Friday, 19 December 2014

The migration researcher: Who's doing the talking?

by Paul Clewett
December 18th marks the true Christmas of the migration world, as disciples of all things-migration meet and tweet their way through a copious amount of reflection on the developments of the last year. They will have talked about a global protection system in crisis and rising anti-immigration sentiment in the West; burgeoning South-South migration and global development; labour rights and the World Cup…  Yet they will not, I surmise, have talked much about themselves: a sprawling network of migration geeks united by a common obsession with understanding why people move.
So I’ve decided to make some sweeping statements about the characteristics of those who inhabit the field in a bid to provoke some group reflection on what it means to be a researcher of migration. I do so with the aim of shining a light where light is not usually shone, but without any kind of moralising agenda. We all know self-reflection is important in research, but what does this look like collectively? Who are the migration geeks of this world and why should we care?
Migration researchers are mostly women. This is in many ways refreshing as it bucks the general trend in European research which sees women underrepresented in almost every subject area. Yet one has to wonder where all the men are at. I’ve started calculating the gender balance at conferences in Brussels and, with the caveat that expert panels tend to reflect the dominance of men in senior policymaking positions, audiences are always clearly weighted towards women. I’ve found a similar imbalance in studies and at work, where far more often than not I’m the only man in the room. My unscientific hunches lead me down the dangerous path of conjecture: are there more women in migration studies because of this long-standing habit we have of portraying migrants as victims in need of (feminine) care? And are the men in migration largely confined to economics departments because policymakers, despite all the progress in the social sciences, still favour overtly economically rational (and masculine) approaches to understanding the world? Priya Deshingkar’s recent post brilliantly underscores the importance of taking a gendered approach in understanding the close relationship between social mobility and human mobility.  Maybe we should also be extending the approach to research and policy itself, where gender divisions between disciplines are part of wider gendered structures that affect the quality of our migration policy.
Migration researchers are often closet activists, supressing the urge to shout aloud about how ridiculous the stance on migration is in the north. I’ve heard more than one person express feelings of restlessness whilst in the thick of a major piece of research or trying to produce a piece of ‘dispassionate’ policy analysis against the grain of a growing internal rage at the injustices meted out by sovereign states and borders. We know that evidence is crucial to better, fairer policy, but sometimes the desk-based approach to changing the world just doesn’t feel like it can ever faithfully reflect the urgency for change.
Migration researchers often feel guilty about deriving pleasure from their work. Stephen Hopgood’s thoroughly engaging ethnography on Amnesty International - Keepers of the Flame – (which I read as part of a reading group organised by the Religion Cluster at the Asia Research Institute), dealt with the conflation by Amnesty staff of hard work and personal suffering, i.e. if you’re not in great pain and anguish yourself, then you are not doing justice to the topic.  Hopgood paints a picture of research staff who could not be satisfied with work that did not take them to the same dark places inhabited by the victims of grave human rights abuses they support. Most migration researchers perhaps aren’t at that extreme, but I think there is a fairly constant sense that enjoying what you are doing can somehow invalidate it. For instance, a friend of mine told me of his guilt that his PhD research proposal doubled-up as the perfect strategy for making his long distance relationship work. But his supervisor told him he was being ridiculous, he produced an excellent thesis, his subsequent work is original and well-respected, and the relationship is (so far) happily ever after.
Those studying mobility are hyper mobile and often migrants themselves. It stands to reason that we study those things that reflect our personal experiences and interests, but do we think enough about what this means for the subject we’re studying and the agenda we bring to our work as a consequence? Of course, many of us regularly write up reflexive pieces to accompany our work, but there’s more to this: I find, for instance, that my increasing mobility as I entered adulthood and started doing things of my own accord made me feel strangely detached from the places to which I was supposed to belong; the increasing ease and need for international travel made distance and difference less consequential. This has to matter for studying migration. Our place in the world and our understanding of what that means has to be especially important for those responsible for generating knowledge about other peoples’ place in the world. It’s not the most straight-forward conversation to have, but maybe one worth taking up.
Migration is both the Holy Grail and the poisoned chalice of contemporary global challenges, simultaneously propping up our economies whilst undermining the sacred principle of national sovereignty. Given the amount of energy expended year round through conferences and seminars trying to make sense of all of this – and the emotion that pulsates through the debate in constant duel with evidence – International Migrants Day offers a great opportunity to step back and take a minute to consider who is actually doing the talking.
Paul Clewett was the  Asia Research Institute's 2014 Migrating out of Poverty Research and Communications Intern at the National University of Singapore. He is currently Program Assistant at  MPI-Europe, the Migration Policy Institute's Brussels office. He writes in a personal capacity.


Wednesday, 17 December 2014

International aid will not stem the flow of migrants

by L. Alan Winters

As the political tension over migration from developing to developed countries increases, I hear more often from ‘liberals’ (in the UK sense) that we should use developed countries’  international aid to try to stem the flow. There are, indeed, lots of good reasons to send aid to low-income countries – don’t believe the stories that it has no, or even a harmful, effect – but curbing emigration is not one of them. Earlier this year Chris Parsons of Oxford University and I surveyed the literature and concluded that there is very little evidence that aid curtails migration and a good deal that suggest the very opposite.  This survey is available as Working Paper 16 'International Trade, Migration and Aid: A survey' from the Migrating Out of Poverty Consortium, based at the University of Sussex and will be published on 26th December in the International Handbook On Migration And Economic Development, edited by Robert E B Lucas.
Why doesn’t such an apparently obvious policy work? First, aid is too small to affect migration by closing the gap between rich and poor: with a typical developed country having income per head some 25 times higher than a typical low-income country, even a big and highly effective aid flow will be only a drop in the ocean.  Second, as aid increases the incomes of people in developing countries it is likely to make it easier for them to afford the high costs associated with international migration. That is, it provides the means to migrate. Third, delivering aid generally increases the contacts between rich and poor nations and so increases the information flow and deepens the networks between them, which reduces the risks entailed in migration.
Both aid and migration have a role in fostering development and alleviating poverty; let’s not view them as substitutes.
 Professor L. Alan Winters is the CEO of the Migrating out of Poverty Consortium and Professor of Economics at the University of Sussex.

Indonesia's “Special Treatment” of their International Migrants: Between Lip Service and Reality

By: Endang Sugiyarto

Indonesia recently experienced a new breeze promising to bring a wind of change when the new president took drastic action to protect the welfare of Indonesian international migrants (who are known as Tenaga Kerja Indonesia or TKI meaning Indonesian overseas worker) by asking the relevant government apparatus to “really treat them as heroes” (as indicated in the government official documents)[1] but also to “remove some of the special treatments” or privileges associated with or given to them. The apparent contradiction between these two requests lies at the heart of the issue. 
Due to the lack of job opportunities in the domestic economy, millions of Indonesians are currently working abroad, mostly as low-skilled workers but with incomes at least five times higher than those of their counterparts working in the same job domestically. According to official figures from the National Authority for the Placement and Protection of Indonesian Overseas Workers (BNP2TKI), on average 563,262 Indonesian migrants worked abroad each year during the period 2007 to October 2014. This number is far below that of the unrecorded migrants who leave the country using various means. The majority of the TKI work in Southeast and East Asia and the Middle East, and the top five destinations from January to October 2014 are Malaysia (30% of total), Taiwan (19%), Saudi Arabia (11%), Hong Kong (8%) and Singapore (7%). They are mainly employed as  domestic workers (33%), followed by caretakers (12%), plantation workers (11%), factory workers (11%), general workers (5%), seamen (5%) and others (24%). 
The TKI directly contribute to the domestic economy by reducing unemployment and providing foreign exchange income via remittances, which could only otherwise be obtained through exports. Thus, this labour export policy is a “win-win” for the government, for it doesn’t need to provide jobs for those who leave while the economy reaps the benefit of their remittance inflows. Thus, the government has decided to treat them as foreign exchange heroes who must be respected accordingly. This is reflected, for instance, in provisions made at the airport. The TKI are given a special terminal, a special immigration lane, a special lounge, special trolleys, a special transfer bus or transportation, and other special things (the pictures below illustrate some of these provisions). The list of special provisions is in fact more extensive than outlined here, as some local governments add supplementary benefits such as temporary accommodation. In some cases, additional special treatments are given to those joining the G(overnment) to G(overnment) programs operated in conjunction with  Japan, Korea and Taiwan for example. These G to G programmes provide benefits in the form of special seminars, financial management and exchange rates for the salaries of the TKI involved.
So what is the problem then?
The problem is the gap between the policy and the reality of implementation on the ground. In a nutshell, these special treatments provided by the government have been used by corrupt government bureaucrats and their accomplices, often located in the private sector, to extort money. They set up a range of tariffs, exchange rates, and mark ups for their own benefit. The findings of a series of undercover and surprise inspections by the anti-corruption committee that were also exposed by the media have revealed the bad practices. Moreover, during the video conference between the President and Indonesian workers in: Brunei Darussalam, Egypt, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan, which took place on 30 November 2014, the exposure of further corrupt practices led to the President taking action to remove some of the special treatments afforded to the TKI. The crackdown on these extortionate practices is welcome, and include the thwarting of a syndicate allegedly engaged in human trafficking of Indonesian migrant workers through Malaysia to destinations in Middle Eastern countries. But more work is needed to address this issue since  what has been exposed so far is just the tip of the iceberg! The new government needs to systematically solve the problems by better facilitating migration and protecting migrants’ welfare, throughout their migration cycle from the stages prior to their departure up to their return home. 
To start with, the deployment system must be improved, including better preparation of migrant workers. In connection with this, serious concerns must be addressed in relation to recruitment agencies. Their role has become very dominant (partly due to the lack of appropriate government intervention) which has resulted in migration becoming very commercial. Many agencies now also act as employers, creating a situation in which the migrant worker has become very vulnerable to abuse and exploitation in different forms. The widespread practice of “fly now and pay later” which renders migrants indebted to the agencies until they repay the cost of their flights, and of agencies having full control over all the arrangements: from the migrants’ passports to their contracts and deployment etc., should be seen as worrying.
Last summer I met a new migrant on her way to Malaysia where the recruitment agency had organised her trip, obtained her passport and visa, provided domestic and international transportation, and made all the other arrangements, while she had made practically none of the preparations herself. She was just told to go to the airport, board the aircraft, and somebody would pick her up at the destination airport. She had no information at all about the Indonesian Embassy in Malaysia and less than Rp2000 (less than 20 US cents or around 10 GB pence) in her pocket because the agent also told her that she would not need any Indonesian money. What if just one step in this elaborate process went wrong? How would the aspiring migrant worker cope? The outcome of her desperate action is anybody’s guess! 
Even more concern will be revealed if we scrutinize the job contract and other details, and ask basic questions such as: what kind of job will she be doing? What are the terms? How much will her salary be? How many months will it take her to repay all the costs associated with her departure that have been prepaid by the agency? And so on…
The potential problems and complexities stemming from this kind of arrangement are predictable. To illustrate, the official data shows that 181,193 migrants arrived back in Indonesia through 14 different airports from January to October 2014. Many of them returned before their contracts were completed due to various problems, such as incomplete documents, work-related ill health, an inability to work or communicate properly, and other reasons. Who are to be blamed for these outcomes? I hope that the new government is not going to blame the migrant workers for they are more the victims than the culprits! Their only mistake is to try to escape from poverty by entering into the wilderness of the international labour market. And they only took that route because the domestic market did not provide them with any other opportunities….

