Even as the initiative was well-meant – to address unemployment situation in the country – the government’s overseas employment programme has created more furore than calm. In the last few months, there have been many reports of Bhutanese workers abroad who were ill treated by their employers. Some of them, upon arrival in a foreign country where they were placed to work, found that there were no jobs waiting for them. A few have come back; there are those still who wish to return home but are not able to. And now we hear about Bhutanese in Samoa who are reportedly being made to endure hard and humiliating circumstances.

Labour ministry was alerted by an email from one Sonam Bobby from Thimphu. It says that Samten Dendup of Sergyel Consultancy had sent Bhutanese jobseekers to work in Samoa illegally on student visa. Sergyel Consultancy is a registered education consultancy and international visa outsourcing agent authorised by the Regional Trade and Industry Office. Samten Dendup, who had earlier sent Bhutanese girls to Kuwait to work as housemaids, has quietly disappeared since. Sergyel Consultancy is under lock and key and its proprietor cannot be contacted. The girls were later rescued and brought home.

Now with Samten Dendup denying the allegations and the ministries concerned not able to take any sensible actions, the fate of many a young Bhutanese abroad hang in the air. No answer has been forthcoming from Samoa and Samten Dendup could be contacted only through his facebook account. Samten Dendup may not be a fraud, but his quiet and abrupt disappearance is suspicious. Investigation and look out should extend beyond his facebook account because that can be done. We are talking about security, dignity and lives of Bhutanese jobseekers abroad. Currently, there are 2,913 female and 1,345 male Bhutanese working in 14 countries including India, Israel, and the UAE. That the consultancy has shut its office is not an answer. Worried parents and relatives deserve better.

What appears to be at fault is link, rather the lack of it, between ministries and consultancy firms. Because there is no effective collaboration and monitoring system in place, some firms walk in just for quick money. We have long recognised this gap. It is about time we fixed it.

In the meanwhile, efforts must be made to find out how true the allegations are and how many Bhutanese are there in Samoa working as housemaids if indeed there are. We need to find out how they ended up there and what ordeals they are going through. The danger is that baseless allegations could be very damaging.