Paradise’s Dark Side

True story accompanying image

Amid the luxury hotels of Maldives’s paradise islands, as many as 50 men sleep in a space that would comfortably sleep less than 10.

There aren’t enough beds, so they sleep in shifts, but they have little time for resting. They work 13 hours a day at a job that they say has not paid them for six months, forcing them to survive by taking on additional work after-hours.

A world away from the tourist experience, this kind of abuse is a daily reality for the estimated 200,000 migrant workers currently living in Maldives. 

Coming from countries such as Bangladesh and India, some workers sell everything they have to fund their travel, leaving them entirely dependent on their new employers for survival. Others are trafficked by force, handed over to employers who prevent them from fleeing by keeping their passport and travel documents locked up.

In either case, the employer holds the power, and few speak out about their exploitation.

Yet these men did. They first complained to their employer, explaining they needed the money desperately to send to families back home.

When he dismissed them, saying the company couldn’t afford to pay them, they filed a complaint to the labour relations authority.

The men say that when their employer found out about the complaint, he responded by cutting off their electricity.

That was when they came to us for help. Working directly with migrant workers, our anti-corruption legal advice centre in Maldives is helping hundreds of people to overcome the financial and language barriers that block their access to justice.

After listening to their story, we contacted the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives on their behalf. Realising they were not alone; it took their employer less than 24 hours to reconnect the electricity.

Now the case is being investigated, and we’re keeping in touch with the workers to ensure they get their money in full.

This is just one of more than 500 cases we’ve received. In another, we helped a group of Indian workers report eight months of unpaid labour, and secure the money they needed to return to their families.

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