Human Rights Commission of the Maldives

Press Release: PR - 021/2020

Published on 18-12-2020

December 19th is annually marked and globally celebrated as International Migrants Day, with the aim of recognizing the contribution of migrants in the social and economic sphere of destination countries and raising awareness of the challenges that migrants face. The observance of the day also iterates the obligation of governments to mobilize resources and increase efforts to promote and protect the rights of migrants The National Bureau of Statistics estimated that in 2020, migrants constitute 32 percent of the total population in the Maldives . According to the Population and Housing Census 2014, 28 percent of the country’s labor force consists of migrant workers . The Constitution of the Maldives enshrines the fundamental rights of all people in the Maldives, including migrant workers, The rights of migrant workers are also guaranteed in the Employment Act (2/2008), the Immigration Act (1/2007), the Anti-Human Trafficking Act (12/2013) and in the Regulation ‘Employment of Expatriate Employees’(R-62/2020). On this note, the Commission acknowledges the initiative taken by the State to regulate undocumented migrant workers and the amendment to the Decentralization Act (7/2010) requiring local councils to maintain a registry of migrant workers in the islands. The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives received 7 cases in 2018, 13 cases in 2019 and 30 cases in 2020 regarding the rights of migrant workers. The nature of these cases range from non-payment of wages, to lack of adequate healthcare, food and safe drinking water and forced repatriation. Moreover, cases of unsafe working environments, discrimination in providing services, work visa issues, withholding passport and other personal documents, poor working conditions and employment terminations were also reported. According to the survey, ‘Addressing the Socio-Economic Impact of Covid19 on the Maldives’ by the UNDP, undocumented migrant workers face severe risks of being exposed to the Covid-19 virus . Further, Maldives has appeared on the US State Department’s Tier Two Watch List for Human Trafficking for the third year in a row for having not demonstrated evidence of adequate efforts to address human trafficking over the years, further highlighting the vulnerability of migrant workers . As per Commission’s findings, undocumented migrant workers face enormous challenges in accessing health services and they are also portrayed as posing a threat to national security. Institutions mandated to implement the Anti Human Trafficking Act face challenges due to lack of resources and due to gaps in the domestic legal framework. During monitoring visits conducted by the National Preventive Mechanism, the issue of migrant workers not being informed in a language they can understand, of their rights at the time of arrest, and the issue of unequal treatment in the provision of food at some custodial were highlighted. In addition to this, it was also observed that a lot of migrant workers were being kept indefinitely in detention due to prolonged court proceedings and unsolved repatriation issues. The Commission calls upon the State to bring about the necessary amendments to the Anti- Human Trafficking Act. It also emphasizes the need to provide adequate budget and resources to the institutions mandated to prevent human trafficking and to ensure protection of the rights of migrant workers in the Maldives. Additionally, it is important to further strengthen the recruitment, employment, repatriation and reintegration process of migrant workers in Maldives. Moreover, the Commission urges the State to take swift legal action against those that violate the rights of migrant workers and those involved in human trafficking. Taking note of the significant role of civil society and media in promoting and protecting the rights of migrant workers, the Commission stresses the importance of publishing essential information related to the Covid-19 pandemic in languages that can be understood by migrant workers. The Commission also calls upon the State to implement the Commission’s recommendations on the promotion and protection of the rights of migrant workers, to abolish policies and procedures that are discriminatory in nature and to take urgent action to curb the prevailing negative attitude towards migrant workers and to ensure a safe environment in which to live a dignified and peaceful life.