The Indian Ocean paradise of the Maldives has a sad tale to tell of human trafficking which tarnishes its growing reputation as a progressive nation in South Asia.
Human trafficking is on a rise in this
Indian Ocean paradise.
Human trafficking in the Maldives is an industry worth U.S. $123 million and stands as the second greatest contributor of foreign currency to the economy after tourism.
The U.S. State Department’s 2010 Human Trafficking report placed the Maldives on the Department’s watchlist for human trafficking, following the country’s failure to “investigate or prosecute trafficking-related offenses or take concrete actions to protect trafficking victims and prevent trafficking in the Maldives.” Ironically, the announcement came less than a month after the Maldives was given a seat on the UN Human Rights Council.
One year since hence, conditions are no different. In its 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report, the U.S. State Department has listed the Maldives in its Tier 2 watchlist for human trafficking. This watchlist comprises countries that are not fully compliant with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) and where human trafficking incidents are climbing at alarming rates or outpacing efforts to combat them.
How exactly does human trafficking take place in the Maldives? An ongoing police investigation terms the high number of illegal foreign workers as one of the major reasons behind massive human trafficking in the country.
The Maldives Department of Immigration currently puts the numbers of illegal expatriate workers at above 40, 000, causing the government to lose Rf130 million annually in nonpaid visa fees.
But how do these foreign workers end up entering illegally in the Maldives and manage to stay back? After a string of operations last year, President Nasheed’s office stated that people have been creating fraudulent companies and using job-seekers to apply for fraudulent work permit quotas. These quotas are then directed to bring in illegal workers. As a result, a would-be worker [overseas] works for a couple of years to make the payment which according to the investigations is often as much as U.S. $2000.
The police have identified a majority of these illegal workers as coming from Bangladesh who sell their land, their property and move their families to pay the fees demanded by the bogus recruiters, only to find the job a totally different one from what they were led to expect. Nowhere to go and no home to return to, these workers then fall easy prey to forced labor.
The expansive investigation saw 18 ‘paper companies’ raided by the police in July this year, seizing 4000 passports confiscated from trafficked workers. On part of the Maldivian government, senior officials of the Immigration Department and the Minis- try of Human Resources are also said to be involved in the process.
The work permit quotas for nonexistent projects were apparently obtained from the Human Resources Ministry by stealing the identities of unwitting Maldivians, or even the deceased.
On legal grounds, the government of the Maldives has made limited efforts to enforce anti-human trafficking laws in the country. For individuals found guilty of the crime, labor trafficking presently represents a violation of the Employment Act, and only carries a small fine in Maldives.
The government needs to conduct anti-trafficking and educational campaigns and take steps to create an inter-agency structure – such as a committee or plan of action – for coordination on anti-trafficking matters. A Labor Tribunal, created as part of the 2008 Employment Act, should also be given the legal teeth to enforce its decisions in cases involving foreign workers.
Even though the accusations of human trafficking have been apparent for the last few years in the Maldives, the extent to which the situation has developed needs a holistic approach before it gets worse. The writer is Assistant Editor at SouthAsia Magazine. She writes on socio-political and developmental issues of the region.