Yangchen C Rinzin

Thirteen Bhutanese women who were sent to Iraq through unregistered agents and were reportedly abused and harassed were rescued so far.

These women were sent to Iraq to work through private individuals, claiming to be employment agents. Of the 13, four women had managed to return on their own after paying the agents in Iraq.

The government managed to rescue nine girls through a ”diplomatic process” with the help of International Organisation of Migration (IOM) in Baghdad, Iraq’s capital city, on March 13, according to foreign minister Dr Tandi Dorji.

However, while returning to Bhutan, one of the women was detected with fever and in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic in India, they were kept under quarantine for 21 days in Delhi.

On April 7, the women were brought to Bhutan and were quarantined for 21 days. After completing their quarantine period on April 30, the women are now back home with the families.

It is reported that at least 170 women are already in Iraq who were sent by illegal Bhutanese agents.

Lyonpo Dr Tandi Dorji said that the Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted the rescue process. “It is likely to take time to save the rest of them, as the rescue operation is on halt right now,” Lyonpo said. “This is because many offices are closed and there are lockdowns.”

However, lyonpo said that they are continuing to work on this case and getting help from IOM to identify the women, locate and rescue. There is also a representative that is helping to locate the Bhutanese in Iraq.

“We’re trying to be in touch with all the girls. Embassies are also helping and had it not been for Covid-19, we could have helped a few more girls.”

Lyonpo said that from the identified, they have listed women in two categories like urgent and very urgent. The very urgent list includes women who were threatened, in danger, physical or sexually abused, harassed, no payment or not well.

“We’re working to rescue the ones in this category first,” Lyonpo added. Lyonpo said that they managed to locate some Bhutanese women in Kurdistan, but were not abused. They have told government officials that they are being treated well, paid on time and are in good situation.

However, a majority of Bhutanese in Iraq had been requesting to return home and shared the torture they are going through with the government.

The Royal Bhutan Police is also 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.

A police source said that there are three women with the IOM currently but are stuck in Iraq and they could not return to Bhutan due to Covid-19 situation.

Meanwhile, The Office of Attorney General charged two women last month to Thimphu dzongkhag court for the attempt of trafficking. The two unregistered agents tried to send three Bhutanese to Iraq, with the promise of better jobs in 2018.

The three Bhutanese women were rescued from Delhi airport while planning to fly to Baghdad, Iraq. The two agents were also arrested.

The two women who are related to the Iraq case are charged for trafficking based on six elements, which are recruitment, transportation, threat, deceptive, and illegal purpose.