[1] This kind of treatment is not unique to Indonesia as many other developing countries adopt similar policies.
Fig 1: Examples of airport special facilities for the TKI - Indonesia's foreign exchange heroes

Endang Sugiyarto is a doctoral candidate in Migration Studies at the University of Sussex, funded by the Migrating out of Poverty Research Programme Consortium

Monday, 8 December 2014

Dirty jobs but a brighter future? Migrant domestic workers and the discourse on slavery and forced labour

by Priya Deshingkar
Domestic workers  are often described as “modern-day slaves” because of their working conditions which bear many of the hallmarks of forced labour and also because of their intersecting disadvantages of race, gender and poverty.   But listening to the stories of migrants working as domestic workers reveals that the choices they have made, to work as domestic workers are precisely to escape degrading situations and contexts. The realities of the lives of many poor rural women are more dirty, dangerous and demeaning than domestic work, which offers women the chance to earn and be independent. 
After two years of planning with her husband how the household would be managed without her, 34-year-old Arini (name changed) has finally managed make the trip from her remote village in West Java all the way to Singapore to work as a domestic worker or maid.  There are many like her from Indonesia working as domestic workers in other countries including Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Taiwan and Malaysia.  The numbers are vast, nearly five million by one estimate, and they seem to be growing.  Like many others, Arini migrated through an agent who found her a job and paid the costs of her migration up front, costs that she must repay by working without any salary for the first eight months of her assignment. 
Across the globe in Ethiopia, the story is somewhat different for Abeba (name changed) who ran away from her village in the drought-prone Amhara region at the age of 15. First she went to the nearest town, worked there as a cleaner until she had saved enough to try her luck in Addis Ababa. Her plan was to save money to migrate to Djibouti or the Middle East where thousands of women and girls have migrated to work as maids. Abeba first got a job in Addis Ababa working for a distant relative but left after they refused to pay her. She found another job through an agent, in a house where she was groped and harassed until she left. In the city she had to live by her wits, continually searching for a place to live and a job that was safe and fair, where she could work and save. The work was hard and payment was poor; sometimes she did not even get paid. She eventually saved enough to pay an agent to migrate to Djibouti.
Both Arini and Abeba are working as domestic workers. ILO research shows that the 53 million domestic workers worldwide are predominantly female and from poor and socially excluded communities.   The working conditions are tough – limits on personal freedom, long working hours and being unable to leave because of debt-bondage. The ILO identifies domestic work as one of the sectors that is most likely to involve forced labour and slavery.  The public discourse on slavery and domestic work imagine domestic workers with almost no agency; their minds are controlled and their bodies are enslaved and the conclusion seems to be that they must be rescued from this awful fate.
But a look at the process from the perspective of migrant girls and women tells another story altogether. Arini wanted to migrate so that her family could enjoy the material comforts that her migrant neighbours have. She wanted her daughter to attend the best school and to make sure that her family did not want for anything. This was a choice she and her husband made together to raise their standard of living. Like many others, she comes from a subsistence farming household where incomes are not enough to provide for the family all year round and where material and educational aspirations have been fuelled and enabled by a history of migration. They hope that migration will enable them to escape the endless hard work and poverty associated with subsistence agriculture.
Abeba’s decision to leave the village, a place and a cultural context that she perceived as dead-end and degrading, was clearly a voluntary act; an example of agency in the face of limited choices.  She ran away from home because her family wanted her to marry at 15. Having been forced to leave school at 12 to work on the family’s failing farm, and with a marriage to a local man arranged for her, she could see how her future would be, and she didn’t like what she saw. To her, life in the city meant freedom, offering her choices of how she lived, dressed, ate and where she worked, despite its many risks. Living in this way was preferable to having her destiny sealed by her parents.
The risks are clearly numerous for such migrants, but for many poor people, migration offers the opportunity to earn more that they would at home and the ability to invest in businesses, land, material security and education. For many women migration also offers them a rare opportunity to earn money of their own, achieve independence and take control over their lives. This is often overlooked in the international debate on migrant domestic workers. The importance of jobs such as domestic work to the social mobility, development and freedom of poor women is hidden under the preoccupation with ideal (and important) employment conditions.
Migration and employment in sectors such as domestic work are sometimes labelled as slavery and forced labour. However, they remain among the most important pathways of social mobility for many poor women and can be considerably less degrading than other alternatives.

