Yangchen C Rinzin 

A chartered Drukair flight today will take back 127 Bhutanese to the Middle East to resume their jobs. Of the total, 24 Bhutanese are bound for Dubai and 103 for Kuwait.

They are employed in various companies in Kuwait and Dubai before they returned to the country follwoing the Covid-19 pandemic.

Many of them had come home on unpaid leave for six months due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Some were stranded in Bhutan after they had come for vacation and international flights were cancelled.

The returnees said that since they have secured a job in the Middle East, they decided to leave.

Gyembo, who works with Starbucks in Kuwait, said that they felt guilty to continue depending on the Royal Kidu. Their return, he said, would lessen the burden on the government and unemployment situation at home.

“There are people in worse situation than us who are unemployed or laid off in the tourism sector, including those overseas returnees who had resigned or were terminated by their companies.”

A few of them tried applying for work unsuccessfully and with the increasing unemployment scenario, their chances appeared slim.

Another returnee, Sherab said that although there are projects to solve the unemployment issues, they had better opportunities abroad.

“We can’t be selfish and take job opportunities here when we already have a job in Kuwait,” Sherab said. “At least if we return, we can continue to earn and help families like we used to.”

Many were on unpaid leave and sent home with the promise they would be employed upon returning, but some continued to get 20 percent of the salary and the companies also rented apartments for them in Kuwait.

Some companies even paid for a return ticket, and few would receive airfare refund.

Another returnee Karma said that usually if a person goes out of Kuwait for more than six months, the visa is cancelled.    

“However, this time our visas were considered and instead extended for another one year,” she said. “We decided to leave only after our manager sent us the letter signed assuring the job, and we had to show this to the government.”

With many returning despite the high risk from Covid-19, many said that virus would infect anyone if an individual is not careful. This is why they chose to return instead of sitting idle.

“Our friends in the Middle East who are still there said that as long as health protocols are followed it’s still safe to work,” Karma Choden said. “Companies provide all the safety gears, and we decided to leave instead of adding pressure on the government.”

The Foreign Affairs ministry arranged a Drukair flight to Kuwait and Dubai to facilitate their return.

The ministry arranged the flight after a group of returnees had approached the ministry with the request to facilitate their return.

South Asia and the Middle East division focal person, Namgay Choden said that several other Bhutanese have also approached the ministry expressing their interest to return to their workplace in Gulf Countries and the Middle East.

“The ministry will arrange such flights based on requests of Bhutanese wishing to return to their workplace,” she said.

The returnees also tested negative for Covid-19 on RT-PCR yesterday. The returnees paid an airfare of Nu 42,000 each.

About 2,000 Bhutanese working in Gulf countries and the Middle East had returned home till date due to the pandemic through repatriation flights arranged by the ministry.

Undertaking letter submitted to the ministry states that if an emergency is declared abroad, they will take full responsibility and government will not be in a position to provide any support and if they wish to return they should obtain clearances and arrange their travel.

They also agreed that should they return to Bhutan, they would undergo a quarantine period prescribed by the government and bear all the expenses as charged by the health ministry for quarantine, testing and treatment.