Monday, 4 September 2017

A doctoral student’s journey with Migrating out of Poverty

In the summer five years ago, while I was writing up my Master dissertation, I received an email from the Migrating out of Poverty Research Programme Consortium offering me a studentship. I accepted gratefully and today I am looking at a completed PhD thesis on internal migration in Brazil and Ghana as well as on a long list of skills and experiences gained during my work with the team.

Migration forms part of life for many people in developing countries, but questions remain about modern patterns of internal migration beyond rural-to-urban movement and the impacts on receiving communities as well as on the households that stay behind. In my dissertation, I investigated these questions through the lens of an economist. The thesis comprises three essays that utilise household data and apply econometric methods for the analysis.

In the first paper, the focus is on Brazilian workers who move out of metropolitan cities to smaller towns. Documenting that as many people move out of the mega cities as into them, I find that high housing costs in the big cities appear to drive the migration decision. Migrants earn relatively more, or at least as much, in the small towns as in the cities once rent prices are accounted for and they prefer smaller destinations close to their origin and within their state of birth.

The high mobility of the Brazilian population raises the question of how the arrival of migrants in a new location affects economic and social factors there. The arrival of internal migrants is associated with an increase in local homicide rates, but only if the destination labour market has a small informal sector and/or if it had very high crime in the past. These findings point at the role that local labour market structures play for the integration of migrants, whether internal or international.

The third essay turns to repeated patterns of migration and their consequences for origin households. Together with Dr Julie Litchfield, Team Leader of the Quantitative Research in Migrating out of Poverty, we documented different migration patterns in rural Ghana using data collected there in 2013 and 2015 by the Centre for Migration Studies (CMS). Migration is a repeated event within these households, family members move and others move a few years later. We found that new migrants are more likely to be from a younger generation, they face lower migration costs, and only few of them remit. There seems to be no effect on a household’s asset index when a new migrant moves. We concluded that the different nature of migration of new migrants implies neither an economic gain for the household nor a loss. The reason for the former is that the migrants remit less or not at all and the reason for the latter is that migration becomes less costly with prior experience.

Aside the important financial contribution the consortium has made to my PhD, working as part of the Sussex team was an enriching experience filled with great opportunities. I was able to follow the process of collecting a household survey from the design of a questionnaire through the training of enumerators to the verification of the data. I was involved in the data cleaning and further data analysis for several working papers, for example in Bangladesh (RMMRU), Ghana (CMS) and South Africa (ACMS). During this process I grew in confidence thanks to the trust put in me by the team. For example, I was granted the opportunity to travel to the partners of ACMS in South Africa and CMS in Ghana to discuss the data and research results. Most of all, I appreciated to work in a multi-disciplinary team. The quality and diversity of research presented at the final conference this March summarized the importance of looking at the topic of migration through various lenses in order to understand it better. The consortium impressed and excited me to continue to do so.

Today I write this blog from Rome, where I have started a post-doctoral position in the Research and Impact Assessment Division of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a UN organisation. The Fund’s projects are geared towards rural development and the topic of migration is recognized as an integral part of this process. I get the chance to contribute the experience gained during these past years of my work with Migrating out of Poverty, and new topics await me, such as seasonal migration within the rural transformation process. Throughout all these new challenging research agendas, I look forward to future collaboration with Migrating out of Poverty and its partners!

Monday, 28 August 2017

Demonised migration brokers can point out where policy is going wrong

In the fight against human trafficking and the rise of modern slavery, a top priority for governments and human rights organisations has been to “break the business model” of migration brokers thought to be the main channel for such exploitation. Those same governments might do well to understand what those brokers do, and why they exist in the first place.

If you want to see brokers in action, then domestic work and construction work are as good a place to start as any. In these sectors people can be exploited thanks to a lack of written contracts, the hidden nature of the work inside private homes (in the case of domestic workers), non-compliance with labour laws.

Migrant workers from poorer countries and communities are heavily represented in both occupations. Often, the only way they can negotiate complex regulations is with the help of migration brokers who have the skills, knowledge and connections needed to move into these different worlds. Brokers are often former migrants or well connected and trusted members of the migrant’s own community.

The other side of the story
Brokers have been demonised as exploiters of migrant labour due to the level of control they can exert over migrants with no other means of support. However, there is another side to this which sheds light on why migrants keep using brokers. Recent research that I have been involved with in Ghana and Bangladesh shows a complex reality where brokers are indeed complicit in perpetuating exploitation and conditions of forced labour, but also help migrants to bargain for better working conditions.

Chapainawabganj in Bangladesh, a high migration district near the border with India, sees large numbers of men from farming families migrate to Qatar for construction work. In the Bangladeshi popular discourse, brokers are called Adam Bepari or “traders in human beings” typifying the view which assumes all the power lies with the broker. Similar ways of describing recruiters are seen in other countries.

The government has attempted to eliminate brokers but with little success. Bangladeshi men continue to use informal brokers for several reasons. Legal migration through the Kafala system, the sponsored visa system in the Gulf, is expensive and difficult because skills may not match available jobs. Migrants also say that they feel more protected by the “moral contract” with the broker, witnessed by family and elders. Many also want “free visas” that don’t tie them to a single employer, so they might have the opportunity to move on to better jobs through social networks in Qatar. This was only possible if brokers guided them down an irregular migration route.

