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Fire in Maldives that killed 9 Indians exposes dark side of the island paradise

Amrutha Pagad
Amrutha PagadNov 10, 2022 | 14:04

Fire in Maldives that killed 9 Indians exposes dark side of the island paradise

Indians among those killed in fire in Male, Maldives. Photo: @liyaakujjaa/Twitter

When we think of Maldives, we think of the turquoise waters and pristine beaches where Bollywood celebs frequently go for their vacations. But beyond this touristy, sun-kissed image of paradise lies the reality of cramped and inhuman spaces filled with abused migrant workers.    

What? In a tragic incident in the Maldivian capital Male, a fire has killed at least nine Indian migrant workers. AFP reported that the fire broke out on Thursday, November 10 in a building where foreign workers were lodged. 

We have found 10 bodies...
- Fire official tells AFP

It took about four hours for the fire officials to put out the blaze. Reportedly, among the dead is also a Bangladeshi national.

The Indian High Commission in Maldives condoled the tragic incident. 

How did the fire start? The fire reportedly started from the vehicle repair garage on the ground floor and the bodies were discovered on the upper floor of the building.

The tragedy only highlights the inhuman conditions that migrant workers in Maldives have been subjected to. And it is definitely not what anyone signs up for when they pay upwards of $2,000 (roughly Rs 1.63 lakh) to their agents who promise them decent jobs.   

Poor living conditions: The Covid-19 pandemic exposed the despicable living conditions of foreign workers in Maldives when infections started spreading three times faster among foreign workers than among local residents. 

  • A Humans Rights Watch report also sounded the alarm on the abusive treatment and lack of protection offered to migrant workers.
  • This is worth noting because nearly half of Male's population is made up of foreign workers mostly hailing from India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
  • And nearly of third of Maldives's entire population is made up of migrant workers. These workers working in construction to hospitality contribute immensely to Maldives economy.
  • Bangladesh was also alarmed over a spike in attacks on its nationals in Maldives a few years ago.  

The kind of abuses migrant workers face in Maldives:  

  • Migrant workers in Maldives are often abused by their employers who sometimes use deceptive recruitment methods. Workers are subjected to wage theft, passport confiscation, forced labour, and poor living conditions. 
  • Around 12 to 15 workers are sometimes forced to share 2.5-by-3.5-metre rooms, HRW reported. At times, some 200 workers have to share accommodation and sleep on a shift basis.
  • Even if migrant workers want to protest against the treatment, they face deportation threats from the government.
For days, I lived on biscuits and water because I couldn’t afford a full meal. Everyone around me was in a similar situation, and I was too ashamed to ask anyone for help.
- A foreign worker told Human Rights Watch
  • During the lockdown in 2020 when workers started protesting, the Maldivian government called the protestors a national security threat. Some were detained, while some were deported without ever being paid their salaries.  
Last updated: November 10, 2022 | 15:57
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