Fire incident in Maldives capital - 10 reported deaths

The severity of this incident along with the number of casualties has made this incident the worst fire catastrophe to be recorded in the history of the Maldives.

Source: President's Office

Source: President's Office

Overcrowding, high rent, unsafe environments and lack of workers’ rights have always been extremely big issues in the Maldives. While incident after incident keeps occurring in the country proving that authorities and heads of the state need to take some action quickly, these issues appear to have become common daily life problems in the Maldives.

Talks of cramped spaces, low wages and bad working conditions as well as unsafe accommodation in the Maldives is nothing new, however, most of the extreme incidents caused by such issues appear to have become just headlines as the authorities discuss such issues for three days just to move on to the next big topic.

However, action needs to be taken regarding issues such as the safety of workplaces, accommodations and workers’ rights as another eye-opening incident took place in the capital city of the Maldives early Thursday, November 10, 2022.

What happened?

The dangerous fire, which has claimed almost a dozen lives, erupted in the early hours of the morning after a loud exploding sound. While many were initially unaware of the severe consequences of the fire since some workers living in the building escaped shortly after the explosion, the true damage, casualties, and origin of the catastrophe remain unknown.

According to accounts, despite the efforts of police and the fire service, it took more than four hours to put out the fire due to the intensity of the incident's explosive nature.

While the total number of casualties might not be finalised, as of late Thursday, there were reports of 10 deaths – all of whom are reported to be expatriate workers, mostly from India. The severity of this incident along with the number of casualties has made this incident the worst fire catastrophe to be recorded in the history of the Maldives.

Source: President's Office

Male’ city is just a ticking time-bomb!

With this incident having taken so many lives, what makes this incident even more enraging is the fact that such hazardous incidents can easily be avoided if the authorities and policymakers of the Maldives followed through with the rules, laws and guidelines that they put out every year. 

While rules and regulations are made about workers’ rights, and the safety of accommodation and storage spaces, such incidents are a rude awakening of how little these rules are implemented in the Maldives. With today’s incident claiming 10 innocent lives, how many more are suffering in similar situations, living in accommodations that are the equivalent of a ticking time bomb that could go off any minute?

It is no secret that people who reside in Male’ City are cramped into one house, largely due to the increasing rent prices in the city. As many are unable to afford the skyrocketing prices, families are often cramped into tiny spaces, and what makes it even worse is the lack of ventilation and safety in these apartments.

While windows, escape routes and fire exits might be the norm in some countries, in the Maldives only those who can pay for premium prices for luxury apartments are privileged enough to pay for that kind of safety. 

While these are the sad living conditions of many living in Male’ City, the conditions that expatriate workers live in are unimaginably horrible. While many Maldivias might be familiar with how employers treat expatriate workers, some of these horrible conditions were exposed to the rest of the world during the COVID-19 pandemic as cases of abuse, wage theft, passport confiscation and poor living conditions were all exposed.

“The Covid-19 crisis has compounded perennial abuses and toppled whatever precarious existence migrant workers in the Maldives may have achieved, The government’s failure to effectively regulate recruitment and employment practices puts already vulnerable migrants into abusive situations, then traps them there.” 
Shayna Bauchnner - Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch 

What is the connection between how expatriate employees are handled and the fire last night? It was discovered that a huge number of expatriate employees were forced to jam into this 'accommodation' area, with cooking gas, living places, and everything else crammed into one little space.

While no one would choose to live in these conditions in the Maldives, powerful employers have been known to take away their expatriate employees' passports, pay them a low wage, and only provide them with such accommodation spaces, leaving them with no choice but to live in these dangerous buildings.

This is not the first time discoveries of expatriate workers are being put in such inhumane conditions, as human trafficking of migrant workers became a severe issue in the Maldives in 2020. 

With the illegal practice of ‘quota trading’ where employers bring in several workers and trade them with others has become extremely common in the Maldives, the issues of inhumane accommodation and what many consider modern-day slavery have become the norm for expatriate workers in the Maldives.

"Migrant workers would often have to share collective accommodation with up to 200 other workers, sleeping in shifts in deplorable hygienic conditions"
- a UN special rapporteur from the 2019 visit to the Maldives.

Many are calling out authorities for their lack of effort in making Male’ a safer place for expatriate workers and Maldivians alike, many are wondering whether this incident will lead to any actual changes being made for the safety of the people, or if this incident will be brushed under the rug and forgotten within the week just like all the other horrendous incidents that take place in the Maldives?

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