Challenges for Bhutanese in the Middle East

Bhutan has had 76 confirmed cases COVID-19 so far. There is also a good recovery rate with 38 patients who have re covered thus far. 90 percent of the patients are those who returned home from the Middle East.

As of now, the government has arranged 29 special flights (including road transportation) to evacuate 3,288 Bhutanese from abroad, of which 1,577 have returned from the Middle East. There are still 410 Bhutanese people left abroad who want to return home in four flights arranged.

140 Bhutanese from Kuwait returned on 26 June. The second flight scheduled on 29 June will bring home 80 Bhutanese from Singapore, the third flight on 2 July will come back with 50 Bhutanese from Delhi, and the fourth flight will return home with another 140 Bhutanese from Kuwait on 4 July. However, there are some Bhutanese in the Middle East who have some mixed feelings about returning back home

Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji said the decision on coming back solely depends upon the Bhutanese working in the Middle East. Those who have good jobs and are earning well are not forced to return home.

However, “If a person has a co-morbid condition with some other diseases then we advice them to take extra precautionary measures and we ask them to return,” Lyonpo said, and further added, “We always tell them to be careful and to take precautionary measures seriously. We have created different groups to monitor Bhutanese abroad, and have appointed focal person to each group. We are in constant touch and they are being monitored regularly.”

Lyonpo said that the Bhutanese embassies abroad are in constant touch with Bhutanese nationals to render any help. The maximum people working abroad are in the youth age category and at the minimal risk of dying from COVID-19.

The ones who have lost their jobs and are facing financial difficulties abroad have been asked to register themselves with the embassy for any necessary support if they wish to come back.

Jigmi is earning well by working in Dubai for the last two years.  She and her husband are not infected by the coronavirus and they do not have any plans to return home even though their salaries are reduced due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Some workers were terminated and some have voluntarily resigned. Our company is into loss for now, and if we are asked to resign then we may probably have to come back. We are impacted by the salary reduction, but I am hoping that it will be resolved soon. Our house owner was kind enough to reduce a certain percent from the house rent. We are not able to save unlike before though,” she said.

She said that she feels safe because the use of a facemask is compulsory for all in Dubai. They are issued with plastic gloves when they enter any shopping mall.

“Being careful and taking precautionary measures prevents everything, and I am doing that. Every mall has a temperature-checking device installed, so I feel safe working here. We won’t be infected until the time we act careless. I chose to stay back if I am paid continuously,” she added.

Similarly, Dawa who works in Qatar said that she is planning to come back as her family is really worried and they do not want her to stay back.

“I have the fear of getting infected and there is a 25 percent deduction in my salary. Moreover, I do not feel safe, as they do not take COVID-19 seriously here. So it’s risky and I have decided to come back,” she said.

She said that although no employees were terminated from the company she works in, however, anything might happen if the situation worsens. She said she does not worry about getting terminated but she has the worry of getting infected as they have to go to work everyday and no social distancing is maintained.

27-year-old Tshering Dorji working in Kuwait said, “I will be very happy to come back but I need to support my family. Families back home are worried but I don’t think coming back would be the solution.”

He said that the company is paying their basic salary and it is enough to survive on. However, there are Bhutanese working in other companies who were forced to resign and some were terminated and they are having a tough time, he said.

He said, “I go to work everyday but minding the preventive measures. I use a facemask all the time and sanitize my hands. I do not mingle with people and I restrict people from entering my room. I have one roommate and that is all.”

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