MFA also in touch with the Iraqi government
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) has contacted 135 women who are currently working in Iraq. MFA is also working with the Iraqi government to bring back all Bhutanese workers there who want to return home.
Foreign Minister (Dr) Tandi Dorji said that the ministry is in contact with 13 girls who were tortured and abused while working as maids in Iraq. The government is doing everything possible to get them back, Lyonpo Tandi Dorji said.
He said requests have been made to the Iraqi government to give the total number of visas granted to Bhutanese citizens in Iraq, which will help the government to find the exact number of Bhutanese in Iraq.
“The number could be more than 135 because people were smuggled from Dubai as well,” said Lyonpo.
Last week, the government rescued two girls bound for Iraq from a hotel in Delhi.
“Even the girls in Iraq had warned them not to come, but still there are those who are willing to go there and work. However, we managed to convince them. We are sending them back to Bhutan,” Lyonpo added.
Meanwhile, the government is taking action on illegal Bhutanese agents who lure women to be sold to Iraqi agents.
Three women have been detained for soliciting girls. The government will cancel all agents promising work in Iraq so that no one is sold to slavery. “Now, no one will go to Iraq,” said Lyonpo.
Lyonpo further said Bhutan has no diplomatic ties with Iraq. Fortunately, an official from MFA has good contacts with a minister in Kurdistan, and they are helping to get the women back.
The government has also sought for assistance from the International Organization for Migration (IOM). With the help of IOM, the girls can be brought back if they were taken illegally, as it is also illegal to stay in Iraq.
However, there is a huge problem as a few of the women have signed work contracts. The only possibility of freeing them from the contract is to pay their way out.
“We considered it illegal but in their system, it is legal to bring in foreign workers,” said Lyonpo, and further added, “Now, when we say that our girls were trafficked, they have documents and signed contracts. We have to pay them around USD 3,000 to USD 4,000 per girl to bring them back.”
Those who have returned back have paid the required amount, said Lyonpo.
For now, the government is talking with the Iraqi government and Kurdistan government to sort out the cases of women who were illegally transported and with no legal contract signed, as they can be brought back without payment.
After the investigations, Lyonpo said there are a number of women who were aware that they were being hired to work as maids in Iraq. They are working legally with work contract. Some have said they are fine working in Iraq and do not wish to return back.
Lyonpo said the government has to pay in millions to break the legal contracts.
“We are already short of budget, and now it will take millions more to bring them back,” he said, adding, “I am not saying that we do not want to help them but they should also be responsible. We will assess all the situations and list of all the girls who have signed legal contracts and those who did not,” said Lyonpo.
It will be difficult to bring back all the women in two or three weeks’ time, but the government is working on bringing the women in batches, said Lyonpo.
The government is aware that the women were sold to domestic slavery. But as per Iraqi system called Hapalay (get us maid and we will pay you), this is legal in Iraq.
“We just cannot go there and take our girls, we have to go as per their law,” said Lyonpo.
The government has further detained four illegal agents and they are being investigated.
Meanwhile, Lyonpo said that due to less employment opportunities in the country, many young girls and boys travel abroad to work.
So in order to help the youth, the government is diversifying the economy, creating CSI banks, creating number of youth engagement and livelihood programs.
In the Iraq case, most of the women or girls have studied only up to class 8 and below. Lyonpo Tandi Dorji said it is time to work inclusively to create employment opportunities, not just for the high school level youth and school leavers, but also for the single mothers. “All should be given equal opportunities,” he said.