Even when brokers broke promises on wages and contracts, migrants regarded the migration as successful because they had reached Qatar and found work, however exploitative. Migrants factor in hardship and precarity in the short term to achieve long-term goals of improved living standards and prospects for their families. Brokers, however imperfect, are seen as a necessary stepping stone.

Domestic work in Ghana
There are echoes of the same story in west Africa, where there is rural-urban migration for domestic work within Ghana. Here too brokers are widely regarded as unscrupulous traders who exploit vulnerable domestic workers.

However, our interviews with 76 migrants, employers, brokers and officials show the grey area. Brokers do help to maintain the status quo by pressuring workers to accept exploitative terms and behave in subservient ways, but they also help migrants with settling into urban areas, bargaining and job-switching for better working conditions.

Brokers offer a route through which migrants can negotiate with employers, an otherwise thankless task. Unlike formal agencies, informal brokers helped employers with recommendations on character and behaviour, an aspect regarded as very important by women who were recruiting another female to work in their home.

Lessons for policy
These two very different examples show clear similarities. Migrants and employers are reluctant to engage with the formal system and can have a strong preference for informal brokers who they trust. Informal brokers are also cheaper. In Ghana, employers are charged a non-refundable 250 Ghanaian cedis (about US$60) fee and workers 100 cedis in the official system. Informal brokers charge less than half and tailor their fees to each client.

Formal agencies are also not designed to help migrants with the things that they need most. Those seeking work away from home need shepherding through complex procedures, support and financing, and someone who can negotiate on their behalf. Work secured through brokers may pay less than work secured through formal channels, but getting into the labour market at all is a prize for many migrants.

Policy makers in Ghana, Bangladesh and beyond should recognise that brokerage is fuelled by tightening border controls and work permit systems, and by unwelcoming urban areas. Launching an attack on brokerage without easing migration barriers will not work. In fact, the way brokers work should encourage more migrant friendly practices such as cheap loans, flexible repayment and support with integration.

There are strong parallels between the situation we have described in the global South and the experience right now in Europe where governments are trying to eliminate brokers without providing workable alternatives to help migrants manage risk. All migration through brokers is labelled as trafficking. Examples of extreme exploitation are highlighted as governments seek to deter migrants. The role that brokers play in easing the path to economic migration and providing protection through the journey is rarely talked about.
The clear lesson from Ghana and Bangladesh is that a flourishing brokerage industry is a signal that formal channels are failing, or at least fail to meet the nuanced demands of migration and migrants. The demonisation of brokers as exploitative criminals is not entirely unfair, but it falls short if we are to genuinely understand the lives and motivations of migrants while legal and legitimate migration remains a privilege enjoyed by a rich and educated minority.

Acknowledgements: This article was first published in The Conversation.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Understanding migrant life in the market: The Kayayei of Madina

By Emmanuel Quarshie and Gloria Makafui Dovoh

Kayayei work has been in the system for so long a time from our older sisters and mothers who for instance came to the big cities to work and made some money, bought utensils and other items and returned home. Upon seeing these items, other mothers also encouraged their children to go find work in the big cities so they could get money as well. In comparing the living conditions of those in the North with those in Madina, I can say the city life is better even though I still travel back home occasionally. I still believed the young ones could have stayed in school a little longer. I believe kayayei are many in Madina because most of the girls who migrate to Madina are unwilling to help their families, if the situation were different, the kayayei would have been just a few. I also think that there are a lot of children because older kayayei who are nursing mothers bring younger girls to help them cater for their babies and these younger ones end up one way or the other becoming kayayei as well.

Madam Rakiya, the leader of the Mamprusi kayayei.

Kayayei is a Ghanaian term made up of two languages; Hausa and Ga where kaya means load in Hausa and yei means women in Ga. Kayayei (female head load porters) are usually found with head pans in market places. They carry goods for a living and most of them migrate from the three Northern regions of Ghana; Upper West, Upper East, and Northern Regions.  The main ethnic group that kayayei belong to is the Mamprusi, followed by the Mole-Dagbani.

The Municipal Co-ordinating Director of La-Nkwantanang Madina Municipal Assembly, Alhaji Saaka Dramani, said in an interview that as at 2013, there were approximately 9,000 kayayei living in Madina and they stay at seven main areas; Zongo, Nkwantanang, Areas around Redco Flats, Madina Number One Park, Dzifanco, Adenta Powerland and Riss Junction. They often live in slum-like conditions.

From one-on-one interviews and focus group discussions with 50 kayayei in Madina Market, we heard more about the reasons that they migrated, the patterns of their daily lives, and how their conditions could be improved.

Reasons for migration
Some kayayei moved to Madina because they wanted to live in the big city and others migrated to Madina because there are far more kayayei in Kumasi leading to competition for customers. A lot of the kayayei in Madina Market were direct migrants who travelled straight from their towns of origin to Madina without making stops in other towns to work before continuing down south.