Priya Deshingkar is the Research Director of the Migrating out of Poverty Research Programme Consortium.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Migrating from the big cities for opportunities in smaller towns: The case of Brazil

by Eva Maria Egger 
While most of the literature on internal migration focuses on rapid urbanization and metropolitan cities as destinations filled with opportunities for migrants, little attention has been paid to those people who leave the big cities. Not only do migrants return to their places of origin in rural areas, but  many people decide to leave their place of birth in the metropolitan area to find opportunities in smaller towns. Recently, Christiaensen et al. (2013) have pointed out the importance of smaller towns for the economic development of African countries in contrast to the traditional standard two-sector development model. And considering all the discussions about the issues around urbanization, such as high unemployment, poor housing infrastructure, high crime etc., it should not be surprising that some people also consider leaving these difficult environments.
However, from an economic perspective, one of the main drivers for internal migration is the seeking of higher wages. As wages are on average much higher in metropolitan areas, leaving these areas comes at the cost of a wage loss. Despite this, Brazil’s 2010 census, the most recent demographic data, shows that net-migration into metropolitan cities[1] is negative for working-age male migrants. Between 2009 and 2010, 20% of all working age male migrants within Brazil moved out of metropolitan micro-regions to non-metropolitan micro-regions with on average less than 500,000 inhabitants. During the same period, only around 15% moved in the opposite direction. These urban out-migrants actually change jobs and are not just reflecting suburbanisation by commuters. Also, the migrants are a diverse group: a third of them have attained only primary education, while around 18% are college graduates.

Therefore, in my research I aim to use econometric methods to estimate which factors make  smaller towns more attractive compared to metropolitan cities, if not wages. My findings suggest, that one of the main economic drivers is the much lower living costs in smaller towns, such that migrants on average do not experience a wage loss in real terms. They prefer towns with growing economic opportunities rather than very small and remote areas. In terms of non-economic factors, the migrants appear to value the quality of provision of education. These findings indicate that the investments of the Brazilian government during the recent years into infrastructure development of smaller towns and former less developed and more remote regions is bearing fruit. As more and more Brazilians are attracted to these locations they contribute to a reduction in regional inequality. Thus it could be worth widening the focus of our migration research to include these destinations outside of metropolitan agglomerations and for policy makers, too, to acknowledge the potential of smaller towns.

Christiaensen, L., J. De Weerdt and Y. Todo (2013), Urbanization and poverty reduction: the role of rural diversification and secondary towns, Agricultural Economics, 44, 435-447.

Eva Maria Egger is a doctoral candidate in Economics at the University of Sussex, funded by the Migrating out of Poverty Research Programme Consortium.

[1] Metropolitan areas are microregions with one million or more inhabitants. This definition follows the United Nations’ World Urbanization Prospects (UNWUP, (Christaensen et al. 2013). 

