The Director of Department of Immigration, Pema L Dorji, said that the Department of Immigration is closely monitoring and regulating entry of people into the country at all border crossings along with other law enforcement agencies.
All checkpoints and entry points have been reinforced and mobile units are conducting surveillance along with other law enforcement agencies to ensure that people do not enter through illegal routes, given the open and highly porous border.
“Illegal routes along the border are being sealed. Under these circumstances, we appeal to all citizens and residents to support our efforts. Those entering the country must make a truthful declaration about their travel history. This is important to ensure that you do not put your community at risk,” he said.
In this regard, the department has been extending full support and will continue to support the team at border crossings to ensure that people file their travel declaration truthfully. Any individual that makes a false declaration to evade the mandatory 14-day quarantine will be liable for prosecution in a court of law. Therefore, the department urged all people entering the country to file a truthful declaration.
The RBP on Friday also announced that all such illegal routes at the borders are being sealed.
In addition to stringent monitoring and medical screening at all border crossings. He said that the issuance of visas and permits has been suspended since 6 March 2020 till further notice. Likewise, re-entry for all foreigners holding valid visas, work permits and other immigration permits traveling to Bhutan from any of the COVID-19 affected countries or if they have visited or transited through COVID-19 affected countries has also been suspended till further notice since 6 March 2020.
He said, “Our open and highly porous border is a major challenge. People who are denied entry through checkpoints may try to enter through illegal routes. The high number and frequency of movement of people and vehicles on a daily basis across the border makes it extremely challenging to monitor the movement of people in the border areas”.
The other challenge is the wrongful declaration of travel history by people seeking to enter the country.
Samtse Dzongda, Sonam Wangyel said that the people involved in the border areas are doing their jobs well and they were asked to ask a lot of question to those who makes an entry in the country, be it Bhutanese or non-nationals.
He said, “We may provide a mobile to our frontline people, a cheaper one to motivate the frontline people to use phone to cross check. Otherwise, we do not know the person and if he is lying. It is very difficult and we got a feedback asking us to step-up.”
Meanwhile, he said that the people in rural are so well informed that even if they can’t chase a person at the check point, the people in village voluntarily inform their local leaders about the person as they know from where the person is coming from.
That way they quarantine a person and as of now the Dzongkhag have quarantined 3 people. They encourage people to keep doing that so that they do not miss any chance, he added.
Samtse NIE college hostel and college guest house will be used as a quarantine services and all the necessary facilities will be provided, including free Wi-Fi services.
The Dzongda also said that he has met with 12 exporters, from a business community and they have given words to protect everyone. He said, “They have given a temporary house for those laborers (not all though) who stays across the borders. This is the initiative they are taking.”
In Samtse Dzongkhag alone, they have 44 entry points where a people can walk in anytime they want. However, they have closed down 36 entry points as a precautionary measure and this makes them help in focusing those entry points which are open.
Hand washing facilities are provided at every entry point whereby the people were made to mandatorily come out of the car and wash their hands before interacting with the frontline people, he added.
He said, “RBP is playing their role in many effective ways. They have to deploy their men in every place. People are helping them with information sharing. People also have come forward to support them financially.”
In addition, given the man power shortage in RBP, people have volunteered to do a day light patrolling across the border. However, he said that they are in plan to help them in collaboration with RBP.
Officials manning border crossings have been provided with personal protection equipment. Stakeholders involved at border crossings are personnel from RBP, immigration, customs, forest, health, BAFRA, RSTA and Desuups.
Local Chapters of the Bhutan-India Friendship Association (BIFA) have also been mobilized for advocacy and awareness in border towns. Given the rapidly evolving situation with regard to COVID-19, particularly in the region, they are continuously assessing the risks to ascertain if any additional measures need to be put in place.
They urged everyone to avoid non-essential travel and to support and cooperate with law enforcement, health and other agencies to prevent the importation and spread of COVID-19 into Bhutan.
As an update the entire border was closed from the morning of 23rd March and so it becomes doubly important to monitor these informal routes.