Thursday, 27 April 2017

Gendered migration and construction work in Nepal: Agency, vulnerability and welfare outcomes

By Priya Deshingkar, Anita Ghimre, and Jagannath Adhikari

Last week we held a well-attended workshop in Kathmandu, Nepal to discuss our research work on migrant labour in the construction industry. The current literature on women and migration in Nepal is limited and polarised towards accounts that construct them as victims in need of protection against sexual harassment and risks at the workplace and rarely as agents of change for their own lives and futures.

Our work explored the varied reasons for men and women’s entry into construction work as well as its outcomes for their welfare. It also addresses the issue of how gender norms and caste relations are performed, contested and (re)produced within different spaces of work and living.

The interviews we held with women showed a more complex reality than is typically portrayed in mainstream debates. It shows how women’s subjectivities in construction work are developed relationally and in the context of patriarchal and caste power systems relegating them to low-paid work and limited from upward mobility in their careers.

At the same time construction work provides an easily accessible avenue for paid work outside the home for women and this can provide a range of opportunities including earning money for fulfilling personal goals including funding one’s own education or training, establishing financial independence away from spouses, establishing one’s self in urban areas away from dysfunctional marital and kinship relations, escaping shame if they are still single beyond the age of marriage and boosting household income by pooling earnings with other family members’ earnings. Women in the indigenous communities have more freedom to migrate but in the Terai region, gender norms are more restrictive for women so they rarely migrate.

But access to paid work is not straightforward and women are in a constant process of negotiating and pushing boundaries in their quest for a better life where construction work, despite its disadvantages can provide a route out of rural drudgery. Even those women that have relatively more freedom to migrate are subject to constant scrutiny of their behaviour by female and male contractors who are watching to see if they behave like “good” women.

Physical harassment is rare but malicious gossip can force unmarried girls to return home because parents put pressure on them to come back to maintain their family honour.
Contractors (thekedar) especially those from the Terai, hold strong views about the capabilities of women and perceive them as being weak, needing constant supervision and incapable of performing skilled jobs. They are therefore reluctant to employ them. They also believe that employing women leads to unrest at work sites as men are attracted to them, through no fault of their own as women should not be outside the home anyway and explain sexual harassment in this way.

However, changes in labour market dynamics and shifts in attitudes towards female workers are being seen as more men are migrating to the Gulf, opening up opportunities in skilled work for women. There has been a gradual shift in attitudes towards female workers and now there are more women in skilled jobs even though they continue to earn less than men for equivalent work. On the plus side, they have their own income, which gives them more bargaining power and independence.
Policy is not geared to supporting migrant workers, let alone female workers. Both men and women are exposed to risks because of a lack of protective clothing, poor implementation of labour laws and lack of protection through insurance schemes. But women suffer additional hardship at worksites in accessing toilets, managing their reproductive health, and taking care of children.

We are in the process of writing up this study and papers and a policy brief will be published over the coming months. Keep an eye on the Migrating out of Poverty website and Twitter feed for further information. 

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Low-skilled migration and precarious work. Where do the borders of forced migration begin and end?

We are delighted to announce that our Research Director, Priya Deshingkar, will be speaking in New Delhi next week.You can catch her on Monday 17 April at 10.30 in the Conference Hall of the Centre for Policy Research. Alternatively she is speaking later that day (15.00 - 17.30) at the Conference Room, UNESCO New Delhi Cluster Office.

Click on either link for more details of how to RSVP.

In this talk, Priya Deshingkar will draw on research conducted in different locations in Africa and Asia, including India, to draw out the conditions in which low-skilled migrants are recruited and employed and the contrasting discourses on their experience. In doing so, she will highlight the often complex and contradictory outcomes of migration and the difficulties this creates for dichotomies of forced and free labour. She will also discuss the policy implications of these findings.

Priya Deshingkar is Research Director of the six-year DFID-funded Migrating out of Poverty Research Consortium; Principal Investigator for the Capitalising Human Mobility for Poverty Alleviation and Inclusive Development in Myanmar (CHIME) project, and Senior Research Fellow at the School of Global Studies. Her research focuses on migration and poverty with a focus on precarious occupations, debt-migration, labour rights and agency.

As Research Director of MOOP, Priya Deshingkar has played a key role in designing and overseeing mixed methods research in five global regions: South and Southeast Asia as well as East, West and Southern Africa where she has worked closely with the Asia Research Institute in Singapore, The Centre for Migration Studies in Ghana and The African Centre for Migration and Society in South Africa. She has also developed a strand of work within the consortium on the migration industry which has resulted in path breaking research on brokerage in the migration of domestic workers in Ghana and brokerage in the migration of low-skilled construction workers from Bangladesh to Qatar.

As the Principal Investigator of the CHIME project, Priya Deshingkar has designed and led mixed methods research in four regions of Myanmar which will yield unique evidence on migration drivers and process in the country.

