News

    Bhutanese Youth Face Rising Unemployment as Migrant Workforce Grows

    The tiny, isolated Himalayan nation of Bhutan is experiencing record economic growth. But some experts are concerned about rising rates of unemployment among the country's youth as a growing migrant workforce takes many of the new jobs. Raymond Thibodeaux reports for VOA from Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan.

    Anyone traveling the hundred miles of road leading from the southern Bhutanese border town of Phuentsholing to the capital, Thimphu, can see the people who are building the infrastructure of this tiny Himalayan nation, almost from scratch.

    For the most part, they are not Bhutanese. They are mainly young men and women from Bangladesh and the Indian state of West Bengal. And they have come to Bhutan for the jobs that the vast majority of Bhutanese laborers either cannot - or will not - do.

    Safigul Islam, a 23-year-old from West Bengal, is one of them.

    "He says he's not feeling quite good due to the job here," says a translator. "Money problems - that is why he comes here, far away from family. After six months, he will go back again with the payment and make all the family happy."

    A semi-skilled construction worker, Safigul makes about 200 rupees a day, the equivalent of about five U.S. dollars. He is paid better than most of the estimated 50,000 migrant workers who, escaping poverty back home, snap up jobs in Bhutan's booming construction industry, building roads, hydropower plants, and tourist hotels.

    For Bhutan, the rising number of migrant laborers has both positive and negative sides. The cheap labor is fueling Bhutan's rapid modernization. But the influx of foreign workers, mixed with rising unemployment among Bhutan's youth, is blamed for increasing petty crime and drug and alcohol abuse.

    But some analysts say the migrant laborers are almost a necessity for Bhutan's growth.

    Recent government statistics show that unemployment in Bhutan has tripled in the past three years, rising to nearly four percent, with unemployment rates much higher for ages 15 to 24.

    Still, on average, the Bhutanese are better off than most in surrounding countries. Yearly per capita income in Bhutan is about $1,400 (US), roughly twice that of neighboring India.

    "Because of education, I guess aspirations have changed," said Sonam Tshering, Bhutan's minister of economic affairs. "We do have an unemployment problem. We have a lot of educated youth coming out on the job market annually. Now they all have much higher expectation. They are no longer interested in blue-collar jobs. Everybody wants to have an office. They want to sit on a chair. They do not want to apply themselves physically. So, the problem that we are facing at the moment in Bhutan is the mismatch between supply and demand."

    The demand in Bhutan's fastest-growing job market - construction - is for low- and semi-skilled laborers who can work long hours for low wages, and are willing to live in the hundreds of squalid laborer camps cropping up in urban areas. The camps are clusters of corrugated tin and tarpaulin lean-tos, few with access to running water.

    Health experts in Bhutan say the large numbers of poor, foreign workers living in the crowded camps could pose an increased risk of spread of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, diseases more common in the countries that surround Bhutan.

    Sonam Chuki, a political science lecturer at the Royal Institute of Management in Thimphu, says the government needs to address the problem of youth unemployment.

    "If the government does not address it now, and it continues for years to come, then it will be a big concern. When youth are unemployed there is the problem of their getting into drugs, small thefts, burglaries, alcohol and also getting into street fights. The social ills are there," Chuki said. "We are also talking about the rise of street prostitutes. You see, it is a really sad thing for Bhutan."

    Tshering says the government is setting up programs to teach young people in Bhutan skills such as carpentry, plumbing, and electrical engineering - all of which are vital to the construction industry.

    Fear of a large and growing force of foreign laborers is particularly acute in Bhutan, a tiny country of only about 630,000 people sandwiched between two giants, India and China.

    This is not the first time that huge numbers of foreign laborers have raised concern in Bhutan. Bhutanese authorities cracked down on thousands of migrant workers in the late 1980s, many of them illegal immigrants from Nepal.

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movementi
    X
    July 22, 2016 11:49 AM
    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora