Honourable Ministers; Representatives of the United Nations; members of the UN community; Ladies and Gentlemen:
We have just seeing a very moving video on the human development report of 2009. I guess all of us have been touched by issue of mobility and migration in some way. I think most of us who are in this room have experienced this in our families, especially the international migration that is within Maldives.
Today, almost 1/3 of Maldivian population lives in Male’. That means a lot of people have moved from the rural areas. My parents, both my mother and father, are from other islands.
Some move because they want more opportunities, others move because they are forced to – because they are seeking freedom. We just saw people who have been forced to move for those reasons: both economic and political.
Several people within the country have moved in search of better economic opportunities. But also many of our people moved abroad for political reasons, because we didn’t have freedom in this county to express our views and to exercise our human rights. Many of us had to spend time abroad because of that. And those of us who could afford left the country and many of them still live overseas. Others were forced to subjugate their free will to the dictates of autocratic rulers.
The change that has taken place in the Maldives in the past 10 months is the availability of the opportunity for the people in Maldives to remain in the country and not to be forced to migrate because of their beliefs. Therefore, democracy and good governance is a very important part of the issue that we are discussing today.
As Mr Arun Kashyap just described, development is about freedom. Development is about choices. People move in search of those choices, in search of quality education, for employment, housing and for dignity.
In the Maldives there is a lot of internal migration taking place. As I said, a third of the population live in Malé or around Malé. And as a result this is putting a lot of pressure on Malé as a habitat, while it is also depopulating other parts of the country. So today we find wide disparities between urban areas and rural areas.
Most of the young people have moved in search of employment and other opportunities while the young people, women and the elderly remain on their rural islands.
The necessary conditions to promote human development in those islands remain unfulfilled. On the other hand, the influx of population from other islands to Malé has created unbearable constrains on Malé itself.
Today I am told that this is one of the most densely populated places on earth. We have over 550 people per hectare in Male’. I am told that in a two to three bedroom apartment we have 15 – 20 people living and we also hear that because there isn’t enough adequate accommodation people take shifts to sleep. We have heard this for a couple of years.
In addition to that, Male’ has changed politically. Young people who have grown up in Male’ may not have realised how much it has changed. As a child I used to be able to play football on the street, and that wasn’t too long ago. I am not that old. But today, it is dangerous to walk on the streets, especially for children, women and elderly. The streets of Male’ are not a place for the weak. It is a dangerous place.
Similarly, there has been an increase in violence. Almost everyday we hear of gang violence in Male’ and we continue to hear stories of violence against women and children. Issue of drugs and crime is one of the most urgent issues we are trying to address at the moment. Because of the crowdedness, children have no place to enjoy themselves. Actually, they don’t have places at home and they don’t have places in school. So they end up in the streets. They don’t have places at home because homes are too crowded – too many people living in the home, there is too much conflict. They don’t have places in school because we have multiple shifts in schools and once you finish your class you have to get out and let somebody else come in. Where do you go? I think this is creating unreasonable demands on children and they are forced to live on the streets. They are forced to be exposed to peer-pressure and also dangerous elements such as drug dealers and drug peddlers. Increasingly, children are being recruited as peddlers.
So these are the kinds of strains we are facing in Male’. We are also facing an increase in migration, expatriates. Almost 1 in every 4 people in Maldives is an expatriate. Most of them are employed in elementary jobs. I understand about 70% of those jobs are taken by expatriate labour. At the same time, about 38,000 skilled jobs are also taken up by expatriate workers.
I know we began importing labour out of necessity. But I think it also became an opportunity for those who wanted to exploit. As a result, the recruitment of foreign workers spiralled uncontrolled and without proper regulatory systems. That means on the one hand you are also unable to protect the rights of the expatriate workers. They are exposed to all forms of exploitation. And this is something that we working in government and in the industries have to take into account. But a lot of these people also work in the domestic sector. It is not only the industry, it is not only in the government, but also the general population, have to have a much better understanding of the situation and how to treat expatriate workers in this country.
