Staff reporter

The lure for better jobs abroad and the rising unemployment problem at home are making more Bhutanese susceptible to exploitation and harassment.

In the last two weeks, the government rescued two girls, who went to Iraq to work through private individuals, claiming to be employment agents.

The foreign minister Dr Tandi Dorji said that the government is studying where the other girls are located in Iraq.

It is estimated that there are about 400 Bhutanese working in Iraq. Recently about 40 women left for Iraq.

It is reported that the women left for Iraq through unregistered agents and are now wanting to come back to the country because of difficult working conditions.

The minister, during the meet the press session yesterday, said that in the last two weeks, he along with the police, 

Department of Law and Order (DLO) and National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC) framed a standard operating procedure (SOP).

“The SOP specifies how to help women who want to go and work in such countries and how to help them when in need,” he said. “Without any procedures in place and formal talks with the government officials of those countries, many problems arise today.”

He also said the Kuwait ambassador and embassy officials in Delhi have written to all the countries where Bhutanese girls are working to grant them the permission to process the visas. “This will ensure that no such problems will arise in the future.”

Lyonpo Dr Tandi Dorji said that once the foreign ministry has the approval to process the visa, they could question the girls properly and lodge visas.

He said the government is investigating Bhutanese people operating as illegal agents and sending the girls. “There are two Bhutanese, who are stationed in Iraq and Bahrain, and are taking girls from Bhutan. We identified them and are investigating.”

Sources said that the so called agents in Iraq seized mobile phones of Bhutanese who were trying to get in touch with the ‘agents’ in Bhutan or seeking help to leave the country.

Recognising the problems, the minister said parents, whose daughters have become victims should come to the government and tell about their situation instead of going to the media, as the media will not be able to do anything,” he said. “If they come to the government, we will try to resolve the issue.”

He said that government is trying to create awareness on countries that have best laws or working conditions and the government would advise the youth which countries to choose. “If youth prefer to go to other countries without anyone’s permission, then there is nothing much we could do.”

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said the labour and foreign ministries are working together to advise youth to choose countries with good bilateral relationship with Bhutan and where the working conditions are better.

He said most of the girls who go abroad looking for work opportunities come from poor family background and they go with the hope to earn some income so that they could help their families back home. “But the main problem is people who lure the girls and sent them.”

Issues about Bhutanese girls going to Iraq to work through private unlicensed agents and who are now in difficult circumstances have surfaced.

This comes after the labour ministry’s numerous notifications cautioning general public to be aware of fake and unauthorised operators advertising overseas job vacancies on social media.

Victims have claimed that the unauthorised operators have lured them by presenting pictures of the work conditions and remunerations as high as USD 400 to 450 a month along with tips.

It is reported that when they reach the destination, they were not paid an their monthly salaries.