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.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs