The Maldivian government would send back at least 20,000 undocumented foreign workers to their countries, most of whom are Bangladeshis, a Maldivian diplomat said on Tuesday quoting a minister of his country.
Maldivian economic minister Fayyaz Islam on Monday told the parliament that his government would repatriate at least 20,000 undocumented foreign workers by the end of this year.
More than 70,000 undocumented foreign workers reside in different atolls of the country 90 per cent of whom are believed to be Bangladeshi citizens, according to an assessment of the Maldivian government.
The authorities in Maldives, an economy dependent mostly on tourism, are trying to getting rid of additional foreign workers as income from tourism has become near to zero due to lack of foreign tourists during the COVID-19 pandemic, Maldivian official said, adding that constructions in atolls were also mostly halted.
Bangladeshi workers mostly work in tourism, construction and fishing sectors. Last year, Maldives suspended bringing in any new worker from Bangladesh.
Fayyaz, however, indicated that the repatriation would be in phases, keeping cooperation from the returnee workers and their governments in mind.
Meanwhile, the Maldivian authorities on Monday arrested 41 agitating workers, 39 from Bangladesh and two Indians, on allegations of violating law and order and assaulting local police.
The economic affairs ministry convened a meeting on Tuesday and discussed the arrest of the foreign workers. A Bangladesh embassy official joined the meeting.
The workers were holding agitations in Male, demanding their pending salaries from the employers, according to the Bangladesh embassy there.
Bangladesh ambassador Rear Admiral Mohammad Nazmul Hassan told New Age that 50 per cent of about 90,000 Bangladeshi workers have become irregular as they were sent by traffickers mostly on tourist visas.
‘Now they do not have any legal document as workers that we [embassy] can raise with the employers,’ he said, mentioning that most of the workers were leading almost inhuman life.
The embassy was working with rights bodies for extending legal and humanitarian support to the detained workers there, the ambassador added.
Nearly 38,000 undocumented Bangladeshi workers got registered last year with the hope of becoming regularised, but the process was stopped in the pandemic situation, he said.
The ambassador said that he recently called on economic minister Fayyaz seeking his cooperation to regularise the salaries of the Bangladeshi workers. Accordingly, some Maldivian officials met with a section of local employers, but had a limited success in the effort, he said.
Trafficking nexus, comprising both Bangladesh and Maldivian citizens, generally take about Tk 3 lakh for sending a job-seeker, mostly poor, to Maldives mostly on tourist and student visas. A good number of them are female workers.
Bangladesh Nari Sramik Kendra executive director Sumaiya Islam told New Age that most of the workers in Maldives work like bonded-labourers — poorly paid and almost half-fed.
It is the responsibility of the recruiting agencies and the government to rehabilitate the returnee workers, she added.
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