IOM, Bhutan Immigration Build Himalayan Kingdom’s Border Management Capacity

Migration and Development

Thimphu – The International Organization for Migration (IOM), in coordination with the UN Country Team and the Kingdom of Bhutan’s Immigration Department, has completed a series of trainings designed to build the capacity of Bhutanese immigration officers to better manage the country’s growing immigration and border management challenges. 

Bhutan, a previously isolated small Himalayan nation, now hosts an estimated 52,300 migrants, many of them manual workers predominantly from India and Bangladesh, who cross the border to work in Bhutan’s expanding construction sector.  

In 2017, international migrants accounted for about 6.5 per cent of Bhutan’s 800,000-strong population. Growing numbers of young Bhutanese are now also travelling abroad – mainly for tertiary education. In 2017 Bhutanese emigration reached 44,000 with Nepal, India, Australia, Denmark and Netherlands among the top destination countries.   

In 2018 Bhutan’s Department of Immigration asked IOM to provide technical support for immigration and border management activities to expedite and enhance the management of cross border movements. IOM subsequently invited Bhutan to its 5th Border Management and Identity Conference in Bangkok, where it offered to provide a comprehensive Training of Trainers (ToT) and equipment to verify travel documents at Bhutan’s Paro International Airport. 

In June, IOM delivered a 5-day ToT to build the capacity of 20 Bhutanese immigration officials on cascading training passport examination procedures. Targeting frontline officers from the international airport and regional immigration offices, the programme was designed to enhance border security and strengthen skills to detect document and identity frauds in order to curb irregular migration and transnational organized crime. 

In September, the ToT continued with the same group of immigration officers, focusing on different migration management topics. These included: human smuggling and trafficking; the UN Convention on Transnational Organized Crime and related protocols; border control and migration management operations; data and information management; and international migration and human rights law. The training ended with a 2-day cascade training delivered by 14 of the newly trained trainers to 20 other frontline officials to assess the trainers acquired capacities and the sustainability of the initiative. 

Director of Immigration of the Kingdom of Bhutan Pema Dorji thanked the IOM for the training. “We value and attach importance to our partnership with IOM, particularly in the area of capacity development and border management. Towards this end, the various training programs conducted by IOM in partnership with the Department of Immigration have been most enriching and beneficial. We are extremely encouraged and satisfied by the progress made thus far and going forward, we look forward to strengthening our engagement with IOM,” he said. 

“Trainings such like this one will help improve policy, legislation, operational systems, human resources and administrative and technical structures required to respond more effectively to diverse migration and border management challenges. This partnership between the UN and the Royal Government creates a precedent and establishes a direct link between migration and the socio-economic development of the country,” UN Resident Coordinator Gerald Daly told trainees.   

The outcome of the ToT courses will ensure that the Department of Immigration has a skilled pool of trainers to keep cascading IBM trainings to frontline officers, to effectively enforce Bhutan’s laws and policies, according to IOM Regional IBM Technical Specialist Donato Colucci, who delivered the training. “In the medium term, this will positively impact on facilitating regular movements of travellers to and from Bhutan, while helping law enforcement officers to focus on possible illegal activities and transnational organized crime linked to irregular migration,” he noted.   

To complement its capacity building activities, IOM also provided technical equipment, including a Verifier Travel Document and Bearer (TD&B) system to help secondary line inspectors at Paro International Airport to check and verify questionable travel documents. This IOM-developed stand-alone system will also help border control officers to systematically collect data on fraudulent travel documents and imposter cases.   

For more information please contact Donato Colucci at the IOM Regional Office in Bangkok. Tel. +66.632718804, Email: 

  • Bhutanese immigration officials learn new skills to cope with changing migration patterns. Photo: IOM