Tens of thousands of impoverished foreign laborers have been left stranded and ostracized in one of the world’s most densely packed cities as the tourist paradise of the Maldives battles coronavirus.
The turquoise waters and pristine beaches that draw honeymoon couples from around the world have been empty for weeks since a government order to close all resorts. That has left an army of migrant workers jobless.
Like Singapore, which recorded a large number of coronavirus cases among migrants living in tightly-packed dorms, the Maldives is heavily dependent on foreign labor.
About half of the 150,000 people in the two square kilometers that make up the capital, Male, are workers from Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka living in teeming alleys that are a haven for the virus.
“There is huge uncertainty and panic,” said Zakir Hossain, 39, who had worked in a Male restaurant until March’s shutdown.
He said he has not been paid for more than two months.
“We are worried about the disease. All the Bangladeshi workers live in congested conditions,” he said.
Like many migrants — who share rooms and even beds between shifts — Hossain lives in a single room on a backstreet with four other Bangladeshis.
Outside, security forces stop the laborers going out on the streets.
Authorities acknowledge conditions in Male for foreign workers are poor, and say they are moving thousands into better housing out of the capital.
But opposition politicians have criticized the plans, labeling the treatment of such workers as “inhuman”.