Friday, 18 December 2015

Meandering journeys through restrictions and intersecting regimes of mobility

By Dorte Thorsen

Contemporary policy regimes in Britain, and in Europe in general, aim to manage migration through the separation of what are perceived as productive and desirable forms of migration and what are seen as threatening or undesirable forms. Such perceptions are not objective. As migration scholars Nina Glick-Schiller and Noel Salazar[i] point out, they normalize the movements of some people, while criminalizing and entrapping the ventures of others.

So much attention goes into this separation currently and produces a deeply problematic conflation of refugees and migrants that not only runs the risk of violating the rights of refugees but also of forgetting to assess whether the criteria for separating one category from the other are apposite. If you read Dew’s story, you get an idea of the level of ambition, the large sums of money spent to pursue that ambition and the ingenuity demonstrated by many migrants to find solutions. Their perseverance begs the question why people with so much ambition and capacity to cope with difficult situations belong to the category of undesired migrants.

With the exception of a narrow range of professions, migrants from sub-Saharan Africa are increasingly excluded from established and legal transnational mobility flows, not just to the global North but also to the stronger economies in Asia and the Middle East, and to African states that have aligned their mobility regimes with those of the European Union.

Restrictions on foreign nationals’ mobility and settlement are not a new phenomenon in Africa. For decades migrants have been labelled as irregular migrants, their local mobility has been curbed and expulsions of migrants have been articulated as part of national security concerns during conflict or crisis or as part of broader efforts to curb migration. Migrants across the continent have experienced having their identity papers and residence cards inspected at random by state authorities and others, who regularly demand levies whether the papers are incomplete or not.

‘Irregularity’ and ‘illegality’ then is more than a question of preventing undocumented migration; it is a political construction used to criminalize and exclude certain groups of migrants, and to fuel a growing industry in itself of equipment and personnel to separate the desired migrants from the undesired ones.

European funding and technical support for border control and for pre-departure prevention of irregular migration now extends beyond North Africa to African states known as sending countries. As a result mobility patterns have changed in three important ways. First, previously established migration routes towards North Africa have become more difficult and dangerous to traverse for migrants who are seen as potential irregular immigrants to Europe. Second, migration has been rerouted from both long-established and more recent places of destination to a much broader range of locations. Third, journeys require increasingly ingenious ways of circumventing border control, and they entail considerable danger of being delayed or blocked at all stages of the journey. Contingencies shape migrants’ trajectories as they navigate the closure of imagined possibilities, insecurities where they are stuck, and the opening of never-thought-of opportunities.

When potential and actual migrants seek to overcome these politically erected barriers to realize their aspirations for the future, breaking the law is not at the heart of their strategies, even if they do clash with international legal systems. Rather, the use of forged papers, carefully constructed applications for visas or asylum, and the clandestine crossing of borders, contest the power of documents.

They challenge what Yael Navaro-Yashin[ii] has termed the material culture and ideological artefacts of modern states by ignoring the veracity and indispensability of such documents. In the regimes of mobility advocated and practiced in the global North, such disregard is perceived as the crux of illegality and not only individuals are criminalized: where corruption allows for the purchase of false papers, sometimes directly from the issuing state institutions, states too are criminalized and branded as conservatories of kleptocracy and bad governance.

The politics at play here entail the juxtaposition of a singular understanding of documents associated with the modern state with an imaginative understanding of how converging regimes of mobility open new spaces, in which enterprising individuals can make an acceptable living as migrants or non-migrants, inside or outside the continent.

Dorte Thorsen is the Theme Leader for Gender and Qualitative Research at the Migrating out of Poverty Research Programme Consortium. Her research interests include child and youth migration and, since 2012, the lives of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa living in Morocco.


[i] Glick Schiller, N. and N. B. Salazar (2013) 'Regimes of mobility across the globe', Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 39(2): 183-200.
[ii] Navaro-Yashin, Y. (2007) 'Make-believe papers, legal forms and the counterfeit. Affective interactions between documents and people in Britain and Cyprus', Anthropological Theory 7(1): 79-98.

My meandering journey: from Africa to Asia to Europe

By Dew* and Dorte Thorsen

“My journey from Cameroon started when I was 19 years old and I got a visa for China; now fifteen years later I’m in France, hoping to receive the papers that will allow me to work. I’m a sportsman and I’m doing well. This year I came second in the regional championship.”

