Nima Wangdi 

Seven Bhutanese, who flew to Kathmandu with Drukair yesterday morning, were denied entry and deported immediately after they did not have prior visas.

They travelled with travel documents that the foreign ministry’s passport division issued in place of the ordinary passport after the division ran out of ordinary passport booklets.

According to sources, a Bhutanese travelling to Nepal with an ordinary passport can avail visa on arrival but the seven travellers with travel documents required prior visas. They arrived at Paro airport at 12:33pm yesterday.

Drukair officials said that they facilitated the travel following the notification that they received from the foreign ministry (MoFA). “Bhutanese travellers with ordinary passports did not require prior visas.”

The ministry immediately issued a travel advisory notifying the public that any Bhutanese intending to travel to Nepal with a recently issued travel document in lieu of an ordinary passport have to process a prior visa from the Nepalese Embassy in New Delhi. The advisory also stated that the ministry would assist travellers to obtain visas.

Bhutanese travelling with a travel document to any other country are asked to check for the visa procedures and requirement of documents to process visa before travelling.

“The MoFA had notified all foreign governments concerned of the interim arrangement taken to facilitate the travel of Bhutanese abroad. Despite the efforts made information dissemination has been slow and did not reach the authorities concerned at the working level in time,” MoFA’s travel advisory stated.

The advisory stated that the ministry deeply regretted the inconvenience caused to the Bhutanese travellers and would continue to ensure that Bhutanese citizens can travel abroad without any hindrance.

Meanwhile, people are questioning who should be held responsible for the inconvenience as travellers have spent huge amounts of money on air tickets. People said the MoFA did not notify people about the requirement of prior visas. “The ministry issued the travel advisory only after the people were deported.”

The officials of MoFA could not be reached for comments.

Royal Bhutanese Embassy in Bangkok also issued a note requesting Thailand’s foreign ministry to inform their agencies about the issuance of travel documents to the Bhutanese travellers as an interim measure.

The circular also requested their support to facilitate smooth travel to or through Thailand for Bhutanese citizens holding travel documents in lieu of ordinary passports. “Issuance of visa on arrival is also requested with the highest considerations.”

The passport division ran out of ordinary passport booklets following a sudden rise in the number of people applying for passports after the lockdown ended. The passport division has been issuing travel documents as a substitute since August 20.

Travel documents will be issued for those applying for passports until the division receives new ordinary passport booklets from Germany in October or earlier.

The division issued over 19,000 ordinary passports to date since the lockdown relaxation began earlier this year. The division issued over 13,000 passports in a year before the pandemic.

The division issued more than 8,000 travel documents since August 20 and has a backlog of applications.