Yangchen C Rinzin 

 A relief flight yesterday brought home 132 Bhutanese women evacuated from Iraq upon the command of His Majesty The King.

According to a press release from the foreign ministry, over 160 women were trafficked to Iraq in the last few years through illegal Bhutanese agents by colluding with foreign agents, which are unauthorised and illegal in Bhutan.

These women were promised good job opportunities abroad, and they were not told they would be sent to Iraq. “Once there, they were made to work in inhospitable conditions, and often subject to abuse,” the press release stated.

“These women were not even allowed to leave freely, as their passports were taken away by the employers.”

The press release stated that with the deep concerned about the situation, His Majesty commanded to use every effort and resource to bring these women home safely. Following which a joint task force was formed to bring them home safely.

Three groups of women were already brought home earlier, where these women were given medical attention and counselling at the facility quarantine. They also received kidu through the Druk Gyalpo’s Relief Kidu apart from reuniting with their families.   

However, there are still many Bhutanese women scattered in different groups in Iraq where the Royal Bhutanese Embassy in Kuwait is working to find and bring them home.

Despite the difficulty in rescuing Bhutanese women amidst Covid-19 pandemic and political condition in Iraq, the press release stated that the rescue was possible because of help received from local authorities in Iraq, the International Organization for Migration, embassies of foreign countries, NGOs, and individuals.

Meanwhile, the government also urged people to be cautious of any unauthorised person claiming to be an overseas employment agent.

In an earlier interview with Kuensel, a police official said that police was investigating the case based on some of the Bhutanese agents they have identified.

Most of these agents had sent the women to earn money where they (agents) earned about USD 1,200 to 3,000 for each girl just for sending them to Iraq.

It was also found that earlier victims have turned agents and sent other women to Iraq. Police are investigating the case based on “debt bondage” and trafficking.