Monday, 1 December 2014

The ‘Art’ of Research Communication

by Kuda Vanyoro

From my experience at the African Centre for Migration and Society (ACMS) and engagement with literature by other writers who have faced similar, it is clear that at times research findings and evidence on nationally contested issues like migration may prove the positive contributions of migration to development and poverty eradication prematurely, when the audience in question is not ready to hear the positions that researchers take. In other words, there may be socially entrenched stereotypical perceptions of migrants, as is the case in South Africa, which lead the recipients of the message to ignore it. In such instances, targeting a policy audience alone when communicating research findings and evidence is insufficient to impact or influence policy because of regressive societal attitudes which may also be held by policy makers.
There then arises, today more than ever, the need to tactfully disseminate research findings in a more decentralised, artistic and aesthetical manner. This may involve targeting a ‘popular culture’ non-policy audience through art and other forms of eye-candy such as film, exhibitions and storytelling in order to drive the facts home. The success of this process depends on creativity on the part of the research communicators tasked with coming up with a means of enticing and attracting this non-policy audience. Where this drive is led by the sole purpose of myth-busting and de-construction of shared societal misconceptions and stereotypes of migrants, such creativity may yield positive results, even in spite of the danger of further subjecting those whom we hope to emancipate with the research, to further stereotypes, which is a common pitfall.
Research communication is therefore in my view both a profession and an art. A good example of tackling a sensitive issue successfully is an ongoing research project at the ACMS titled Volume 44, which is a collaborative research project on migrant sex workers in the cities of Johannesburg and Musina. The South African National Aids Council has estimated that there are 153,000 sex workers in South Africa. A large proportion of these are located in Gauteng, the smallest but most populous province in South Africa, in which both Johannesburg and Pretoria are located. Sex work is popularly perceived as migrant dominated, and work conducted by Marlise Richter and Jo Vearey based on interviews with 1636 sex workers found that just over 85% of sex workers were migrants. Of these 39% were internal migrants and 46.3% were cross-border migrants. Volume 44 builds on a 2010 project which sought to highlight the experiences of migrant women involved in sex work within inner city Johannesburg through visual medium in the exhibition ‘Working the City’. At the time of writing, Volume 44 has staged 3 exhibitions: one in Johannesburg 21 May – 27 June 2014; a second in Amsterdam 25-28 June 2014; and the last one in Bogota in 14-19 July 2014. The exhibition was highly visual and its Johannesburg launch, for which I organised the publicity, attracted an attendance of nearly one hundred people from all walks of life: young students, media professionals, sex workers and academics.

Sex work in South Africa is not legal, and activist voices are calling for its decriminalization in a bid to combat the lack of access to health care, stigma, discrimination and criminalisation under the Sexual Offences Act faced by those engaged in it. While both migrant and local sex workers face stigma, particularly at grassroots levels, migrant sex workers are viewed with the utmost hostility. Therefore, it is only reasonable to assume that advocacy for the protection of sex workers in South Africa can only yield tangible policy results once social attitudes that result in stigma have been eliminated, or at least sensitised, from below. 

In the coming years, researchers will need to learn to adopt popular packaging for their research communication if their voice is to be heard beyond the ivory towers of universities. This is especially true with contentious topics like migration where research positions are often not what receiving communities and policy makers may want to hear. Volume 44 is an attempt to use photography, real-life narratives, audio and other forms of exhibitory art to get ordinary people thinking in a different way about contested issues. The art, complementing the research findings about migrant sex work, can provide potent weapons to communicate unwelcome research messages for positive evidence-based policy making, social transformation and other envisaged policy outcomes.

Visitors to the Johannesburg Volume 44 exhibition view '"Letter to a young sex worker" - a wall of letters written by the project participants'
Kudakwashe Vanyoro has concluded his Research, Communications and Outreach Internship at the African Centre for Migration and Society(ACMS), University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa), funded by the Migrating out of Poverty Research Consortium. Read Kuda's profile.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Survival in the City of Gold