This is the story of a typical migratory pathway out of Africa, shaped as it is by increasingly restrictive regimes of mobility, a good portion of courage and perseverance and the ability to cope with uncertainty. And yet, each individual’s story has its own specificities making it highly personal and unique.

“I was a black belt judoka of second grade back home and having watched lots of Chinese movies, I thought it would a great place to continue my sporting career. I was lucky to get a visa but although I continued to compete in China, I had to have other jobs to sustain myself. I learned to DJ and through working in clubs got friends from all over the world. One helped me getting a job as a sports teacher at an international school. That was me sorted! For the next many years my life was smooth.
Just before coming back to Cameroon to renew my passport and see my family, things began to go wrong. I had a car accident, and then I had a run in with the police. I got out of it but ever since nothing has worked out for me.
My plan was to get my new passport during a two-week holiday but I was told they had introduced biometric passports and I’d have to wait at least six months for a new one. What should I do? I had my jobs and a girlfriend waiting for me, so I did everything I could to speed up my return. This meant getting a fake passport from one of the countries where they can easily be obtained. It was costly and apart from spending all my savings, I got extra money from my girlfriend and my brother.”
The introduction of biometric passports was pushed by securitisation and the EU’s global approach to migration management. European countries were not the only ones to tighten border control; by the end of the 2000s China had also become more restrictive in its immigration politics but rather than halting African transnational migration, it pushed migrants like Dew into irregularity.
“At first, I still wanted to return to China, so I tried to apply for a visa in every country I went through but every time they told me to go to Mali because I was traveling on a Malian passport at the time. I tried to arrange for a visa at the Chinese embassy in Bamako but when it fell through because my bank card got blocked; I got fed up and went to Algeria. This was where my journey to Europe began.
Seven months later I succeeded in getting a visa for Malaysia but, much to my own surprise, I stopped in my tracks, reflected on my situation and decided not to go. By then my girlfriend of eight years had broken off our relationship. Instead of going back to Asia, I went to Mauritania to obtain reliable information about the routes to the Canary Islands. In Noadhibou, I trained judo with the Spanish military officers who were on coastal patrol. One of them drew me into teaching judo to migrant kids. It was a great four months but, as I couldn’t make money through this work, I continued to Morocco.
Same thing in Morocco. All the work I did – in a bakery, in a restaurant, as removal man – I could only just make enough to pay for a small room and my food. It couldn’t get me anywhere. I had exhausted my savings and the money relatives and friends sent were few and far between. I gave up on getting a visa but still wanted to get to Europe, even though I thought crossing the Mediterranean was too dangerous. I knew I could trust my physical strength to get me there via the over-land route and thus after about a year in Morocco I decided to cross over the border fence into the Spanish enclave, Melilla.
This was easier said than done. The living conditions in the forest around Melilla were extremely rough. To get food was a problem, to sleep was a problem and to get health care if you fell ill was a problem. The area was raided frequently by the Moroccan military to discourage us from climbing the fence. To get across, we went in big groups of 100-200 persons, maybe the first 50 or 40 would succeed in crossing all three fences and the rest were beaten back. All the border patrols – Moroccan and Spanish alike - were vicious. One of the Cameroonians was beaten so severely in the head that he died of the injuries a week later.”
The violence used in the patrol of the Spanish enclaves’ borders was documented by Doctors Without Borders, amongst others, and finally motivated their withdrawal from Morocco in the spring of 2013. Human Rights activists in both countries document the violence and seek to ensure the protection of migrants’ right.
“I was so shocked that I went back to Rabat to take stock. While I was there, a whole group of my friends entered Melilla in a massive attack. If anything, I was physically stronger than they were, so I picked up the courage again. I tried several times. The day I had my luck, I was at the front and had no time to wait for anyone. Once I crossed the third fence I just ran. I ran as fast as I could to get away from the fence area where you risk being moved back to the Moroccan side even if you are standing on Spanish soil. I went straight to the police to register my arrival.
I’ve been waiting ever since. I’ve been waiting for 2 ½ years by now. I’m not sitting with my hands in my lap waiting. In Melilla I washed cars while waiting so I had money to buy internet access and a bit of clothes to look decent. In mainland Spain I was busy learning the language but as the job prospects were minimal I continued to France.
I’m still waiting. If I didn’t have my sport, I don’t think I could have coped with all this waiting. Some days I train a lot, but I don’t always have the means to eat properly to restore my body. When I first began to compete in France, I was surprised I didn’t get prize money when I did well, like we did in Cameroon. I’ve only managed to get work for a few weeks and with no income and no prize money I’ve had to rely on the kindness of others and I’ve had to move on because I couldn’t contribute to paying the bills. That is really, really difficult when you normally are a hard-working person. The day I get my papers and I can work, my life begins again!”

*Dew’s details are confidential, he has given his consent to publish his story.

Dorte Thorsen is the Theme Leader for Gender and Qualitative Research at the Migrating out of Poverty Research Programme Consortium. Her research interests include child and youth migration and, since 2012, the lives of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa living in Morocco.


Minding the Migration Data Gap: new data from the Migrating out of Poverty Consortium

By Julie Litchfield

Research on migration and development has seen a dramatic resurgence in recent years. As Michael Clemens, Çağlar Özden and Hillel Rapoport Michael A. Clemens, Çağlar Özden, Hillel RapoportMichael A. Clemens, Çağlar Özden, Hillel Rapoportoutline in their introduction to the special issue on migration and development of World Development in 2014[1], part of this renewed interest and increase in published research is due to long overdue[2] improvements in the availability and quality of data. Estimates of international migration and remittances are now published by the World Bank and the UN Population Division compiles census data to give estimates of migrants stocks.

This improvement in data quality and data availability allows us to make tentative statements about the extent of internal and international migration. One of the most serious attempts to estimate internal migration is underway by researchers at the IMAGE project who use census data to estimate that globally in 2005 there were 229 million people living within the same country but in a different part of that country compared to five years before. Estimates for lifetime internal migration are much higher, with 763 million people in 2005 living outside their region of birth.[3]  Combining these with UN estimates of international migrants of 232 million people living outside their country of birth, suggest that nearly a billion people live away from their region of birth. 

Census data is useful for providing insights into how many people are migrants and their demographic profile but is less useful for understanding the why and the how of migration. Understanding why people migrate and for how long, how that contributes to, or even changes, their and their household’s livelihoods and well-being are just some of the questions of great interest to migration researchers and policy makers. These questions can be answered with qualitative research and there are some impressive examples to draw on which provide rich and nuanced stories of migrant lives. Deirdre McKay’s ethnographic work provides new insights into the aspirations and experiences of Filipino temporary labour migrants;[4] Trond Waage uses visual anthropological tools to document the lives of young migrants in west Africa; and Migrating out of Poverty (MOOP) partners at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore, have used qualitative methods to shed light on the recruitment of Indonesian domestic workers.

Complementing this qualitative work is a growing body of evidence emerging from quantitative research using household surveys. These offer the opportunity to include more people in the research sample than qualitative research typically allows, anything from a few hundred to a few thousand people is pretty normal, and to use more detailed questions that capture a wider range of data than is feasible to collect in a population census. There are a growing number of household surveys for developing countries which capture information on migrants. For example, the Mexican Migrant Project collects and publishes data on migration between Mexico and the United States, and a number of household and labour force surveys now contain supplementary modules on migration.[5]  These are encouraging signs that the migration data gap is closing but there is still some way to go.  

The Migrating out of Poverty (MOOP) consortium is contributing towards this by publishing open access micro data from a set of five comparable household surveys collected between 2013 and 2015, in five developing countries: Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Ghana, Indonesia, and Zimbabwe.   The precise sampling strategy differs across countries, and we can’t claim that our samples are nationally representative. However because we adopt a purposive approach, selecting regions which are known to be migrant-sending and sampling quotas of households with and without migrants, we generate large enough sub-samples of households and individuals across different categories of migrants and non-migrants to make us confident that our findings are robust.

Our sample sizes range between 1200 and 1400 households, with data available on every member of those households. We adopt a near identical survey instrument in each country, which facilitates comparisons to be drawn across countries. Our household questionnaire includes a complete household roster collecting social, economic and demographic data on both migrant and non-migrant members of the household, and a specially designed module that captures interactions between migrants and their households in the form of remittances and social contacts. Our survey also explores perceptions of migration as a way of improving the living standards of households.

One of the important contributions the MOOP consortium hopes to make by collecting and publishing this data is to support more research into internal and intra-regional migration. As the figures of migration estimates quoted above suggest, three out of four migrants remain within their country of birth and much international migration is within the global South. Our data will help to shed more light on these movements and help to inform policies that respond appropriately to those affected by migration.