Priya Deshingkar holds a PhD from the Institute of Development Studies and is an internationally recognised authority on internal migration. She has played a key role in influencing the global policy discourse on internal migration and development. Her most recent book is Circular Migration and Multilocational Livelihood Strategies in India (co-edited with John Farrington, 2009).

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.

Monday, 13 February 2017

How unpopular policies are made: Lessons from Bangladesh, Singapore, and South Africa

By Thea de Gruchy
In December, in a post titled #Decrim: A call for evidence-based policymaking, I referred to work which I had done with Ingrid Palmary investigating the making of South Africa’s 2013 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Act. This project formed part of a larger project, funded by the Migrating out of Poverty Research Consortium , which included three case studies.
The first was on the processes and decision making which led to the creation, passing, and implementation of the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Act. The second case study was conducted by The Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit  at the University of Dhaka in Bangladesh, and is an analysis of the Domestic Workers Protection and Welfare Policy, which was approved by the Bangladeshi government in 2015. And the third was undertaken by the Asia Research Institute  at the National University of Singapore, and investigated the mandatory weekly day off policy for migrant domestic workers  introduced by Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower  in 2012.
The three case studies are obviously all quite different. They explore different contexts; different kinds of policy; and different political structures. However, what Ingrid and I were able to do in this working paper, which has just been published, is explore the similarities and differences that could go some way in helping us to better understand policy making in post-colonial settings.
To be clear, a lot has been written about policymaking and policy processes. However, most of this has centred on understanding policy making in European and North American contexts – for example 84 % of studies using the Advocacy Coalition Framework to analyse policy making between 1987 and 2013 were conducted in Europe and North America.
But aside from trying to address this gap in the literature, the work highlighted three important things to bear in mind when trying to advocate for policy change in these contexts.
The first is that when trying to make interventions in the policy making process, being able to either harness or successfully address ideas and panics about morality, and women, is powerful. For example, the anti-trafficking movement in South Africa was helped enormously by its ability to use pre-existing normative ideas, which many South Africans have, about sex work and the inability of women, particularly poor women of colour, to make decisions about their own lives and, particularly, sex lives. Whilst I certainly don’t agree with these ideas or this tactic, it is important to acknowledge that this is a reason that many, what I would call, socially conservative causes are able to gain traction.
Secondly, building coalitions and relationships with those involved in policy making is important. Social and political capital go a long way when trying to convince policy makers of your cause. Policy makers often have their own personal agendas – this was clear in both the case studies focused on domestic work. Policy makers were, by-and-large, also employers of domestic workers and, therefore, more sympathetic to maintaining the status quo than incurring additional personal cost through implementing policy which gave more rights to domestic workers. Building coalitions and relationships with other organisations and individuals, both locally and internationally, who agreed and sympathised with the efforts of civil society in Singapore and Bangladesh was incredibly important in the fight for the two policies.

And finally, more work needs to be done to build the trust of policy makers and the public in research, whilst insuring that they maintain a critical perspective and understanding of the limitations of the research with which they are presented. In other words, we need to improve research literacy so that people are better equipped to figure out whether the evidence and (alternative) facts with which they’ve been presented are sound (this is obviously something which many people are advocating for in the age of Trump). And, so that people, who aren’t familiar with how research and universities work, are better placed to understand what peer reviewed research is able to bring to the policy making table.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Becky is dead

by Sine Plambech


At the end of March, in London, MOOP is hosting the Migrating out of Poverty: From Evidence to Policy conference. Sine Plambech has been invited as one of our multimedia presenters. She will screen her film 'Becky's Journey' in the final plenary session. 

Spoiler alert: Reading the following blog (and the title, for that matter) does give away quite a bit of the film, but the blog and the film pieces are well worth your time, no matter what order.

Becky’s life represents the world in microcosm. She isn’t the first of the migrants I’ve worked with to have died and will unlikely be the last. Becky was 28 years old.


                                                        Thousands start afresh in Niger. Photo Unit//flickr.cc(by-nc-nd)

“Rest in Peace, Becky. You will always be in my heart”, it said on a Facebook page a couple of months ago. I often receive Facebook messages and posts, text messages and calls from the female migrants I have interviewed during my research as an anthropologist on migration and trafficking from Nigeria and Thailand to Europe.

Everything from travel plans, questions about the best routes to Europe, selfies with kissy faces and sunglasses, photos of new-born babies, food pictures, to quick messages on whether they can borrow money from me.

Death notices come up from time to time. A brother is dead in the Sahara desert on the way to Europe, a Thai woman was stabbed by a client in a brothel in Denmark, another one killed in a traffic accident in Thailand. A friend of Becky wrote the notice about Becky’s death.

I hadn’t heard from her in a few months. It wasn’t unusual. She had earlier lost her telephone to armed robbers, had countless new numbers, no money for internet, or had been in her village or the Sahara without coverage.

