Invisible Chains: Story of Trafficking
On International Migrants Day (18 December), Ihma Shareef writes a fictional story of human trafficking, calling for protection of migrants’ rights in the Maldives.
My name is M.D. Kumar. I have one beautiful daughter and a wife who is pregnant with our second child. For most of my life, I have worked on my family farm and recently I inherited it from my late father. However, the farm has not been doing so well because of the economic situation in my country. I have been struggling and praying for a better job, so I can support my growing family. One day I heard that there is an agent in my village offering good jobs abroad, so I decided to see what the options were. I met the agent I heard about, who told me about a great job overseas where I could earn a salary of close to USD 300 a month working in a five star resort. He told me he was an agent for a company in another country and would arrange my contract, passport and visa and all I had to do was to give him $3000 for all the arrangements. I didn’t have that much money so I decided to sell the farm to pay for my deposit. After all, I dreamt about being able to give my children what they needed in life and save up for their education. I was filled with pride and hope. I was given a contract by the Agent, but I couldn’t read. The Agent just smiled and said “don’t worry, it notes what we discussed”. So I trusted him and signed where he pointed to. I really needed and wanted this opportunity. I didn’t realize this would be my first big mistake.
The day finally came, all the arrangements had been made and with my new passport, I said good bye to my family and travelled abroad. When I got out of the airport, one man approached me and asked “are you Kumar?” I said yes. “Okay,” he said, “I will take you to your place of work now. Please give me your passport and all the other documents. I need to complete some paper work and also give me any cash you might have.” I was a bit hesitant to give him my money, but I didn’t really feel like I had a choice at the time. I was in a new country, I hardly spoke English and didn’t understand the foreign language they spoke in this country.
I was transferred to an unknown location and we went into a building. There were many people from my country there. “When are we going to the office?” I asked the man who accompanied me from the airport. “What office? You are going to be working as a cleaner in our company!” I was shocked. I tried to protest, but the man just left me. The next day I was given a uniform and was told my working hours. I was working in many different offices cleaning from 6am until 11pm at night. The place I had to sleep was a tiny room where more than twenty of us slept on mats on the floor. We were given one meal a day and there were two hours in the day in which the water would be turned on, so we could use the bathroom and other facilities. Most of us resorted to filling water bottles when the taps were on. It was so hot, dirty and crowded where we lived. Basically, we lived on an abandoned floor in an unfinished construction site where almost fifty people slept. I tried my best at the cleaning job, sometimes our supervisor would yell profanities at us and called us terrible names. I slowly began picking up the language in my foreign country too. I was always referred to as “****” which I quickly came to learn was used as a derogative term. In the eyes of the people I worked for, I was not a person with a name, just a property to be exploited for work.
We worked long hours and I was always tired, but I had no choice. It seemed like most of the people who worked with me were in the same situation. At the end of the month, I went to collect my monthly pay and was given USD 45. I asked the man paying us “but my contract says I was going to be paid 300 USD, that’s what I agreed to when I came into the country”. The man laughed so hard at me! He sneered, “Who pays for your accommodation? And your food? And what, you are going to complain? This is a good pay! If you complain again, I will throw you out to the streets. Let’s see how well you do there!” I didn’t know what to do, this was going to be hardly anything to send back to my family especially after deducting fees and I had worked so many hours this month.
After a few months, I came down with a high fever one day and I couldn’t get up. Our supervisor came to find me because I had not gone to work. I told him I was sick. “Get up and go to work, I don’t care!” When I protested, he punched me. “Useless foreigner!” I asked if I could have some money to go to the doctor. He grabbed my shirt and then threw me out of the house “don’t ever come back, otherwise I will call the police!”
I had nothing. No passport, hardly any money and no job nor a place to go… and now I was out on the streets in a foreign country and no one to turn to for help. I felt so ashamed to have let down my family and when I started to think of them, the tears wouldn’t stop. I was so scared.
Whilst the above story is fictional, it is in no way far from the truth.
Trafficking in Persons is a serious, organized crime that deprives people of their human dignity. It is in fact modern day slavery. It takes a toll on a person’s physiological as well as psychological well-being. The demand for cheap labour, sexual services and certain criminal activities are among the root causes of trafficking, while a lack of opportunity, resources and social standing are other contributing factors. Organized criminal groups should not be profiting from the violations of human rights.
The plight of migrant workers, like the story of M.D. Kumar should be something that each and every one of us must actively try to stop. How? By not becoming normalized to these occurrences in a society, reporting these cases to the concerned authorities and following up to ensure they are investigated. Most perpetrators of human trafficking involve both a foreign and local national in the Maldives, and these individuals or groups must be brought to justice. The Maldives ratified Law 12/2013 which makes human trafficking a crime punishable by imprisonment of up to fifteen years. The Maldives has also published guidelines in February 2016 that ensures victim identification.
One of IOM’s core fundamental values is to uphold human dignity and well-being of migrants. These principles should be the responsibility of all of us, to treat each and every person who lives in our society with respect and dignity regardless of their nationality.
If you suspect someone is involved in human trafficking please call the Police Human Trafficking Investigation Unit 9500125 or 1696.
Ihma Shareef is the Senior Project Coordinator with the International Organization for Migration (IOM). She implements counter trafficking activities for IOM in the Maldives and is a passionate advocate on the issue, working to enable prevention, protection and prosecution for human trafficking in the Maldives. IOM is the United Nations Migration Agency, and has been working in the Maldives since 2013 dedicated to promoting humane and orderly migration for the benefit of all.
 Name is fictional. Any relation to an actual person is unintentional