Yangyel Lhaden  

Almost a year after the government spent millions to rescue women from Middle East countries, some have left for Bahrain and Qatar after obtaining  clearance from the National Covid-19 task force (NC19TF).

Although Kuensel could not obtain the exact number of people who left, it was learnt that they left after signing an undertaking letter.

According to a source, 10 women are scheduled to leave for Qatar on September 13. A woman has gathered her friends to work at her cousin’s restaurant in Qatar.  Two months ago a group of women moved to the Middle East. Some men have left for  Qatar this month privately.

However, the labour ministry that overlooks overseas employment has not allowed any Bhutanese to travel overseas for employment because of the pandemic.

An official working with an overseas agent questioned how Bhutanese were allowed to travel to the Middle East countries since agents were not permitted to send anyone.

He said that it is unclear how the NC19TF issued the clearance when labour ministry was not allowing them to operate. “Labour ministry has strictly informed overseas employment agents that we should not engage in sending Bhutanese overseas.”

The official said it is not fair when some people are travelling and they are not allowed to operate. “We have clients inquiring with us on daily basis.”

Although labour ministry officials refused to comment, sources who are aware about the issue said it was illegal for Bhutanese to travel overseas for employment if they did not route through labour ministry or agencies authorised by the ministry.

A source said that those who travelled with registered agencies have safety protocols and the ministry verified with companies abroad for salary, working environment, and living conditions, before sending them. “The safety of individuals is not guaranteed if they go privately without the consent of the ministry.”

An official with an overseas agent said Bhutanese travelling at their own risk privately could result in human trafficking. “Human trafficking case in Middle East was among those individuals who travelled on their own by contacting the company directly or through friends.”

She said availing visa for other Middle East countries other than Kuwait was easy which was why many Bhutanese were going to Qatar and Bahrain. “There is high demand for workers in the Middle East right now. Companies tell us they would give us commission if we could send Bhutanese.”

According to Regulation of Bhutanese Overseas Employment Agents 2011, no person shall recruit and deploy a Bhutanese citizen to work overseas without a valid license issued under this Regulation. “Any person guilty of an offence under section 2.14 shall be charged for human trafficking under Penal Code of Bhutan, 2004.”

An official with an overseas agent said she inquired about the 10 women to an official with labour ministry, and found the ministry did not approve it. “They managed to get travel clearance from NC19TF.”

Kuensel learnt that most people travelling to the Middle East were former employees who had contract with the company and since they had no money to pay to the agencies they were contacting directly.

Sources claimed the member secretary with NC19TF issued approval after Department of Disaster Management studied and authenticated the documents and foreign ministry studied the Covid-19 situation in that country. Department of Disaster Management under chairmanship of NC19TF Secretariat is in charge of verifying documents and issuing travel clearance.

Kuensel tried to contact Department of Disaster Management but officials did not comment.

Edited by Tashi Dema