More than 100 Bhutanese escorted home from the hills

About 108 Bhutanese, including school students, monks and other Bhutanese from the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM)-affected hill stations of Darjeeling and Kalimpong arrived in Phuentsholing yesterday.

The Phuentsholing drungkhag officials and Royal Bhutan Police (RBP), who had visited the affected places on June 22, escorted them home.

Among the students, 30 boys studying from grade III to XII were from St. Joseph school in Darjeeling, while two were from other schools.

The students met their parents around 11am yesterday.

Sixty-three monks from Jangsa Dechenchholing monastery and 13 other Bhutanese in Kalimpong also reached Phuentsholing around 5:30pm yesterday.

A monk, Sonam Dhendup, said that although there was not much problem in Kalimpong, they came home fearing there would be a shortage of drinking water and vegetables.

He said Kalimpong residents have to buy drinking water. “With the strike, shops are closed most of the time.”

He said they are thankful to the government for bringing them home.

A student, Tumyang Hang Limbu, a first year BA student of Government College in Kalimpong said he skipped the practical examination that was scheduled on July 5. “We discussed with the college authorities,” he said.

There are still nine college students in Kalimpong. They were waiting to complete their practical examinations but the students will have to forgo it and return home tomorrow. Drungkhag and police officials have discussed with college authorities to bring the nine students.

Meanwhile, there are 86 students stuck in Sikkim, who couldn’t come home as the ongoing GJM strikes have blocked the roads.

The Department of Law and Order (DLO), Phuentsholing drungkhag office and police are in touch with the district magistrate office in Sikkim.

Drungkhag officials said the magistrate office in Sikkim has already arranged a public transport. The students will be escorted to Phuentsholing tomorrow.

At the Meet the Press yesterday, education minister Norbu Wangchuk said the good relation between Bhutan and India, cascading from the top leadership down to the local authorities, help Bhutanese in such situations.

He said the government has set up hotlines to disseminate information to the student association leaders and students studying in the troubled areas.

The education minister said that the ministry has records of Bhutanese students studying in tertiary institutions abroad. “The problem that I’ve seen is we don’t know how many and where the younger children are studying in Darjeeling and Kalimpong,” he said.

He said that despite the ministry repeatedly asking parents to register with the ministry, parents have not done it.

The government is coordinating in the repatriation efforts through a chat group with ministers and secretaries of education, foreign, and home ministries, and the Prime Minister as members to share information updates instantly.

Rajesh Rai and  Tshering Palden

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