Council: National Council (NC) is calling the government to intervene urgently to address major challenges confronted by labour and immigration departments to keep up with rising problem of illegal immigration.

A report on illegal immigration presented by NC’s legislative committee in the on-going session stated that the some of the challenges faced by law enforcement agencies like Department of Immigration and Department of Labour are sheer lack of appropriate working space, manpower shortage, transport facilities, inadequate service counters and training to develop professionalism.

“The need for adequate resources is critically felt now in view of opening of new highways along the southern Bhutan’s porous border giving easy access for illegal immigrants,” the committee’s report stated.

Given the long stretch of porous border in the south, the magnitude of illegal workers and immigrants could not be underestimated, the report cautioned.

“If left unchecked, it is possible that illegal immigrants could pose grave threat to the safety and security of our country,” NC’s legislative committee chairperson, Sangay Khandu, said.

In the light of numerous constraints and challenges faced by the immigration department, National Council recommended the need to urgently address these issues in the larger interest of the country’s security against the rising number of illegal immigrants and regional tourists.

The report reiterated that based on the priority, the issue of much-needed additional manpower, infrastructure and other facilities required by law enforcement agencies at the existing check points should be provided in the interest of national security. “During a visit to Phuentsholing, the committee found that immigration does not even have a proper office. They are operating from a small room catering to hundreds of clients everyday,” Trashi Yangtse NC member, Tashi Phuntsho said, adding that the immigration department is also riddled with shortage of manpower.

The committee also pointed out that no adequate training was provided to the immigration personnel for professional development.

“The public servants serving here were not even provided transportation facilities,” Tashi Phuntsho said.

The committee, therefore, recommended that there is an urgent need to improve infrastructures and professional development to cater to the increasing number of regional tourists and expatriate workers. This reinforced manpower and infrastructure would also help detect and curb the entry of illegal immigrants into our country, as per the committee’s report.

The house also deliberated on the need to ensure safety of law enforcing personnel at the border towns serving the nation. Tashi Phuntsho said that as of now there is no security provided to the immigration and labour department officials working at the border areas.

“Leaving the law enforcing agencies unprotected can also become a security threat for the country,” Tashi Phuntsho said.

As per the committee’s report, the need for security protection stems from the threat the families of law enforcing officials have been receiving. “They were sharing stories of getting threatened from people across the border for refusing to allow entries to illegal immigrants,” Tashi Phuntsho said, adding that the officials also shared stories of having to stop going across the border.

“Both parents and children have to stop from entering the town across the border because of fear,” Tashi Phuntsho said.

One of the serious challenges faced by the immigration office in Phuentsholing is the lack of equipment to detect fake Indian voter cards. The NC members reported instances of people from neighbouring countries trying to enter Bhutan using fake voter cards.

“Even when applications for entry permit are rejected for producing fake voter identity card, officials reported instances of Consulate General Office of the Government of India certifying some of them as genuine Indian nationals,” Tashi Phuntsho said.

Meanwhile, some NC members urged to permanently reject entry under such circumstances. “The details of immigrants coming with fake voter cards should be noted down to reject them even if they return with a new one from Consulate General Office,” Mongar NC member Sonam Wangchuk said.

The house also urged construction of checkposts on new highways along the country’s vulnerable border areas. National Council will, however, present its final deliberations at later date after the legislative committee’s in-house deliberations.

Tempa Wangdi