By Kuda Vanyoro
I have never ceased to be fascinated by Johannesburg and the many experiences it has offered me throughout my internship. There are many sides to this beautiful city but not all are delightful. In my opinion, Johannesburg is a place of opportunity where people of different cultures, races and nationalities converge in search of better lives, thus its epithet Egoli (city of gold). In the broad Johannesburg space internal migrants (as presented in my last blog) and international migrants co-exist. Each migration trajectory brings with it varied effects on the culture of the city, which becomes one of struggle for survival. Both internal and foreign migrants are driven by the desire to get employed - formally or informally - in an attempt to extract financial resources for a better livelihood in the city and for remittances to send back home. Stiff competition among internal migrants for these limited resources which are then extended to foreign migrants builds up, resulting in a system that marginalises those who are less skilled and those who demand higher wages from employers. So it is often the locals who suffer in this search for gold that the city promises.
This complex system results in wage-labour conflicts and competition, leaving those who lose out with no alternative but to survive the hard way. This gets me to the central focus of this blog: crime in inner-city Johannesburg. The views expressed here are more of an opinion than an expert analysis, and emerge from my personal experience as I try to draw out lessons and key themes related to the migration and poverty field. On two occasions during my short stay in Johannesburg thus far, I have been a victim of crime. The first encounter was a random amateur mugging on the sidewalk, and the other one was a more professional mugging in the early hours along the streets of Doornfontein. My brushes with crime in the city are, of course, not  unique. I urge the reader not to sympathise with me: I have come to terms with these misfortunes as part of my internship experience and have nothing to shed tears about.
The understanding I have arrived at from my experience is that migration for work in a city like Johannesburg is functional, creating a fairly equitable system of subsistence, better livelihood and economic development in South Africa and the region as a whole. I drove this point home in my previous blog.  However, not everyone benefits. Some are left out due to other variables which are somewhat more academic than I have scope for, but one factor is poor government policy. Most of the migrants who are less well served by the formal labour system turn to informal work such as vending. But what happens to the least well served who are not educationally or skilfully equipped or who simply lack the will or capacity to be entrepreneurs? I am of the conviction that some of these people either return to their original homes, or alternatively they turn to crime, which is a male dominated occupation in this city. Contrary to the claim that external migrants are responsible for most of the crime in Johannesburg, both internal and international migrants are involved,. Even nationals that migrate to the city for better lives may be vulnerable to falling into criminality because the cheaper labour and better skills that foreign migrants offer leads to some locals failing to find jobs. Government policies often ignore such realities, and in the process overlook a vicious cycle that renders South African society hostile and unsafe for everyone. This demonstrates the pertinence of a solid and realistic migration and labour policy for the broader society and everyone’s well-being in the fight for the eradication of poverty.
My unfortunate experiences awakened my curiosity to find out the rational dynamics around migration and crime. I did not manage to talk to a lot of people involved in crime due to the issue’s sensitivity and the lack of a clear cut research agenda, but an informal chat with Mark (not his real name), a local Xhosa man who stays in Berea, was enough to convince me that sometimes crime was a response to the frustrations of unemployment. Although not xenophobic, Mark did attribute his joblessness to the influx of foreign migrants, but not exclusively. He was aware of the government’s central role in job creation, but he alluded to the fact that he had turned to crime (“other means” of livelihood) because of the huge pressures brought to bear on the labour market by both internal and foreign migrants. Maybe it was just his poor excuse for his unruly and deviant behaviour, but nonetheless it should not be totally disregarded.
Again, such mundane stories of migration in a context of poverty pose more questions than answers. I am not aiming to provide answers but to call for critical thinking around the social dynamics of migration and migration’s adverse effects in the absence of efficient and real policies meant for real people. There is much that can be done to alleviate poverty in Southern Africa and one of these things is development of a proper migration and labour policy, without which the poor will continue to suffer the adverse effects of crime and other social ills. Until such a time, the search for a better life and the promise of gold in the city will remain highly contested and unduly competitive.
Johannesburg by night - a site of "other means" of livelihoods

Kudakwashe Vanyoro is the current Research, Communications and Outreach Intern at the African Centre for Migration and Society (ACMS), University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa), funded by the Migrating out of Poverty Research Consortium. Read Kuda's profile.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Poverty: who needs to change?

by Paul Clewett

I find that the done thing when encountering fellow Brits abroad is to start off über polite, gently introduce yourself, then rapidly descend into heated debate about all manner of pertinent contemporary issues. The Second World War, for instance, was standard fare when I studied in Germany.
And so fittingly, four days into my internship at the Asia Research Institute in Singapore, I ended up in a bar drinking overpriced San Miguel with an assortment of locals and expats, discussing Britain’s colonial legacy. I was (probably over-enthusiastically) suggesting that British expats in Singapore owe their privileged position vis-à-vis many other migrants in Singapore to more than talent and hard work, and perhaps quite a lot to a head start in the global labour market off the back of a significant period of aggressive imperialism.
This was fairly uncontentious in itself. It’s quite hard for people (who aren’t Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party - UKIP) to claim that the Bengali or Tamil construction worker down the road on low wages and in a workplace that offers little health and safety protection finds himself in that position because he didn’t try hard in school. But it gets much more complicated when we start talking about what this actually means for us as privileged individuals, and equally so for scholars and policymakers.
In March, there was a debate on Duncan Green’s ‘From Poverty to Power’ blog over this precise issue, although you’ll have to bear with me to see the connection. It kicks off with Paul Collier talking about his book ‘Exodus,’ which argues for restrictive migration policy in the North towards selected countries in the South where brain drain can be identified as harming development prospects, an approach that Justin Sandefur sums up as  “deport thy neighbour.”  Sandefur rails against the flimsy evidence base on which brain drain arguments are premised and highlights the paradox that comes with proposing a draconian migration governance regime in the name of realising development ‘freedoms’ in the South.
Despite the opposing views, this whole debate is a product of the development industry’s long-standing bias towards two things in particular: the nation state and the poor. The baseline assumption is that if you are from a poor country,  you automatically shoulder the responsibility of ‘developing’ that country. There will be those who find it quite acceptable that citizens do their duty. But let’s face it, citizenship in its formal sense doesn’t mean quite what a lot of governments would like it to mean. Nor should it: a significant number of people’s lives and therefore obligations, are spread across and in between countries. Their duties and allegiances might belong to business in one, church in another and family in both. The point is, simply coming ‘from’ a place is not enough to label someone duty-bound to ‘develop’ it. Just as the North, the home of development policy, retains its right to set its own priorities and its inhabitants pursue their own livelihood strategies, so must the South be allowed to do the same. The results of policy that is supportive of this livelihoods approach can be quite extraordinary too, see Grace Baey’s recent film Ceria, which documents Ristanti Ningrum’s story, for instance.
But this doesn’t mean that there is no responsibility towards the poor. Nor does it mean that diaspora has no place in development. It is simply that responsibility shouldn’t be set on the terms of the rich, conveniently emphasising the duty of co-nationals or co-ethnics to develop their ‘own’ at the expense of asking difficult questions of the livelihoods of the rich. If we believe in Amartya Sen’s conception of development as freedom, then just as tirelessly as we research and implement strategies to open up the choices of the poor, we should be investigating how the lives of the rich are limiting them in the first place. When we start our car, we should be thinking about the extent to which we’ve just undermined the viability of the local transport system (credit to Doreen Massey for that example).
Our lives across the world are hopelessly intertwined, and it is likely that the richer you are, the further your life is embedded in that complex web of processes and relations that spurs globalisation. The renewed excitement about migration and development is great because it brings this fact home - quite literally for the Indonesian female domestic workers (FDWs) in the wealthy households of Singapore, the focus of ARI’s current work. The Strait of Malacca no longer separates Indonesian rural life from the wealthy across the water. And so the poor and the rich are forced to negotiate power, difference and livelihoods, regardless of how much public debate on these kinds of issues is stifled and suppressed. I think this kind of insight is one of the great, if unforeseen, outcomes of the Migrating out of Poverty programme.

