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Expat worker's murder sparks rights debate in Maldives

Nov 29, 2012

The Maldive's Human Rights Commission has called for end to discrimination against foreign workers following murder of a Bangladeshi worker.

The stabbing to death of 25-year-old Bangladeshi worker, Muneerul Islam, has brought the spotlight on the issue of safety of foreign workers in the islands nation. Workers from different parts of South Asia, mostly working in the construction business have for long felt unsafe and discriminated in the country. The Maldives’ expatriate population makes up almost a third of the country’s population.

The latest incident has prompted the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) to call for an end to discrimination against foreign workers. Condemning the killing of Muneerul Islam, HRCM pointed out in a statement that Maldivians fail to recognise the significant contribution foreign workers make to the economic development of the country.

HRCM further stated that all humans – regardless of country or race – have the right to human rights, and called for the authorities to bring those responsible to justice.

Muneerul Islam was found murdered in his apartment located on the sixth floor of a building on Chaandhanee Magu, Male’s main tourist strip.

Earlier this year a senior Indian diplomatic official in the Maldives expressed concern over the ongoing practice of confiscating passports of migrant workers arriving to the country from across South Asia – likening the practice to slavery.

The diplomat, who wished not to be identified, told the country's Minivan News that although several government ministries were critical of the practice of withholding the passports of foreign staff coming to work in the country, the state had taken no action.

“I’ve not met a single government minister who says that such a system (withholding passports) is legal,” the Minivan News quoted him as saying.

The Maldives has come under strong criticism internationally in recent years over its record in trying to prevent people trafficking, with the country appearing on the US State Department’s Tier Two Watch List for Human Trafficking three years in a row.

The Maldives is mainly flagged as a destination country for victims of labour exploitation, particularly from Bangladesh and to a lesser extent, India.

“An unknown number of the 80,000 to 110,000 foreign workers that government officials estimate are currently working in Maldives -- primarily in the construction and service sectors -- face conditions indicative of forced labor: fraudulent recruitment, confiscation of identity and travel documents, withholding or nonpayment of wages, or debt bondage,” the 2012 report of the US State Department notes.

“According to a diplomatic source, an estimated 50 percent of Bangladeshi workers in Maldives are not documented and a number of these workers are victims of trafficking. Migrant workers pay the equivalent of US$1,000 to US$4,000 in recruitment fees in order to migrate to Maldives,” the report said.

“In addition to Bangladeshis and Indians, some migrants from Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Nepal reportedly experienced recruitment fraud before arriving in Maldives. Recruitment agents in source countries generally collude with employers and agents in Maldives to facilitate fraudulent recruitment and forced labor of migrant workers,” the report added.

Police have said that the murder of the Bangladeshi national is a “serious case”, but said no arrests had been made.

The stabbing incident has also provided grist to the campaign by the Maldive's main opposition party, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP). “Sadly, since February’s overthrow of the Maldives’ democratically-elected government, key parts of the international community have remained silent regarding the widespread human rights violations taking place,” said the party’s spokesperson, MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor.

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