Migrant labourers pay as much as 2,000 US Dollars to agents to get into what they think is the lucrative Maldives labour force, only to be hoodwinked into lesser jobs, lesser pay and appalling working conditions. What is even more disturbing is that it is now almost certain that Maldivian government officials and employment agents have profited from this exploitation.
Last year, a report by the auditor general suggests that insiders in Gayoom's labour ministry may have deleted records on foreign labourers. It is widely believed that senior officials then made millions for issuing new permits to replace the "missing" labourers. New permits meant the recruitment of new migrant labourers who paid the exhorbitant fee, part of which was pocketed by Maldivian government officials. This cycle is believed to have existed for years under Gayoom's rule and his government did not attempt to seek or prosecute any of the alleged perpetrators, many of whom were supporters of his DRP.
But the dispossessed labourers found themselves in a place that couldn't have been more different to their dreams. Without proper documents they were unable to report to the police and susceptible to exploitation and extortion by unscrupulous Maldivians. The immigration department estimates that as much as 30,000 "illegal" migrant workers may be in the country.
Although the new government is trying to sort the problem, no doubt motivated by its bid to become a member of the the International Labour Organisatoin, it has, so far, failed to bring any of the alleged agents or officials to justice. Instead, the government appears to be concentrating on rounding up illegal immigrants and trying to deport them.
Many of the labourers caught are kept in the immigration department's detention centre. The human rights commission has questioned the legality of this arrangement, pointing out that many have been there for more than a month even though Maldivian law requires a court ruling for this.
Human trafficking is a serious international crime and colluding or complicity can seriously jeopardise the Maldives government's bid to join the ILO, which has a consitiutional mandate to protect migrant workers.
As Juan Somavia, the director general of the ILO declared: "Migrant workers are an asset to every country where they bring their labour. Let us give them the dignity they deserve as human beings and the respect they deserve as workers."