Paul Clewett was the 2014 Research and Communications Intern at the Asia Research Institute of the National University of Singapore. He was funded by the Migrating out of Poverty Research Programme Consortium to conduct research and uptake work within the Southeast Asia regional programme between May-August 2014.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

A Life on the Move

By Kuda Vanyoro

I embarked for Limpopo on 12th April on a personal journey to visit my grandparents. At the back of my mind I was cognisant of the fact that many far-reaching lessons had to be drawn from this first time experience. Being a province situated at the North Eastern corner of South Africa and sharing borders with Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique; I knew that the journey to Limpopo was going to be a long and rough one. 400 kilometres of pothole infested tar was not a joke, especially while sitting in the back of my sister’s truck.
We left Johannesburg at around 10:00am and during the drive I delighted myself to a healthy chat with my brother. Both of us had expectations of what rural Limpopo looked and felt like; imaginations we had created for ourselves from the stories of witchcraft and backwardness we had constantly heard about the province. I pictured the surreal images of goblins running around and a dense population of poverty stricken people, which was not the reality. We had barely driven for 30 minutes when we stopped. My sister, who was driving, had not informed us that we were also going to pick up our aunt who lives in Mamelodi Pretoria, situated in the Northern parts of Gauteng Province. Her house was one of the conventional tin shacks that most South African rural migrants are accustomed to. She gave us a warm welcome and repeatedly made reference to her shack as her “beautiful city home” and how we should always feel free to visit. This was, after all, home to her, I thought. She had a lot of possessions that she wanted us to load into the truck and take to Limpopo with us. She also owns a house in Limpopo and seasonally she returns home after accumulating some income and new possessions. These possessions included plastic chairs, carpets, a table and sacks full of all sorts of things. The tin shacks were indeed small so it only made sense to send these things back home where they were most needed and utilised.
Having loaded the back of the truck, we squeezed ourselves back in. It was quite clear to me that this was going to be an uncomfortable journey. My aunt also joined us at the back with her husband, to my uttermost surprise, given the little space available. Despite this, we made our way to the freeway to Limpopo, which we then deviated from and headed onto a bumpier strip road after 40 kilometres of driving. Along the way, we compared city life to the rural areas and Aunt Maggie was very open and forthcoming about her migratory life. “The reason I carry these things back home is because my neighbour is a thief”, she explained out. I laughed at the thought but her seriousness constrained my laughter. She really meant it and the only reason she was moving all these possessions was because it was unsafe to leave them in the tin shack. This nomadic behaviour was the story of her life: she would do this every single time she thought of visiting home; carry her belongings and go. I was shell shocked at the very idea of such a life but such was hers. All this sacrifice was in the name of migrating for work and sending remittances to the family back home.
At around 4pm, we were neared Limpopo and now I could clearly see that my idea of the place was far from reality. There was a well built taxi rank opposite the main grocery shops, just along the Johannesburg highway. The only difference was that I could now see the cows and smell the countryside air, fed by the fresh scent of cow dung. The sign “Welcome to Zebediela” was a reminder of where we were now. On our short drive to the house, Maggie’s husband Sipho began to explain to us how stands and houses were actually more affordable here than in the cities. Mostly they would sell for as low as 1000 Rand (£56.39) to local people. The houses were so big and spacious that for a moment I even forgot where I was. Finally we arrived at their house.
We offloaded the truck after being warmly welcomed by Aunt Maggie’s last born daughter and the grandchildren she took care of, then we went into the house. It was an electrified house with 8 rooms and 2 garages. There was also running water and almost everything one would expect to find in a city home. This was very different from the lifestyle in Johannesburg to which I was accustomed, especially the vast amount of space available. Johannesburg was home to more people than space but this was a very different scenario. I even wondered why anyone would leave such a beautiful house for the hustle and squalor of Johannesburg and Pretoria. What shocked me the more was the juxtaposition between the tin shack Aunt Maggie lived in Pretoria and the beautiful house I was sitting in at that moment. She owned it and all the possessions we had come with was offloaded and put to good use in the house.
Most of my questions were answered by our visit to one of my Granny’s houses. It was there that I realised that the reason people migrated from these rural areas to the city was that here, there was no economy to talk about. People did not farm at all, due to the dry and hot climate in the province, not to mention the infertile land. There were not enough resources to sustain rural life, coupled by the non-industrious environment. Only a few people with entrepreneurial skills managed to open vegetable markets in the taxi rank while some worked in the bars and bottle stores, not forgetting those that took to sex work. But all these businesses heavily relied on remittances sent from the city for their survival. People were therefore left with no alternative but to migrate and seek monetary income elsewhere.
Interestingly, not all members of the family migrate. Some (usually the grandparents) still remain to take care of the grandchildren, and the youth (25-40 years of age) are the ones who mostly go to the city in search of work. This I concluded from mere observation and some input from my newly found friend Wellington, who is also a migrant worker. These migrants often invest more in their rural homes than in the city by sending back remittances in order to increase their material wealth, societal prestige and livelihood. This accounts for why Aunt Maggie prefers living in a shack and forking out as little as 300 rand (£16.91per month) for rent in the city, while utilising much of her income on extending and maintaining her house back home. I also noticed how food prices are much lower than those of the city, which makes Maggie’s income much more useful at home than in the city.
Aunt Maggie’s story is not unique, neither is it representative of the whole South African rural-urban migrants. I am, however, convinced that it is enough to give us a sense of how rural migrants behave in order to improve their lives in a cultural as well as family context. The context of family, in this case, is an important one since most migration decisions are made with them in mind and not in isolation. Gender roles and other demographic factors also contribute to who goes and who stays at home and are often reinforced in the family institution. It would be interesting to carry out an ethnographic study of the Limpopo people in order to capture some of the cultural considerations that migrants take before moving from the rural areas to the city and how these also shape expectations for remittances back home. The story also exposes the benefits of rural-urban migration as a means of providing for a better life back home, without which poverty would prevail. This is migrating out of poverty in practice, life on the move.

