Investigations into the Rangtse Nye accident in Haa have revealed that the contractor brought in foreign workers illegally under the cover of darkness to bypass border immigration checkpoint.

In the accident that occurred at the wee hours of April 24, three non-Bhutanese workers were killed and 10 injured. The driver of the bolero, who is from Tsirang, was also admitted at Dorokha basic health unit (BHU).

While the case gained attention because lives were lost and police registered it as a motor vehicle accident, contractors bringing in illegal foreign workers happen to be an issue that immigration officials are grappling with every day.

Immigration officials also said they would never be able to do their job if they have to take each and every illegal foreign worker to court. “The most we can do is impose fine on our people, the contractors,” an official said.

A source in Samtse said people across the border know how many people enter the country illegally.

Official sources also confirmed illegal immigration poses a serious threat and challenge, particularly in the context of the 699kms open and porous border from Tendu in the west to Jomotsangkha in the east.

Of the 15 gewogs in Samtse, 12 shares border with the neighbouring Indian states of West Bengal and Sikkim, taking the total length to almost 60kms, which is highly porous. “It is difficult to track movement of people along this border, particularly at night,” a source said

Immigration department’s director, Pema L Dorji, said the department is entrusted with a critical mandate, which is to facilitate legitimate and lawful movement of people across our borders and to detect, apprehend and deport illegal immigrants.

“The department attaches the highest priority to shoulder its mandate by constantly assessing the state of our wherewithal so that we are well poised to address the challenges of our times in a robust manner,” he said. “This is being done through annual and mid-term reviews that have been institutionalised to take stock of the state of the department to see what measures need to be put in place to strengthen the department and to address new and emerging challenges that require attention.”

He said that the department is leveraging ICT, revamping and upgrading the Immigration Information and Monitoring System, enhancing vigilance and monitoring, augmenting human and other resources, capacity building and development of a competency-based framework.

“In fact, over the last few years, we have augmented the strength of regional immigration offices in Samtse, Phuentsholing, Gelephu and Samdrupjongkhar. All regions including Thimphu have mobile inspection teams that conduct routine and random inspections.”

Pema L. Dorji said the department works closely with the Department of Law and Order, the Royal Bhutan Police, dzongkhag and drungkhag administrations. “The regional immigration offices also sensitise local leaders and gewog administrative officers on immigration-related matters.”

It was learnt that with new roads and highways constructed, especially in border areas, the immigration department assesses the need to establish new checkpoints to deter movement of illegal immigrants.

The completion of integrated checkpoints (ICP) at Samtse border gate and Nganglam, at Rinchhending and Bumpagang would address some of the issues. ICPs will also be constructed in Gelephu and Samdrupjongkhar.

Meanwhile, Pema L. Dorji said Bhutanese should adhere to and respect immigration laws, rules and regulations as it is in the collective interest to serve and protect our nation. “As a small country, we all have a responsibility, individually and collectively.”

Tashi Dema