About 100,000 migrant workers in the Maldives, including many Bangladeshis, are at added risk from Covid-19, Human Rights Watch has said, urging authorities to ensure their access to healthcare.
According to the Maldives’ health authorities, as of March 27, there were five active cases of Covid-19, two of them tourists and one a Maldivian returning from the UK, the global rights group said in an article published on its website on Friday.
“But the Maldives faces another big challenge. The other two cases of Covid-19 reported were migrant workers. There are about 100,000 migrant workers in the Maldives, mostly from Bangladesh, making up roughly 25 per cent of the islands’ total population,” it said.
This population is vulnerable to seeing a much larger number of cases because they live in congested shared quarters and do work that does not make it possible to practice strict social distancing, it added.
HRW said although employers in the Maldives are legally obligated to provide all migrant workers with health insurance, coverage is often minimal and many are not informed they have insurance at all.
Employers also illegally confiscate workers’ papers, making it difficult for them to obtain healthcare. As a result, migrants are frequently forced to pay more than citizens for medical services.
Undocumented workers are especially vulnerable, the HRW article added.
The global rights group had said on March 11, the government established a dedicated Covid-19 clinic for migrant workers on Hulhumale island, near the capital Malé, which does not require them to show work permits or other documentation.
“This is welcome, but with thousands of workers scattered throughout the Maldive islands, many cannot afford to travel to this clinic,” it further said.
Working with the World Health Organization, the Maldives government has taken important steps to establish isolation and quarantine facilities and prepared hospitals for testing and treatment.
However, the Maldives has not ratified the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families — they should do so immediately and abide by its provisions in the meantime.
Most urgently, the Maldives government should ensure migrant workers have the right to visit clinics and hospitals without fear of arrest or deportation, it added.
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