According to the Ghana Statistical Service Report, 2015, the poverty incidence in Upper West region of Ghana is 59.0 % representing the highest in the country followed by 51.9% in the Upper East region and 40.9% in the Northern region. In recent times, north-south migration in Ghana among women has become very significant, with more women on the move. The 2010 census conducted by Ghana Statistical Service indicated that almost 50% of all internal migrants were women, which outweighs majority of African countries. Some scholars in the migration field refer to this as the feminization of migration in Ghana.  

Most of these kayayei we spoke to migrated due to the seasonal variations in the weather affecting their crop yields. A survey conducted on kayayei by the Ghana Federation of the Urban Poor in 2010 reported that 58% of the girls were engaged in farming prior to their migration from the northern part of Ghana to Accra. Changes in their ability to support the household has meant male heads are no longer the main breadwinners. To assist in financing the household women resort to migration as the most convenient strategy for future economic gain in order to smoothen the household consumption level. This accounts for the recent prevalence of women on the move from the northern part of Ghana to the south which is the capital city.

Back home in Tamprusi, I used to weed groundnut farm virtually from dawn to dusk every day which yielded very little money and also there was no other job available so I told my parents about my desire to come and work in Accra. I came all alone on a bus, even though I was scared and knew nobody in Accra, but I was bent on getting money to learn a trade, help my seven siblings and mother. Upon my arrival, I found out where my colleagues were staying, I joined them and immediately made a couple of friends. From there, I started wandering around the market in search of customers, however, with this kayayei work, I have decided that if it does not help me, I will go back home. Ruth, a 20-year-old kayayei

Long days chasing work
In the week, most kayayei begin their days between 4 am and 6 am to join Islamic prayers since the majority of them are practicing Muslims and then prepare for the market. The younger ones are usually responsible for the house chores of sweeping and cleaning while the older ones take their bath and head for the market. The kayayei of La-Nkwantanang Madina live in housing units based on their ethnic background in order to have that sense of belonging as well as to avoid ethnic clashes. The younger ones consider the older kayayei from their ethnic groups as their older sisters hence they are responsible for the daily house chores while the older ones play the nurturing roles by providing the younger ones with protection and security and also give account to their parents back in the North.

As Abigail puts it:
I usually wake up at 4 am to sweep and take my bath then I head to the market around 5 am. During the day, I eat as and when I get hungry and sometimes based on the amount of money available. Kayayei business is my main source of income so I try to work very hard to make ends meet from this work even though it is difficult because I do not make enough money from it after combing most parts of the Madina Market in the scorching sun.

Most kayayei said that it was difficult to get work and that when they did, their patrons were reluctant to pay the full amount.

Amina narrated that;
On some days, I manage to get customers and on other days, I do not get even one person and even when I found a customer, he or she was unwilling to pay the amount I charge them. At the end of the day, I manage to make about Gh20 to Gh30.

Many kayayei said that they faced challenges in making their rent and earning enough for food, clothing, and water. Abigail explained:
"I pay a rent of Gh5 per week and share a room with about ten other kayayei, both young and old, at Nkwantanang. I also save some money with my friends for future use like purchasing rice or groundnut and retailing in my community when I return."

Fatima told us:
When I do not have money to pay immediately, I tell the landlord about my inability to pay so he gives me a week to pay in addition to the following weeks rent. And for feeding and water, I sometimes borrow money from my close friends to acquire them, with respect to money, there is very little I can do when I face such challenges.

Even though they do not make the kind of money they speculated they would, and people take advantage of their vulnerability, the kayayei we spoke to still perceived migration as the only solution to the challenges that they faced at home.

How can the kayayei be supported?
Over the years rhetoric around migration has tended to be negative, sideling the benefits that migration brings to individual migrants and their households.

To improve development policies, we need an in-depth understanding of the capabilities and strategies of poor people, from their own perspective.

The problem of mass migration of kayayei must be tackled from the source region. Em Ekong, the director of Urban Inclusion, a consultancy which specializes in community-based economic development, rightly posited at the New African Woman Forum that, "the key fact remains that a lot of women and girls are making their way into cities because they are not making enough money and they dont see opportunities for themselves in Ghanas rural north. One of the many ways in which we can work around this is through meaningful financial inclusion.

Women need to be given the chance to develop businesses in sectors such as agriculture. This must go beyond the subsistence farming by providing them with affordable and accessible financial solutions in rural areas to expand their capacity.

Also, the source regions should also see the migration of many young women as a challenge to the region and engage them in non-agricultural activities like vocational education, learning a trade, or encouraging them to stay in school much longer than they do. Since many of them migrate due to limited job opportunities, it would be prudent if either governmental and non-governmental organizations provide start-up capital or credit facilities to these young women in the North to engage in stable employment which could also serve as a qualification for future employment. Attempts to do this will ensure that the future flow of individuals will account for relatively more skilled migrants which possess positively heavier trickle-down effect on the economy.

Dovoh, G. M. (2017). Assessing the livelihood conditions of kayayei in the La-Nkwantanang Madina Municipality, Bachelors Dissertation, Department of Geography and Resource Development, University of Ghana, Legon.