14 July 2020, MVT 16:13

RIX Maldives Pvt Ltd, on Tuesday, stated that it was unable to accept responsibility for the expatriate workers currently on Bodufinolhu, Baa Atoll due to the ongoing police investigation into human trafficking allegations.

The 179 expatriates reported to be on Bodufinolhu at present, were employed to conduct construction work as per agreements signed between RIX and Seal Maldives in 2019.

On July 2, 203 expatriate workers protested against six months of unpaid wages and barred 13 local staff from leaving the island which is slated for development as a resort. Maldives Police Service arrested 19 individuals during the operation to de-escalate the hostage situation.

A statement released by RIX's legal team highlighted that authorities were currently investigating human trafficking claims against the company with the allegations involving exploitation of migrant workers and failure to pay legally mandated fees to the government on behalf of them.

Asserting that RIX faced legal barriers in accepting responsibility for the labourers amid the investigation, the company highlighted that the Anti-Human Trafficking Act mandated the Ministry of Economic Development to provide accommodation and protection for individuals suspected to have fallen victim to human trafficking.

The statement also stated that "considering the unrest currently being created by expatriates, this [taking responsibility for the workers] could pose a risk to national security".

According to RIX, the police notified the company regarding the probe while discussions were ongoing with Seal Maldives to extradite the expatriates from the island.

On Sunday, RIX also claimed that only 14 of the foreign workers on Bodufinolhu were its employees and expressed readiness to take the 14 individuals under its care if the police had no objections.

The police had formally accused RIX Company Pvt Ltd of human trafficking and the exploitation of foreign workers on July 6.

The company was also accused of terminating labourers that protested over their conditions and sending them to the capital city of Male'. As per reports, the expatriates staged a silent protest on May 16, demanding full payment and clearance to leave Maldives.

Speaking at the Parliamentary Committee for National Security, representatives of the Ministry of Home Affairs stated that there were legal difficulties in proceeding with the Bodufinolhu case if the failure to pay salaries was categorized as human trafficking.

The home ministry further noted the existence of challenges with taking them under state care since only 40 vacancies were available in the detention centre for migrants. Furthermore, ministry representatives added that the Bodufinolhu employees did not want to be designated as victims of trafficking.

In addition to the state of uncertainty concerning their accommodation, it remains unclear which company will pay the accumulated salaries of the expatriate workers.

Seal Maldives has lodged a case with the Thulhaadhoo Magistrate Court, seeking an order to extradite the expatriates from Bodufinolhu.

RIX has maintained its initial assertions that Seal Maldives was legally required to pay salaries as per agreements between the two companies, and that RIX was only assigned a management role concerning the workers. The contractor claimed that delays in crediting salaries were caused by Seal Maldives' failure to make payments.

The developer countered with a statement noting that it made payments in addition to those mandated by agreements and accused RIX of neglect, stating that there was no reason preventing the contractor from paying its workers. Seal Maldives also asserted that RIX was mandated to cover insurance, healthcare and Visa application costs in addition to monthly salaries.