Thursday, 18 October 2018

Does anti-trafficking policy protect against forced labour and exploitation or harm? The ban on migration for domestic work in Ethiopia and Ghana


By Priya Deshingkar

Domestic workers who number at least 67 million adults worldwide, according to the International Labour Organization, have been in focus recently as a particularly vulnerable group of workers. These workers are often hidden from the public gaze and not covered adequately by labour laws leaving them vulnerable to abuse. Indeed a number of rights organisations and prominent photographers including Steve McCurry have highlighted the horrendous abuse that they can suffer. The occupation is highly gendered – most migrant domestic workers are female due to stereotypes and cultural norms related to men’s and women’s work and their capabilities in both source and destination societies.

There are now high-level efforts to protect domestic workers against exploitation but our research shows that the outcomes of this protective legislation may not be what was intended. Two of these processes are worth mentioning. First, the focus on domestic work by the UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, Urmila Bhoola, in her report to the Human Rights Council highlights the plight of “marginalized women workers in the global domestic economy” (para 11). The same report notes that 11.5 million domestic workers are international migrants, or 17.2% of all domestic workers and 7.7% of all migrant workers worldwide (para. 31). Bhoola notes that the domestic work sector accounted for 24% of all forced labour in 2017 (para 43). Labour market intermediaries or brokers and private employment agencies as well as other parts of the migration industry such as pre-departure training centres, transport companies, travel agencies, medical testing centres and visa offices have also been implicated in creating an “enabling environment for abuse and human rights violations” (para. 58 and 60).

Second, the Trafficking in Persons report of the US Department of State which ranks countries based on their performance in combating trafficking lists domestic work as an occupation to watch. It ranks both Ghana and Ethiopia as tier 2 countries and has pressured them to criminalise migration for domestic work as well as the people who facilitate such migration. Non-compliance carries the threat of withdrawing millions of dollars of aid. Domestic work is mentioned as an occupation requiring action to curb trafficking and forced labour. Both countries had introduced bans on migration for domestic work to the Middle East. While Ethiopia lifted the ban this year, it has replaced that with heavy regulation of employment agencies which still illegalises informal agencies. Both have introduced a number of measures to control trafficking and smuggling: Ethiopia has Anti-Trafficking Task Forces across the country. A number of checkpoints have been set up along the Wollo to Galafi route on the Ethiopia-Djibouti border. Additionally local leaders have been co-opted into forming anti-human trafficking committees to police migrants. Similarly Ghana passed The 2005 Human Trafficking Act, amended in 2009, which criminalizes sex and labour trafficking. Here too a number of well-known brokers have been arrested and imprisoned and the business has been driven out of view.

In 2009 the Ethiopian government arranged for the evacuation of 160,000 migrants from Saudi Arabia. Rather than alleviating the hardship and reducing the vulnerabilities of these women, the step appears to have precipitated remigration to the Middle East. As one evacuated migrant observed “Our government, through its embassy in Saudi, was promising to facilitate different things for us. But the promise was not on the ground when we came here. I do not have a job right now; I am using the money I brought from Saudi. If the condition continues like this, and if I do not get any other alternative here, I will migrate again. The government has not given us the working area; the rent for a small shop is very high. I am paying 2,000 birr for a single room to live in.”

Perhaps this is why despite the criminalisation of both the migrants and the people they rely on to make migration possible, it continues unabated. If anything, it has grown and the country that has been named most often for the worst cases of abuse, Saudi Arabia, seems to be the destination of choice. What has changed is that the process has become far more risky.

Agencies and brokers that once traded openly have now become clandestine actors. Routes and travel methods have changed to avoid detection. In Ghana those wishing to travel to the Gulf counties must now travel overland to other West African countries before they fly to their destination. This increases the journey time and costs and can bring new risks if the overland journey is in cramped vehicles through hazardous territory. In Ethiopia large groups do not cross the desert with a broker (a “trafficker” in the popular discourse) as visualised in the popular imagination and instead split up and this can increase risks for women travelling on their own.

Furthermore, the delegitimisation of brokers appears to have spawned smuggling networks with more nefarious practices such as deception related to the terms of employment and placement without ensuring adequate protection; long journeys through virgin territory with few facilities and “safe houses” across the border (or detention centres as they are called in the press) where migrants are kept while they wait for their relatives to transfer money to brokers. Travelling without work permits and papers creates another set of vulnerabilities for migrants as they are often employed informally, without legally recognised contracts. This places them in a situation of hyper-precarity where threats of deportation and imprisonment can be used by employers to extract forced labour.
What is needed is a system of educating aspiring migrants about the possible risks of working without a proper contract, the provision of support services along the way and at destination. Blanket bans and criminalisation will not protect people against forced labour and exploitation. A serious rethink based on research-based evidence is needed.

Monday, 15 October 2018

Child migrants are not always out of education


Dorte Thorsen and Mélanie Jacquemin

Child protection programmes evolve around the idea that education and migration for work are incompatible but the profiles of adolescent migrants are diverse and include multiple forms of education. Research in Senegal under the auspice of MOVIDA’s “terrain partagé” programme moves outside the narrow conceptualisation of education as formal schooling to explore how adolescents see the linkages between migration and education, and how migration exacerbates gender differences and affects their education in practice.

1. Migration to continue education
Children rarely drop out of school because they or their parents have decided they should migrate for work. Common reasons to drop out are school malfunctioning, parents' inability to pay school-related expenses or disillusionment with the effect of school certificates in the labour market. This is increasingly evident at senior secondary level when schooling becomes notably more expensive. Nonetheless, adolescents cherish schooling, and education in a broader sense, and they counter the lack of opportunity in rural areas by leaving for the city.

Many migrate to towns and cities with the objective of continuing education; some aim to save up to return to their previous school once they have the resources, others seek to raise resources to enroll in vocational training. Urban relatives frequently invite adolescents to work for them by promising to pay fees for vocational training instead of a wage. Even when adolescent migrants do not pursue education in the formal sense, their occupational trajectory is often structured by an element of learning that allows them to move from unskilled work to lowly skilled, urban work.

2. Secondary school students’ holiday migration to work
Migration to work during the long school holidays is becoming gradually more common across West Africa, as school enrollment and retention expands into rural areas and includes boys and girls of poorer families. The practice is also common in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Togo. Demographic monitoring data in the Sereer region of Senegal suggests that seasonal labour migration among adolescent girls has declined over the past twenty years and that there has also been a temporal shift. Nowadays the majority of girls who migrate from the region to work as domestic workers in Dakar no longer do so during the dry season but during the school holidays in the wet season to save up to finance their schooling.

A focus group discussion in Ziguinchor, stimulated by mapping student migrants’ migration trajectories, revealed that rural children from the Casamance regions begin to migrate to work during their holidays from the age of 10-13 years. Boys start by doing agricultural or horticultural work in central Senegal and the Senegal River Valley, and then move on to the main cities (Dakar, Thies) to work as street vendors and porters around markets. Those who come to Ziguinchor are attracted by information about the ease with which they can find work compared to in Dakar where the competition for income is much higher. The costs of transportation, food and accommodation are also cheaper outside Dakar. For female student migrants however, the choice is not as free. Rural girls are almost uniquely migrating towards Dakar to engage in domestic work, unless they come from the lower Casamance region or Kolda, in which case they may come to Ziguinchor. In addition to domestic work, female student migrants work in small restaurants or as petty traders in the bus station.

In the minds of these young migrants, holiday migration to work recaps their inferior socio-economic position in that they cannot attend Summer programmes to support their academic achievement, like children of better-off families. The paltry wages that student migrants of both genders can make from the work they can find during the holidays, and the harsh working conditions and the abuse metered out by some employers, add to their frustration but they nevertheless cling to the idea that these efforts gradually lead them towards their future plans to complete schooling, support their parents and achieve a better social and professional status.

3. Adolescent out-of-school migrants: towards other forms of education
Among the adolescent migrants in Ziguinchor, who are out of formal schooling or never were enrolled, quite a few engage in vocational training as tailor apprentices and drivers. The boys also mention typical male occupations such as bricklayer, mechanic and metal welding. Very often apprenticeships are negotiated by close relatives but not all apprentices know what to expect or are sure about the trade. The trajectories of adolescent boys and girls highlight gender and class differences in opportunity and ability to concentrate on their acquisition of a skilled trade. Many of the girls work only part-time in their apprenticeship (a few hours per day in the afternoon), because they are also working part-time as domestic workers, either in paid employment or unpaid for the relative or guardian with whom they live.

Although social norms about gender, work, reproduction and status are changing, and girls are now pursuing different forms of education, the norms about gender and age appropriate work determine their trajectories. Domestic work remains a female domain. The work shouldered by girls of poorer families may emancipate the daughters (and sometimes also the sons) of the families who employ or accommodate migrant domestic workers. Thus, while migration may open the opportunity for learning a trade, the geographical and social distance from their family of origin produced by migration does not guarantee girls the possibility of spending most of their time and energy in a training activity.

The accounts offered by migrant boys of the advice they received before their departure reveal that they were told to focus on an activity and not get diverted by friendships not connected to this work or learning, etc. This guidance highlights the greater social acceptance of migrant boys needing time for training during their migration experience. As this allows them to move away from direct parental demands on their labour (especially for work in the countryside), migration often affords boys space and time to acquire new, specialised skills.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

The human face of irregular border crossings

By Dorte Thorsen

“I’m tired of the combat at Tanger” exclaimed a Senegalese friend over the phone from Morocco in July, “I’ve tried to cross four times in these past days but I haven’t had luck! Today 231 migrants were imprisoned. I’m going home!”

In a research project examining the social effects of European migration management, Migrating out of Poverty researcher, Dorte Thorsen, has followed the lives of migrants, refugees, and international students from West and Central Africa who lived in Morocco’s capital, Rabat, in 2012. Ethnographic research then, a follow-up field visit in 2014, and regular contact via phone and social media offers insights into how ideas about opportunity, risk, social standing, and settlement shape the lives of migrants.

What migration statistics tell

The number of irregular sea crossings via the Western route in the Mediterranean Sea has almost tripled since 2017 and, according to Relief Web and IOM, 35 per cent of the migrants and refugees entering Europe by sea are currently travelling via this route. These numbers do not denote a new wave of migration via North Africa. The total number of people entering Europe undocumented by sea is less than half of the numbers recorded in 2017 and a fifth of those recorded in 2016.

Although, the bleak reports of detention, extortion and slavery-like conditions in Libya have triggered a shift in route preference, not all of the migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean are recent arrivals in North Africa. Some are in fact of North African origin, others, like my friend, have lived in North Africa for five-six years or more. This blog examines their experiences to shed light on what makes them decide to invest time and money in the journey to Europe, and how this is linked with the broader effects of migration management and border control.

Politics of transit and settlement

Often Morocco is thought of as a transit country for migrants originating in sub-Saharan Africa, but it is increasingly recognised as a country of settlement and refuge. Some migrants and refugees settle reluctantly because they do not manage to move to the location they had hoped for due to the hardened border control in Europe, others settle to study, work or engage in trade. A study published in 2016 by Mourji,Ferrié, Radi and Alioua reveals that 65 per cent of the migrants from sub-Saharan Africa came to Morocco with the idea of settling there.

The management of Moroccan borders has fluctuated considerably over time with profound bearings on migrants and refugees; from border patrol far away from the physical borders, to exclusion from the labour market, to regularisation of some of the many migrants who were living undocumented in the country. The UN’s High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) is in charge of registering and processing asylum claims, awaiting a pending Moroccan asylum law. Until the regularisation process, recognised refugees were barred from the labour market and the UNHCR only had funding for allowances to the most vulnerable refugees, pushing the rest into petty-business and illegal work.

In 2012-13 migrants originating in sub-Saharan Africa experienced waves of systematic harassment and deportation to no man’s land between Morocco and Algeria at Oujda or desert regions further to the south. Only after the UNHCR raised concern that asylum-seekers and refugees were among the deported were these categories of migrants spared deportation. Such campaigns have happened sporadically since the mid-2000s, often prompted by negotiations of migration management with the EU and individual European countries (see Migrating out of Poverty Working Paper 54 for a critical account of Afro-European negotiations). While European migration politics play a central role, the indiscriminate targeting of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa also demonstrates deep-seated racism in Morocco.

In 2013, Morocco reacted to pressure from the UN Committee on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of their Families and the National Council for Human Rights. A Royal Decree prompted a regularisation process in which around 25,000 irregular migrants, who had lived in the country for years, were given temporary residency in 2014. Another 24,000 migrants are expected to benefit from a second and on-going regularisation process. Furthermore, after the first regularisation process, recognised refugees were also regularised. However, the regularisation of refugees was on hold most of 2017, thereby preventing refugees the necessary documentation for accessing the formal labour market.

With the recent rise of sea crossings over the summer 2018, Morocco has again come under pressure from Europe to patrol its borders better. We are currently seeing an extreme hardening of how migrants from sub-Saharan Africa are treated by the Moroccan state that cannot be attributed to European migration politics alone. The newest wave of systematic and forced movement of migrants - regardless of their legal status - away from the northern cities to small towns and desert areas in the south of the country is the outcome of migration politics and both popular and political resistance to the new forms of heterogeneity that follow immigration. Harassment is not restricted to border regions but spill into big cities across Morocco, destabilising the lives of settled migrants and refugees.

Living in Morocco as a migrant from sub-Saharan Africa

Regardless of their legal status, migrants from sub-Saharan Africa frequently find themselves in a situation circumscribed by structural racism. Each time systematic harassment is welling up, many migrants lie low. Migrants who lived in Rabat in 2005 recounted how they had left their houses to sleep in the open on the outskirts of the neighbourhoods to avoid raids at night. In 2012, they recounted fleeing the police after being rounded up, and a few recounted their journeys back to Rabat after deportation.


“It is strictly prohibited to let apartments to Africans.” Notice stuck on a wall in Morocco (Source: Facebook). Here the allusion to ‘Africans’ signifies the deeply racist distinction made between migrants from sub-Saharan Africa and Moroccans in everyday language use.


When campaigns waned, migrants were still circumscribed by structural racism. Employers got, and still get, away with paying lower wages to migrants than to Moroccan workers without penalties. Landlords can refuse to let to black migrants and they get away with asking rents that are two-three times higher than what Moroccan tenants pay. Many migrants have experienced eviction or the threat of eviction, sometimes for fickle reasons, other times because they are in breach with their tenancy agreement because they are in arrears with the rent due to lack of income, share accommodation or operate home-based businesses. Others are affected by conflicts of ownership and use within landlord families, resulting in eviction and even of having all their belongings destroyed with no recourse to justice or compensation, as happened to another Senegalese friend and his housemates in 2016.

Regardless of their legal status, migrants from sub-Saharan Africa are subject to high levels of street violence, especially in the poorer neighbourhoods of large cities where they are seen as competitors for meagre resources and easy targets. A substantial number of migrants described being attacked by groups of Moroccan youths. Asylum seekers and refugees noted that their complaints to the police were shelved immediately and irregular migrants stayed clear of the authorities not to risk detention and deportation, thus they never made complaints.

Effects of the regularisation processes

Small changes are noticed after the first regularisation process. In Rabat, migrants with residency or refugee status are increasingly moving from the poorest neighbourhoods in the cities to newly built satellite towns on the outskirts, where they rent apartments rather than rooms in traditional residential riads. The better quality of housing is off-set by the time and costs of traveling to city-centres where work can be found more easily and, especially among the petty-traders, not all wish to live far from work and trading places.

The residency permit also enables migrants to take formal employment and thus to enjoy protection of their rights as workers. However, apart from a few niches such as call-centres where Francophone migrants have an advantage, specific factories and the hospitality and care industry, it is still very difficult for migrants to penetrate the Moroccan labour market and earn a regular and fixed income. Female migrants working in domestic service are among the workers who have benefitted most from the regularisation. They appear to increasingly choose a combination of several part-time jobs to reduce the risk of exploitation rather than working full-time as live-in domestics workers at the beg and call of their employer.

The majority of migrants get by doing informal, casual work, petty-trade and a small number of them operate informal restaurants, bars and guesthouses from their homes. People in these trades suffer a diverse range of interventions, which are not uniquely driven by migration politics but also by urban planning. Several of the women, who ran successful restaurants in the past, have closed business due to pressure from their landlords. My Senegalese friend, whose account opened the blog, experienced a series of fluctuations in his street trade linked with campaigns to clear the streets of petty traders, including Moroccan street traders, to campaigns harassing migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, and probably also to competition among the petty-traders as their numbers waxed and waned.

Fluctuation in sea crossings

Several interlinked fluctuations are at play when numbers of detected sea crossings change. For the many migrants who have been in Morocco for a while, the experience of everyday racism among the population in the neighbourhoods where they live is exacerbated by structural racism that allows abuse, exploitation and marginalisation to continue. Lack of integration and economic conditions that allow migrants and refugees to establish themselves and maintain their socio-economic aspirations of social standing, welfare and education of their children, push them to look for other options. Among these options, crossing into Europe figures as one with future potential, as long as it is not safe or economically viable in the long term to return their country of abode prior to journeying to Morocco.

Fluctuations in sea crossings are also related to seasonality and the likelihood of detection before leaving Moroccan waters. It is not only this year but every summer that the number of sea crossings rise as the sea is calmer and warmer. My friend has tried to cross over to Spain almost every summer since 2012, as well as a couple of times during seasonal festivities when the border patrol is perceived to be less vigilant. Over the years he has spent more than £2,000 trying to access the European labour market, and he is certainly not alone in making this sacrifice to reach Europe.

The amount of money spent in aborted attempts to enter Europe, not to speak of the lives lost, would be better spent elsewhere. It is easy to assume that the money could set up business in their countries of origin or even in Morocco. However, it should be clear that currently the political mood in Morocco is not very different to anti-immigration movements in Europe. The conditions are not presently allowing more than a few migrants from sub-Saharan Africa to consolidate themselves in Morocco. Some migrants return to their country of origin. If those who continue trying their luck crossing the Mediterranean Sea thought they could set up viable business or gain durable employment with the resources they pay to the people helping them cross, they have enough economic acumen to do so. As they do not hold this belief, it would perhaps be better if loss of money and lives were prevented by giving temporary access to European labour markets, allowing migrants and refugees to spend the money on their visa and upkeep at the beginning of their stay in Europe.