*Kudakwashe Vanyoro is the current Research, Communications and Outreach Intern at the African Centre for Migration and Society, University of the Witwatersrand (Johannesburg, South Africa), funded by the Migrating out of Poverty Research Consortium. Read Kuda's profile.       

Monday, 28 April 2014

Migration research and public engagement: Reading Across Worlds

by Grace Baey

Reading Across Worlds (RAW) is a project that aims to bring visibility to inspiring stories of domestic workers across Singapore through film and photography. Grace Baey reflects on the notion of ‘shareability’ that led her to set up the project with Bernice Wong and Ng Niqin, co-founder of the local arts initiative Beyond the Border Behind the Men (BTBBTM).

 “Hey folks I drafted a project description for our Facebook page. Any thoughts?”
“Sounds too wordy. Where are you going to put it?”
 “There’s space in the ‘About’ section”.
“Nobody reads that.”
“Post the write up with a picture, and we can share it amongst our friends.”
“Good thinking!”
“Yes, it’s more about shareability”
Shareability Ever since this word was mentioned, it has continued to inform the ways I think about research and public engagement. As academics and researchers, many of us are well aware of the age old criticisms. We write too obscurely. The format is unfriendly. And the most disheartening of all: “Nobody reads that!”
Having researched on migration issues for over five years, I often slip into the false presumption that people would be interested to know about these topics just because they are socially relevant in Singapore’s everyday context. But social relevance doesn’t always translate into social interest – not without deliberate effort, at least.
Stemming from my experience working on the “Reading Across Worlds” project, I’d like to share three points that I found useful for doing research communications. First, find compelling stories to illustrate key issues. Everyone loves stories, and they have the ability to connect people on an emotional and intellectual level.
Second, explore different mediums that can be shared and grasped easily. Having identified your main message, try novel ways of presenting the information, such as through an infographic or photo series. Third, use social media to promote your piece. Whether we like it or not that’s how most people consume information these days.
Whilst there may be concerns about the potential dilution of academic rigour when taking on these tasks, making research accessible through customised outputs remains a necessary first step to raising public awareness on social issues. Whenever I am unsure or have questions, I always try to tell myself: “Take courage and step out!”
Grace Baey is Research Assistant and Communications Officer for the Migrating out of Poverty RPC Southeast Asia regional partner, the Asia Research Institute (ARI) at the National University of Singapore. 
RAW’s short film ‘Ceria’ was publicly released on International Women’s Day 2014. To view and for more information, please visit: The accompanying sequence of photographs by Bernice Wong can be viewed at
This blog was originally published as an article in the March 2014 edition of the newsletter of the Asia Research Institute (ARI), Issue 33, accessible at: