Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Risky migration: Choices of Cambodians looking for opportunities in Thailand

By Robert Nurick,

Before I migrated, I worked in the rice field and did housework, our family rice production was insufficient to feed the family in some years. We experienced rice shortages for a couple months each year. I raised pigs but had to borrow money from the private moneylender to buy pig food. The pigs died so I was unable to repay the loan and the interest. I was sinking into deeper and deeper debt so my husband and I migrated to earn money to repay the loan.

I decided to let my daughter go to work in Thailand because of our debts...Once I saw how others migrated and returned with cash I decided to let her go too. However, when she returned from Thailand the money was not enough to pay back the loan. I borrowed from the private moneylender to pay back the micro-finance loan, and then used the micro-finance loan to pay back private moneylender. I had to lie to the micro-finance agency saying that I would use the loan for doing business and buying pigs

These quotes highlight the debt-driven and precarious nature of migration from Cambodia to Thailand. The scale of migration between the counties is significant. In 2013 estimates put the number of Cambodian migrants at close to 1 million from an economically active population of 8.4 million.   

Research conducted under the Migrating out of Poverty Research Programme in April/May 2015 and December 2016/January 2017 revealed the experiences of Cambodian migrants – and the challenges and opportunities that influence the choices that migrants and their families make. Sharing these findings with migrants and their families, as well as NGOs and government officials in both Cambodia and Thailand resulted in an agenda for action.

The undocumented phenomenon
Cambodians migrating to Thailand face considerable challenges in acquiring passports that would allow them to travel to Thailand unhindered and in safety. Although the ‘official’ price of a Cambodian passport is US$104 with a processing time of one month, for many Cambodians the reality is that they are expected to pay up to US$600 – the extra made up of fees for the migration agents and bribes to passport office officials – and, for the lucky ones, having to wait three months to receive their passport. The unlucky ones, of which there are many, are cheated out of the fee, never receiving the passport.

The challenges facing Cambodian migrants in securing passports are reflected in the large numbers of undocumented migrants; of the one million migrants to Thailand in 2013, those with papers numbered only 13,500.

What this means for many Cambodians is that if they want to seek work in Thailand they must do so without documents, calling on the services of informal brokers who smuggle them across the border in unpleasant and dangerous conditions. Once in Thailand they must work for employers without legal protection and with uncertainty over whether they will be paid or not.

Why take the risk?
Why do so many Cambodians take such risks to find work in Thailand? The answers lie both in Cambodia and Thailand. In Cambodia years of government neglect of rural areas and land grabs by ruling elites have led to a class of landless or near-landless families unable to make ends meet from their own farms, with little option but to look for paid work. Some work as farm labourers on commercial farms within Cambodia, others migrate to Phnom Penh and work in factories or as domestic workers. Many, however, are attracted to Thailand where the working conditions and pay are better than they experience within Cambodia, even for undocumented migrants.

In Thailand, the demand for construction workers, labour for fishing boats and commercial agriculture, that cannot be met by Thai workers who are reluctant to take such dangerous, dirty and degrading work, leads to a huge pull of workers from Cambodia. Unable to secure passports at home, these migrants are smuggled across the border by organized but informal brokers and linked up with employers. With little protection and wages less than that paid to Thai or documented migrants, employers benefit from this underpaid and overworked migrant workforce.

The Thai authorities both tolerate and clamp down on undocumented migrants. For the police undocumented migrants represent a lucrative source of income – fees are paid to police by employers to avoid migrants’ arrest and deportation; migrants are at risk of being picked up on the streets and thrown in jail.

At times of political and economic upheaval in Thailand undocumented migrants are easy targets for deflecting attention away from internal turmoil. Most recently in 2014, in the wake of the military coup in Thailand, when some 220,000 Cambodians fled Thailand over a two-week period in June that year, resulting in loss of earnings, trauma and further impoverishment for their families. Undocumented migrants continue to face risk of expulsion with 50,000 Cambodians expelled in 2016.

Agenda for action
For migrants and their families the desire to migrate in a safe and secure manner is of paramount importance. This means addressing the barriers that migrants face in securing affordable and timely passports from the Cambodian State: providing accessible information to migrants on the procedures for applying for passports; effective regulation of migration agents; and cessation of rent-seeking behaviour of government officials responsible for issuing passports.

In Thailand, much more needs to be done in providing protection to undocumented migrants: access to health care; access to schools for migrants’ accompanied children; and labour protection in the workplace.

The current priority of the Thai government is to ensure all migrant workers have documents by 2022. This will require a much greater degree of cooperation between Thailand and Cambodia with a focus on migrant protection.


Monday, 27 February 2017

Motility and gendered capital in household decisions about migration

By Dorte Thorsen
The consequences of global politics of migration for poverty reduction can only be understood if we consider the capacity of individuals - and of entire households - to capitalise on migration, argues a new working paper inthe Migrating out of Poverty series. The paper disputes simplistic dichotomies of being mobile and able to migrate or immobile and stuck at home as parameters of how households contend with poverty.

