The relations between Bangladesh and the Maldives have never seen any vicissitude since the inception. Both the countries have stood together in difficult times and supported each other in international forums. Gradually, the cooperation between the two countries has deepened and their relations are heading towards a new era.
Since the beginning of the Bangladesh-Maldives diplomatic relationship in 1978, both the countries have been sharing warm and friendly ties. These relations are based on goodwill, understanding and reciprocal cooperation.Bangladesh stands by the Maldives every time it faces a crisis and the island country always expresses its gratitude in return.
During its post-tsunami crisis, Bangladesh extended its hands through providing doctors, nurses, medical equipment and medicines. Bangladesh sent 1 lakh litres of drinking water and five mobile water treatment plants through a Navy vessel in December 2014 when the Maldives’ sole desalination plant – the Male' Water and Sewerage Company – caught fire which led to a state of emergency after its capital ran out of drinking water.
During the initial stage of the coronavirus pandemic, Bangladesh sent emergency medicines, medical and personal protective equipment, including masks, gloves, hand sanitiser and food items as a gesture of friendship.
Besides, aircraft of Bangladesh Air Force dropped stranded citizens of the Maldives to Male safely from Bangladesh and Nepal. A medical team of Bangladesh Army helped the Maldives government face the coronavirus pandemic staying in the island country for over two months.
Therefore, the prospects of the Bangladesh-Maldives relations to grow in strength are indeed enormous if they are pursued for mutual benefits and with mutual respect.
The Maldives is home to over 530,000 people, excluding migrants. The South Asian country hosts over 200,000 foreign workers. Of them, about 150,000 are Bangladeshis who work mostly in the construction and tourism sectors of the country. Some 60,000 of these workers have become irregular.The Maldives can regularise these undocumented Bangladeshi workers to ensure their basic rights.
Since the coronavirus began spreading worldwide, Bangladeshi migrant workers in the Maldives have been going through a tough time as the tourist-dependent economy of the country was hit hard by the pandemic.
Bangladesh brought over 10,000 of these workers back home on chartered flights. The country expects that the Maldives will allow regularisation and voluntary repatriation of the stranded workers as per their willingness.
Boosting trade and business would be a key in the relations between the two South Asian countries. The Maldives has shown interest in importing rice, pharmaceutical products, clay items and sand from Bangladesh.
Bangladesh exported goods worth around US$ 5 million to the Maldives in 2019-20 fiscal year while it imported items worth about US$ 50 million from the Maldives during the period.
Both the countries are keen on introducing a direct shipping link between them but Bangladesh is more interested in operating passenger carrier ships while the Maldives wants to initiate cargo ships.
There is an Air Services Agreement (ASA) between the two countries. Currently, Maldivian airline is operating from Male to Dhaka twice a week though no Bangladeshi airline is operating between Bangladesh and the Maldives.
Bangladesh and the Maldives have agreements and MoUs on education, health and information technology. Some of these accords have expired and require renewal.
Bangladesh has always been supporting the Maldives in the education sector so that its students can maximise their potential.
A good number of Maldivian students come to study medical science in Bangladesh and many medical students come here to complete their internship.
Bangladesh can increase the number of seats in its public and private universities, and medical and engineering colleges for the students of the Maldives and provide them scholarships.
Bangladesh Armed Forces offers different courses for the personnel of Maldives National Defence Force on a regular basis. Bangladesh Navy regularly sent ships to the Maldives on goodwill visits in the past.
Bangladesh also can offer the Maldives to build their smaller ships and crafts for its Coast Guard at the Naval Shipyard here.
Bangladesh and the Maldives are among the most vulnerable countries to climate change. A large portion of the population of both the countries is extremely vulnerable to climate change. Bangladesh has created a separate ‘Bangladesh Climate Change Trust Fund’ and allocated US$ 350 million from its own resources and began relocating climate refugees preparing new establishments.
The Maldives has also a strategic plan of action that provides a solid policy foundation to environmental sustainability, climate change adaptation and low carbon development.
Bangladesh along with Global Center on Adaptation (GCA) hosted the virtual Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) leaders’ event in October 2020 where the Maldives participated actively.
The two South Asian countries can work further on climate change adaptation and mitigation.
In short, Bangladesh and the Maldives have ample avenues of opportunities to explore to strengthen their relations and move forward ensuring mutual benefits.