The other side of this is this is also giving opportunity for unscrupulous employers to bringing in inexpensive labour and to displace Maldivian workers. Here, I think the government has the responsibility to ensure that proper regulations are in place to protect local skills and local workers as well, especially at a time when so many young people are unemployed. They are turning to drugs, and also at a time when the public sector is over inflated. We have to manage it differently; we have to streamline the government bureaucracy. What that means is inevitably some redundancies. And unless we can create opportunities for these people, to find alternative employment, it will be very difficult for the government to manage its economic reform agenda.
So as you heard, there is a fairly broad range of public policies that are being adopted now to address issues related to mobility and migration in the country.
We understand there are various barriers to mobility. In fact, one of the cornerstone policies of this government is to create mobility within the country. You must have heard it repeatedly from us, from His Excellency the President in his remarks that people have been sentenced to their own islands because of lack of transportation. People just don’t travel from one island to another. Many people are born, they live and they die on the same island. This of course has improved in the last several years but it hasn’t nearly created the opportunities for equal access to services. Even when you have set up quality health service or quality education service in the islands it is largely available to the inhabitants of that particular island – not for those who live in nearby islands.
We just had this conference here on climate change and health. And the delegate from Indonesia was asking, ‘how do you make health services available during the monsoons?’ Because when the seas are rough it is hard for people to get from one island to another. Especially if you don’t have any form of transportation, you can’t get around even if the whether is good. So the government has now started an interisland transportation programme. The first such project has been initiated in Thaa, Laamu, and Dhaalu atolls. The experiences there, is very promising. We have been operating it for just over a month now and we understand that over 2600 people have used the ferry service within the province and this is very good news because that means there is heavy demand for it. People in fact have been restricted to their islands. This system is now being expanded to other provinces. Yesterday we’ve signed more contracts with private sector to operate transportation services and today I understand we are also signing for the southern provinces.
In addition to transportation, obviously we have to improve the living conditions on all the islands. What this means is we really have to pay attention to employment opportunities. People have to be able to work closer to home so that they don’t have to leave their families and live abroad or live in other islands far away as either internal or external migrants. It is not in the interest of the families and future generations to have part of the family living separately for long periods.
Housing is another key issue. As I said people have moved to Male’ and there is overcrowding and housing is very inferior at most. There are some atolls where houses are being done so housing is not the key issue there. But there are other islands outside of Male’ which are also being attracting population – places like Hinnavaru, Naifaru, Thinadhoo- these are places where people are converging. And there we need to have better housing and accommodation. Similarly in Male’ and around Male’ we need to have more housing facilities. So the government has also started a programme where local housing will be made available to families over the next...or within this programme will soon take off over the next year or so, we should be able to provide more housing facilities.
Obviously quality education services and health services are also important. We have to depend on expatriate labour largely for education and health services in the atolls. And here again you have skilled workers who are finding it quite difficult actually to live in this islands. Most of our skilled workers are currently coming from India and many of them are vegetarians. And as we are a largely fish consuming country, unless they change to include fish as part of their vegetarian diet, it is going to be quite difficult. But in addition to that it is important for us to raise awareness among our communities to be more hospitable receptive and accommodating to these foreign workers in the country.
With the improvement of the transportation system people will have access to better health services. Either it is the regional hospital or the education development centre, we will be able to have these services accessible to a larger population.
In addition to that, I think it is also important for us to mention that because our population is largely youth population, we need to pay attention to sports and recreation. And here, the Ministry of Human Resources, Youth and Sports have already established youth centres in many islands. Their activities have to be expanded and here we week the assistance of both private sector in industry and also communities to pay more attention to sports and recreational activities for young people.
Is goes without saying that Maldives is fully committed to achieving the Millennium Development Goals and human rights. We have recently become member of the International Labour Organisation and we are currently looking at the steps that need to be taken to ratify some of the basic conventions of the ILO.
I hope that as a result of this discussion that we have started today, the human development report and I understand also just a couple of years ago the UNFPA had this report on migration. So there is lot of insight, experience and knowledge with regards to this. I hope that as the UNDP Representative just said we will see migration as something that has to be managed, that it requires better management systems and not something to be afraid of.
Once again, thank you very much for giving me this opportunity. Thank you for to UNDP and UN Community for bringing out this very important report on mobility and human development.
Thank you very much.