Construction workers demand that they be sent home

Yangyel Lhaden

Frustrated with the lockdown that disrupted work and the festival season approaching, a huge group, about 400 expatriate construction workers from as far as Paro protested outside the Indian Embassy yesterday, threatening to walk back home, if they are not allowed to go.

The commotion was quickly dispersed with the help of the Royal Bhutan Police. The crowd of workers extended from the lower gate of the Embassy to the Zhichenkhar building, popularly known as CBS Dzong.

Some workers claimed that they were frustrated as the embassy informed them that vehicles were arranged for them to go home yesterday. “We came with our belongings as early as 5 am thinking that there are buses arranged,” said one. Embassy officials trying to control the crowd said they had nothing to comment.

The construction workers claimed that they had registered to go home with the embassy more than three months ago. Some registered only days ago.

The patrolling team of De-Suups and police were taken by surprise when the workers started shouting and protesting. The workers said that they wanted to forcefully let the officials give them permission to go home. “If we are given the permit, we are ready to walk home,” said one.

However, after police intervened, they were dispersed peacefully to their camps. Officer in Command (OC) of Thimphu Police Station, Gembo Penjor said that it was unlawful to protest in the country.

Most workers said they wanted to go home as they have families to look after. Some claimed that they were out of work for more than two months and living was expensive. Many said onion and tomato were not available and even if it was it was not affordable. Many are worried if there would be another lockdown in the country.

Kapudin Miya, a construction worker said that he applied for the permit three months ago and he was desperate to go home to his family. “My family is struggling,” he said. Another worker, Phalanath said he came with his belongings after he found out that his contractor lied to him saying that his name was registered three months ago.

Meanwhile, some workers said that Embassy Officials have informed them they would be sent in the following days according to their registration numbers.

Every day there is a long line of Indians waiting to register at the India house to go home. The Embassy had been assisting workers to leave for home.

In May, two buses with 17 workers left Phuntsholing for Assam. On June 3, bus with labourers went home, and on September 5, 145 Punstsangchu Project II workers left for India.

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