Maldives repatriates nearly 1k undocumented Bangladeshi workers amid virus hit
Maldives has repatriated close to 1,000 undocumented Bangladeshi workers, as the coronavirus outbreak have a disproportionate effect on the island nation’s migrant worker population.
Two chartered Maldivian airlines flights carried 350 Bangladeshis to Dhaka Saturday.
Another 353 Bangladeshis left the Maldives on a chartered flight on Monday, whilst 67 flew to their home country aboard a Bangladeshi air force aircraft on May 17.
The Bangladeshi air force also carried 68 Bangladeshi nationals from Male to Dhaka on April 21.
“Thanks to hard work of Minister @faya_i & team at @MoEDmv, & Foreign Minister of #Bangladesh HE @AKAbdulMomen & the govt., with today’s repatriation, nearly 1000 Bangladeshi undocumented workers have been repatriated in the current program of President @ibusolih’s administration,” Maldivian foreign minister Abdulla Shahid said on Twitter Saturday.
Earlier this month, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih said arrangements were being made to repatriate 1,500 undocumented Bangladeshi workers from the Maldives.
Bangladeshi nationals make up the majority of the migrant worker population in Maldives.
They have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus outbreak in the Maldives. Bangladeshi workers make up the majority of virus cases in country.
The confirmed local transmission clusters in the Maldives now include 676 Bangladeshis, 468 Maldivians, 126 Indians, 16 Nepalis, nine Sri Lankans and three Pakistanis.
Authorities managed to mitigate the spread of the virus and the Covid-19 respiratory disease it causes amongst the Maldives’ citizens and residents early on by closing the Indian Ocean tourist paradise’s borders, earning praise from the World Health Organisation.
But the disease later spread rapidly within the large migrant worker community in capital Male. Authorities have ramped up relocating workers from the cramped up dormitories in one of the world’s most densely populated cities to temporary accommodation units.
An estimated 63,000 foreign nationals work in the Maldives illegally out of a migrant worker population close to 145,000.
Foreign workers in the Maldives, predominantly Bangladeshi and Indian men, are subjected to practices indicative of forced labour, including fraudulent recruitment, confiscation of identity and travel documents, withholding or non-payment of wages, and debt bondage.
As most migrant workers live in extremely poor conditions, a widespread outbreak amongst them could lead to large virus clusters, overwhelming the country’s already under staffed and strained healthcare system and making it harder for authorities to contain the spread of the virus.
On March 8, Maldives reported its first cases of the novel coronavirus, as two hotel employees tested positive for Covid-19 at a luxury resort in the archipelago.
Eighteen more cases — all foreigners working or staying resorts and liveaboard vessels except five Maldivians who had returned from abroad — were later identified.
A six-case cluster of locals, detected in capital Male on April 15, confirmed community transmission of the coronavirus. Several more clusters have since been identified, bringing the total number of confirmed case in the Maldives to 1,313.
Four deaths have been reported and 127 have made full recoveries. Five remain in intensive care.
The Maldives announced a state of public health emergency on March 12, the first such declaration under a recent public health protection law.
The public health emergency declaration has allowed the government to introduce a series of unprecedented restrictive and social distancing measures, including stay-at-home orders in capital Male and its suburbs, a ban on inter-island transport and public gatherings across the country, and a nationwide closing of government offices, schools, colleges and universities.
Non-essential services and public places in the capital such as gyms, cinemas and parks have also been shut.
Restaurants and cafes in the capital have been asked to stop dine-in service and switch to takeaway and delivery.
A nationwide shutdown of all guesthouses, city hotels and spa facilities located on inhabited islands is also in effect.
The coronavirus outbreak has hit the Maldivian economy hard, as travel restrictions and other preventive measures affect the country’s lucrative tourism industry, which contributes the bulk of the island nation’s state revenue and foreign reserves.
Before the pandemic, the government had been bullish about tourism prospects, targeting two million, high-spending holidaymakers this year after last year’s record 1.7 million.
However, tourist arrivals saw a year-over-year decline of 22.8 per cent in the first 10 days of March. Officials say the number of tourist arrivals to the Maldives could drop by half in 2020.
All international airlines have suspended scheduled operations to the Maldives, as the island nation enforced a blanket suspension of on-arrival visa in late March in a bid to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Even before the visa suspension, the Maldives had closed its borders to arrivals from some of the worst-hit countries, including mainland China, Italy, Bangladesh, Iran, Spain, the United Kingdom, Malaysia and Sri Lanka. Visitors from three regions of Germany (Bavaria, North Rhine-Westphalia and Baden-Württemberg), two regions of France (Île-de-France and Grand Est) and two regions of South Korea were also banned from entering the country.
All direct flights to and from China, Italy, South Korea and Iran were also cancelled.
Cruise ships and foreign yachts were also banned from docking at any of the country’s ports.
With arrival numbers falling and the visa suspension in effect, several resorts across the Maldives had been closed.
Tourism has been the bedrock of the Maldives’ economic success. The $5 billion-dollar economy grew by 6.7 per cent in 2018 with tourism generating 60 per cent of foreign income.
However, the government is at present projecting a possible 13 per cent economic contraction this year — an estimated $778 million hit.