Households that engage in labour migration do not necessarily choose between costly transnational migration with potential for higher incomes and inexpensive internal migration with low financial potential. Individuals may travel to transnational destinations at one or more points in their life time and to national locations offering good employment prospects at other times. Different household members may become migrants in a succession or at the same time.

Livelihood strategies involving migration have consequences that go beyond economic benefits. Research in the Ponorogo District in East Java, Indonesia demonstrates how the politics of migration globally and locally filter into household relations and gradually begin to unsettle inequalities in conjugal relations.

Motility and the politics of migration
An increasing body of literature addresses the effect of migration regimes on migration flows, global employment, temporalities in labour migration, documented and undocumented migration. This working paper presents a timely contrast to the focus in most studies on law-making, the industry that has developed to facilitate or deter migration, and individual migrants’ trajectories. Using Kaufmann, Bergman and Joye’s notion of motility the authors analyse how social structures at different scales intersect and, in turn, shape intra-household decisions about migration.

Motility captures the intricate ways in which spatial and social mobility is shaped by access to migration and to the means that bestow social mobility upon the migrating individual, migrant households, communities or networks. The notion of motility also takes into account differences in the competency to capitalise on access and in the assessment of which options are the most suitable for meeting the aspirations motivating migration.

All components of motility are gendered, so to move beyond stereotypes of the male migrant or more recent concerns about the feminisation of migration, it is crucial to understand how gendered capital influence household decisions about migration.

Gendered capital
The Indonesian case study illustrates the myriad of ways that gendered capital is established and feeds into motility. Local norms and national legislation give men prerogative in decisions and identify them as breadwinners. As a result, men often choose to be the ones going abroad to meet their responsibilities within the family. Yet, gender differentiated access to transnational migration changes over time. Men’s access to migration is circumscribed by age limits imposed by destination countries and the upfront costs of migration, obliging many male migrants to opt for destinations considered less desirable.

Married women are constructed as housekeepers, wives and mothers. Their migration is contingent on their husband’s approval by law, just as it was contingent on their parents’ approval before marriage. This institutionalisation of the subordinate role of women would curtail their access to migration if the global labour market did not privilege the migration of Indonesian women into care work. Thus, women’s access to transnational migration has increased in recent decades because they move within a system of debt financed migration with little upfront payment, if any.

Age also affect women’s access to migration but as a contrast to male migrants it is not tied to restrictions in the global labour market but to reproductive concerns. It is not having children that shrinks their access to migration, though giving birth and nursing infants may do so temporarily, it is the time when grandmothers grow too old and fragile to take care of the children. At this point, internalised ways of thinking about appropriate behaviour for women affect the assessment of suitable options and tacitly shrink their access to migration.

Intra-household decisions about migration
An individual’s motility often has repercussions for the motility of other household members. The spouse of a migrant, for example, may be immobilised to the extent of staying at home to take care of children or elderly parents. Immobility is not the inevitable outcome however; a spouse of a transnational migrant may migrate internally or to another transnational location. Thus one individual’s motility can shrink other household members’ access to migration fully or partially. However, an individual’s motility can also increase the access to migration through financing the journey or facilitating employment and the necessary papers. Enabling undertakings may be across generations, as when parents’ migration facilitate access for a son or a daughter, or across conjugal units, as when young migrants furnish access for a sister- or brother-in-law married into the same household.

Decisions about whose migration to support reflect households’ capacity to capitalise on migration for mutual benefit. Husbands and wives may discuss what will be best for the household and what is possible given the politics of migration, the ability to meet recruitment costs and the needs for different types of labour within the household. While the economics of migration may be assessed explicitly, the long-term effect of a household’s motilities on intra-household dynamics is very subtle.
Female return migrants find it difficult to readjust to the institutionalised and lived subordination prior to migration. Even when they conform publicly to the established positions that privilege men’s prerogative in decision-making, in private they do not accept being completely dependent on the husband again.

It is clear from this research that women’s gendered capital is growing due to the demands in the global labour market and that this growth has granted young women a much more prominent role in enabling other household members, including their spouse, to access transnational migration. The active facilitation of access and the multiple periods of working abroad will inevitably impact on household dynamics in the future in ways that empower Indonesian women and change their social position. 

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Songs of hope

By Jesper Bjarnesen

The force of music to move, inspire, and comfort is difficult to underestimate but also challenging to describe without abusing old clichés or repeating the slogans of radio stations and record producers everywhere. But the obvious appeal of music did inspire my chapter in Hope and Uncertainty in Contemporary African Migration to some extent. As immigration once more has become a political minefield in so many parts of the world, I wanted to use music as an entry point for exploring the hopes and aspirations of involuntary migrants in the city of Bobo-Dioulasso in southwestern Burkina Faso. I try to show how a particular genre of Ivorian pop music became central to young immigrants for articulating a collective sense of worth in the face of exclusion and hostility.