The full data sets from the first three of our surveys undertaken in Bangladesh, Indonesia and Ghana, are now available to download for free from Data is available in both STATA and SPSS formats and users can access the questionnaire and a short user guide for each survey. Data for Ethiopia and Zimbabwe will be made available in 2016. 

We want students, researchers and teachers to access the data, and policy makers to use it. Feed back to us and let us know what you do with it.

Bangladesh internal and international migration destination maps
Remittances help fund improvements in housing

[4] McKay D. 2012. Global Filipinos. Indiana University Press.
[5] See Santo Tomas et al (2009) for a useful audit of migration data.

Julie Litchfield is the Theme Leader for Quantitative Research for the Migrating out of Poverty Research Programme Consortium (MOOP) and Senior Lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of Sussex. Working Papers discussing aspects of the findings of the Bangladesh, Ghana, Indonesia and Zimbabwe surveys are also available. A summary of key data from the Indonesia survey has also been published. See also Eva-Maria Egger's presentation of the preliminary findings of MOOP's household survey conducted in Zimbabwe  and her related blog discussing the context:  Migration in Southern Africa: A Visit to the City of Migrants.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Cities on the climate front line

By Priya Deshingkar

Extreme weather has displaced around 26 million people from their homes every year since 2008. Yet climate migration has failed to make it on to the negotiating table at major climate change summits, and COP 21 could be no different.

The draft agreement gives short shrift to climate-induced migration: the word is used just twice in the 54-page document, and the only other mention relates to a “displacement coordination facility” to support those displaced. Campaigners and major migration agencies fear that even these will be axed from the final treaty. This matters because without momentum at global level, governments may fail to put in place policies and infrastructure to address links between climate and migration.

Extreme weather events and sea-level rise will displace people. But evidence shows this is unlikely to result in the ‘tides of people’ swamping Europe that scaremongers often speak of. [1]

Rather, cities in the global South are likely to bear the brunt of climate migration — or, to be more precise, their slums.

This is certainly the case in South Asia, which has some of the world’s fastest growing megacities. In Dhaka, capital of disaster-prone Bangladesh, roughly 350,000 migrants arrive every year, adding to the city’s 14 million inhabitants. Most are displaced from the delta region where storms and sea level rise have made farming less viable.

One way of viewing such migration is as a way to adapt to climate change. But government attitudes and policies around rural-to-urban migration are increasingly hostile. [2] Many governments refuse to provide services for fear of encouraging further migration, which they link to worsening crime, filth and disease. Research from Ghana and India shows the extent of government inaction.

This inaction keeps in place awful systems of waste disposal. Take the notorious ‘flying toilets’ of Accra and Nairobi, where waste is put into plastic bags and flung as far away as possible. Or open defecation, which plagues cities such as Delhi and Mumbai.

For cities to cope, local governments must recognise the inevitability of climate-induced migration, and take action to upgrade infrastructure and services.

This will be tough. The high density of informal settlements coupled with insecure tenancy can make it impossible to improve sanitation. Virtually every inch of land in informal settlements is in use, making it difficult to dig trenches for drainage. Many people live in tenements under constant threat of eviction, meaning landlords are reluctant to improve toilets.

Not only that, but many informal settlements develop in marginal areas of the city that are vulnerable to flooding and destruction due to severe weather.

There are more enlightened, imaginative approaches to improving urban settlements. In Mumbai, the NGO SPARC gathered feedback from local people and built community toilets that 20,000 people use every day. In Kibera, Nairobi’s largest slum, the Human Needs Project NGO developed a clever system of wastewater recycling for unplumbed neighbourhoods. Often these ideas come from local people themselves: the Global Initiative on Community-Based Adaptation is compiling and sharing information on what people are doing to adapt — and these ideas are likely to be more effective than top-down formulas.

But governments must also act. And cities shouldn’t only see newcomers as a risk or burden: often migrants are the most resourceful of their peers, providing cheap labour, trading and manufacturing goods for urban consumers. A more enlightened attitude to migrants will benefit cities and all who live in them.

Priya Deshingkar is Research Director of the Migrating out of Poverty research consortium. Her interests include precarious migrant occupations, exploitation in labour markets, informal settlements, gender and poverty. 

This blog was originally published by Sci.Dev.Net on 3 December 2015 under their Focus on Migration series and is also available at: 

[1] The Government Office for London Migration and global environmental change: future challenges and opportunities (UK government, 2011)

[2] UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs World population policies 2013 (UN, 2013)