Maldives as a rapidly developing nation experiences a fair share of the global migration pattern which has been on the rise during the past century.
With the economy expanding, and industries such as tourism and construction growing at fast rate – they employ a great proportion of migrant laborers including Bangladeshi migrants. IOM estimates the Bangladeshi migrant population to be in the range from 50,000 to 120,000, which accounts for 10-25% of the total population. Many of these Bangladeshi workers live undocumented and under exploitative conditions. Despite the hardship and challenges, why do they choose to leave their beloved home country to go and live a foreign country?
It is questions such as these and more that was explored through the art of film-making in the programme Aikya: Migrant Film Series, a collaborative effort of UNDP Maldives and The Government of Japan. The title “Aikya” which translates to “unity” in Bengali precisely captures the vision of bridging the social rifts between Maldivians and the large migrant community of Maldives. This initiative aimed at empowering young people towards exploring these social issues through the medium of film.
The programme was designed to incorporate 8 days of training on film-making by industry experts, post which the participants produce four short-films capturing migrant lives and their experiences. Each film focusing on a sub-theme comes together to tell one over-arching story of ‘Migrant Lives.’
The story begins with understanding the life of a migrant worker as depicted by the short film ‘Emmen’, which provides a heartbreaking account of exploitation and constant hardship faced by a migrant worker in his attempt to provide for his family.
An integral part of understanding the experience of migrant lives is understanding the continuous prejudice and discrimination they are subjected to. Prejudice fueled by biased misconceptions often translate to discrimination and exploitation of human rights as depicted by the next two short films ‘Eh’dhuvas’ and ‘Ekai.’ The former takes the audience through one day of a migrant worker’s life in the Maldives highlighting the various forms of prejudice and exploitation at work. The next film too takes a similar tone where it demonstrates the stories of two migrant workers woven together by the common thread of discrimination.
Moving forward, to achieve a peaceful and inclusive society, we as a community should learn to disassociate from prejudices and take corrective measures to tackle discriminatory practices against our migrant communities. In this regard, the last film of the series, ‘Ummeedhu’ advocates for equal treatment of migrant workers, ending the story with a glimpse of hope.
Reflecting on the lessons learnt through this journey, Maahil Saeed (participant) explains that in contrast to popular beliefs “most migrant workers remain optimistic and hopeful for better changes.” Keeping the optimism alive, Jumain Faisal (participant) adds that through the experience he discovered that “migrant workers are just like any regular Maldivian trying to live their lives and working to support their family.”
Understanding the similarities between the local and migrant populations can go a long way to overcome prejudice and tackle discriminatory practices. It is equally important to welcome the diverse cultures and perspectives the migrant communities bring in, to embrace the differences and to learn to co-exist harmoniously.
Photos by Ashwa Faheem
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