Displacement in the context of the Ivorian armed conflict
During the decade 2000-2010, Burkina Faso received hundreds of thousands, perhaps as many as one million, of its citizens who fled persecution and armed aggression in neighbouring Côte d’Ivoire. As an enduring political conflict became increasingly militarised, Burkinabe labour migrants in Côte d’Ivoire found themselves at particular risk, being labelled by nationalist rhetoric as the scapegoats for the growing financial and political crisis. Côte d’Ivoire has been one of the region’s strongest economies for decades and has attracted generations of labour migrants from its poorer neighbours. It is estimated that more than three million Burkinabe citizens still live in Côte d’Ivoire, in spite of the recent armed conflict.

You might expect the return of Burkinabe labour migrants to their country of origin to be a straightforward trajectory – the natural and expected end of a cyclical movement – but during the armed conflict in Côte d’Ivoire, the overwhelming numbers of involuntary returns did pose challenges to local communities and authorities in Burkina Faso. In both urban and rural settings, the mass arrivals of returnees put pressure on housing and livelihood, in the virtual absence of state support. These situations created tensions, which brought out the ambivalence with which non-migrants perceived of the new arrivals.

Involuntary migrants in Bobo-Dioulasso
This ambivalence was particularly palpable in relation to young adult returnees. Born and raised in Côte d’Ivoire, these children of Burkinabe labour migrants had usually grown up with little or no appreciation of their parents’ origins, and they arrived in Burkina Faso speaking French with an Ivorian accent, and with rudimentary knowledge of the local languages, at best. The perceived “Ivorian” behaviour, dress, and language of young adult returnees became the target of much gossip and critique. On the hand, those who had not (yet) undertaken the journey to Côte d’Ivoire themselves saw in the returnees the alluring image of the regional metropole of Abidjan. On the other hand, young adult returnees were perceived as matter-out-of-place; neither genuinely Ivorian nor truly Burkinabe. The newcomers were criticised for being show-offish and arrogant, and for having forgotten about their roots in Burkina Faso.

Faced with the hostility of their neighbours, young adult migrants quickly found a sense of community with other migrants and many of them came to internalise the images of them projected by non-migrants – of representing the urban youth culture of Côte d’Ivoire and being more outspoken and cosmopolitan than local youths. This subcultural style became known as “Diaspo”, referring to the young migrants’ origins in the Burkinabe diaspora in Côte d’Ivoire. One important aspect of being Diaspo was your preference for Ivorian music and this is how Zouglou music gained a new prominence in places like Bobo-Dioulasso.

Generation Zouglou
Of all the different genres of Ivorian popular music, it is quite surprising that Zouglou became the style through which the Diaspos in Bobo-Dioulasso expressed their newfound sense of community and reflected on their hopes, dreams, and predicaments. Zouglou was originally a light form of satirical entertainment, invented by university students in Abidjan in the early 1990s. Within a few years, Zouglou expanded into several different subgenres, with groups such as Magic System marketing a more danceable version to a global audience, and artists like Siréet Yodé developing a style directed more towards Ivorian listeners. Although even the narrower versions were marketed through music videos as dance music, Zouglou kept its image as representing a more reflective genre on the Ivorian music scene, with songs treating the everyday concerns of social and political life in Côte d’Ivoire, and in the financial capital of Abidjan in particular.

What made Zouglou an unlikely preference for the Diaspos in Bobo-Dioulasso was the way in which the Ivorian elite gradually reappropriated Zouglou music in Côte d’Ivoire. By the end of the 1990s, Ivorian politics became increasingly centred on the issue of immigration and the authorities exploited local grievances over the access to cultivable land to incite xenophobic violence, blaming the so-called “strangers” for the country’s declining economy. Burkinabe labour migrants, the largest group of foreign citizens in Côte d’Ivoire, were particularly targeted. Zouglou artists generally refrained from taking part in the xenophobic rhetoric of the regime but instead chose to forward appeals for reconciliation and solidarity to both sides in the increasingly divided political landscape, or to stay away from politics and address other themes in their lyrics. This non-committing attitude towards the rising tensions, incidentally, served the ruling elite well, as President Gbagbo and his inner circle began promoting Zouglou music on local TV and radio stations to downplay the atrocities they were committing and the violence they were inciting.

Zouglou and Hope
Despite its affiliation with the very regime that caused their displacement from Côte d’Ivoire, the Diaspos in Bobo-Dioulasso valued Zouglou music more than any other genre of Ivorian music. Zouglou made you think, they would say, and instil the strength and confidence that set the Diaspos apart from local youths. Zouglou inspired a sense of hopefulness in the face of adversity, in part from its lyrics and in part from the act of listening to the music with others, commemorating their shared origins in Côte d’Ivoire and affirming their sense of community in Burkina Faso.As Hirokazu Miyazaki has suggested, hope can be understood as a method for inspiring social action. To the Diaspos, Zouglou became a vehicle for this kind of inspiration.

This blog draws on Jesper’s chapter, ”Zouglou Music and Youth in Urban Burkina Faso. Displacement and the Social Performance of Hope”. Jesper is based at The Nordic Africa Institute.