OTHERS – Exhibition highlighting the lives of migrant workers

The estimated official figure of the migrant population in Maldives, according to the latest census, is 58,683. The unofficial estimates are around 200,000 bringing the size of the migrant population in Maldives up to more than half of the country’s total population. Regardless of this figure, migrant workers have few rights and state redress mechanisms are not accessible to these workers, further victimizing those who are already being exploited in forced labor conditions. The language barrier and the lack of public interest litigators in the country further limit their access to justice.

A high number of migrant workers, especially those working as manual laborers, often sell all their assets to come to the Maldives and are reliant on their new employers for sustenance — for themselves and their families back at home. Often times, they face threats or even violence for speaking up about injustices. Their living quarters are generally provided by their employers, so if they are dismissed they also lose their shelter. The majority of cases that the Transparency Maldives’ Legal Advice Center receives from migrant workers include complaints of non-payment of wages, often for months, withholding of travel documents and identification, and inhumane living conditions.

Migrant workers live and work in unimaginable conditions, sometimes being forced to do work that is not permitted in their work permits. They are underpaid or unpaid, their passports and identification documents withheld by agents and employers, effectively crippling workers from rectifying their situation or reaching out to the justice system.

The Legal Advice Center provides free legal advice and assistance to expatriates and Maldivian citizens. Over the past three years, we have assisted over 560 migrant workers with cases of non-payment of wages, unacceptable working conditions, poor housing, withholding of their passport by employment agencies and employers, and being forced to do work that is not defined in their employment mandates.

These are not newly emerging issues and they closely reflect the findings reported in U.S Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report (2014). The report notes fraudulent recruitment, confiscation of identity and travel documents, withholding or non-payment of wages, or debt bondages as some of the forced labor situations faced by the migrant workers in Maldives.

While the necessary regulations such as Regulation on Expatriates Working in Maldives and Regulation on Bringing Expatriates to the Maldives for the purpose of Employment are in place, the issues arise from the lack of implementation, monitoring and enforcement of said regulations.

This exhibition is a platform provided by Transparency Maldives for local artists to showcase their thoughts and perceptions on the issues faced by migrant workers in the country. We hope that the exhibition will raise the public’s interest and awareness of the plight and conditions of migrant workers.

View/download the catalogue from the exhibition ‘OTHERS’.