Maldives repatriates close to 2,500 undocumented Bangladeshi workers

Maldives has repatriated 2,499 undocumented Bangladeshi workers, as the coronavirus outbreak continue to have a disproportionate effect on the island nation’s migrant worker population.

A foreign ministry spokesperson said the undocumented workers were repatriated on 11 charter flights operated by the Maldives flag carrier in the past three months. Some were also sent aboard a Maldivian repatriation flight for documented Bangladeshis, he added.

The Maldivian government also chartered a Biman Bangladesh Airlines flight in May for the repatriation operation.

The Bangladeshi air force also carried a total of 135 Bangladeshi nationals from Male to Dhaka in two evacuation sorties.

In May, Maldivian 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 1,134 Bangladeshis, 740 Maldivians, 200 Indians, 42 Nepalis, 12 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 2,150.

Eight deaths have been reported and 1,769 have made full recoveries.

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 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 were also shut.

Restaurants and cafes in the capital were 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 was also ordered.

These measures allowed authorities to contain the outbreak.

More than half of the people who contracted the virus have recovered and daily recoveries have over taken the number of new infections detected per day.

The restrictions are now being eased in phases, with the second phase beginning June 15 and lasting at least until the month-end.

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