The government intervened and helped 10 Bhutanese women leave for Qatar four days after they were intercepted by airport officials in New Delhi who suspected them of carrying fake visas.
The women had left the country to work in the Middle Eastern country without registering with an authorised agent in the country.
Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji said that the women were stopped as they were boarding a flight to Qatar on March 1. The government enquired the employer/company and officials in Qatar and found that the women had obtained work visas.
“So we let them go. But the scenario (questions that have arisen with the incident) is being investigated,” he said. The government, he said, interviewed a suspected agent, who denied the charge.
There are strict Covid-19 protocols in place for travelling abroad. But the foreign minister said that people are permitted to travel with valid reasons upon signing an undertaking letter.
Lyonpo Dr Tandi Dorji said that the women stated to the government that they had found jobs themselves and were travelling without help from agents.
However, he added that the government would not have encouraged them to work in the company had they gone through the prescribed channel. He reasoned that Bhutanese employees had, in the past, faced issues related to payments and facilities they were entitled to in the company.
The government, he said, had repeatedly notified jobseekers to go abroad only through registered agents to prevent unfortunate incidents. He also said that jobseekers were not allowed to go abroad as domestic help.
According to the foreign minister, the women are working as salespersons and coffee baristas. “The women are safe and working.”
But he said that the Bhutanese people should learn lessons that they can encounter troubles and even get duped if they do not follow the government directive.
“If they had gone through a registered Bhutanese agent, then we could have held that particular agent liable,” he said, adding that no agent was traced as of yesterday.
He said Bhutanese women in the past have been cheated and duped. However, he added that the latest incident was not a case of human trafficking.
The government had spent about USD 700,000 to rescue 160 Bhutanese women from Iraq in January this year. About 32 women are being investigated and charged for sending the women to Iraq.
Lyonpo Dr Tandi Dorji said that the processing of documents for overseas employment will now be carried out by the immigration department. It was previously done by the labour and human resources ministry.
The government has now written to governments of the Middle Eastern countries requesting them to issue work visas to Bhutanese jobseekers only if they produce official documents from the Bhutanese government.