Last time we spoke Becky was about to cross the border from Nigeria to Niger. This was her third attempt to reach Italy through Niger and Libya. I had been waiting to hear from her. Then came this sad R.I.P. I asked her Facebook friend what had happened. I thought she might have died on the way to Europe – in the desert or the sea. But that’s not how she died.

Europe is real


I knew Becky for five years. She died aged 28. The first time I met her, she was laughing when she entered a small hot living room with red painted walls in a house on the outskirts of Benin City, Southern Nigeria. A city from which most of the Nigerian women who sell sex on the streets of Europe begin their journey.

In the living room I was interviewing Faith and her mother. Faith had just been deported from Italy after selling sex on the street for six years. She knew more women who had been deported from Europe and women who, like Becky, dreamed of going there.

After the first meeting with Becky, she and I spent a lot of time together. Becky was a driven zipped lip girl – a woman who, as Becky explained it, doesn’t say anything about anything to anyone, because that is the best way to protect yourself in Nigeria. But she did want to tell, vividly and with rich detail, about her life and her travels towards Europe to a harmless anthropologist.

We ended up making the documentary film Becky’s Journey with a small Nigerian film crew. Because Becky had a dream of becoming someone – to be famous – a dream of being seen and heard. She was fearless and sensitive. She had many and conflicting reasons for dreaming of Europe. Poverty was just one of them. One day Becky emptied the fridge for the chocolate I brought from Denmark for late field note writings. “Yes – I ate it all”, she admitted bluntly. “I love your chocolate. It’s real. Everything in Nigeria is fake. I love the shoes my aunt in Italy sent me too. They are real. That’s why I love Europe. Europe is real”.

Women’s migration from Nigeria


Becky travelled from Edo State in the Southern Nigeria. The number of asylum-seeking Nigerians who arrive in Europe has tripled in the last eight years, and even though the chances of being granted asylum are minimal for Nigerians, the numbers continue to rise.

What is unusual compared to other groups of migrants and refugees is that much more than 50 percent of the Nigerian migrants are women. The Edo State in Nigeria is thus one among a few places primarily in the Global South, from where women in particular travel to the Global North for marriage, the sex industry or to become involved in trafficking. From here women most often travel through so-called ’intimate migrations’ – that is, the migration is linked to contact with a man or men,  sex clients or husbands.

The flows of intimate migrations are growing rapidly on a global scale. The research project I am responsible for, Women, Sex and Borders – Seeing Migration, Sex Work and Trafficking from the Global South, looks at this phenomenon through fieldwork in two sites – Edo state in Nigeria and Isaan in the North-eastern Thailand. In these areas, female migration is an everyday condition, a strategy, and an emotional state. Children miss their mothers abroad, old parents are dependent on the money being sent home, and everyone knows someone with a daughter in Europe.

Here, information on new migration laws are received over the phone from the people who already left, read on Facebook or heard through village gossip. In these areas, both families and development depend on the money migrants send. But things are getting harder, as migration control is blocking the usual routes to Europe. Becky is not the first migrant I have worked with, who has died as a result – direct or indirect – of migration and/or border control.

As long as the man pays


Becky didn’t want to go to Europe just because she was poor or wanted ‘real’ goods. She also wanted to be free. She wanted to free herself from her family’s and Nigeria’s shackles. Before she attempted to get to Europe the first time she converted from Islam to Christianity. She was raised in a Muslim family in the inland state of Adamawa, where Boko Haram are now raging. But “Muslim women don’t travel to Europe and do what I want to do”, Becky explained. So she travelled to Southern Nigeria and became a Christian. She wanted to decide for herself whom to date; her family didn’t want to meet her non-Muslim boyfriends. But as she explained, “I want to live like a white woman – I want to decide for myself’.

The first time she tried to reach Europe she used the money that her father had given for school to pay for her counterfeit travel documents. But she was stopped at the airport. Nigerian border control officers are trained by European police officers to detect counterfeit documents and in particular to prevent women who are under suspicion of travelling via a trafficking network. The women are stopped before they get on the plane – and this causes great frustration, costing them a ticket and the chance to reach Europe. They are often placed in counter-trafficking centres in Nigeria, paid for by donations from European countries, in an attempt to make them give up their dream of Europe.

This didn’t stop Becky – for her it meant that she couldn’t get on a plane, but had to choose a longer and even more dangerous and expensive journey through the Sahara desert. Becky knew that she was going to sell sex to make money if she came to Europe. “If you don’t want to sell sex, then stay away from Europe”. She knew someone who sold sex in Italy, and this woman told her: “We make love anywhere – as long as there is a man who will pay for it”.

Becky believed that migration and selling sex was the best option she had to improve her life. “The people I have met, who have sold sex, they have looked beautiful when they came back to Nigeria”. Thus, in 2011 she began her second attempt at migration. A female ‘madam’, who was already in Italy, now paid for the travel costs.

With 36 other migrants she travelled through the Sahara desert to Libya. From Libya they would cross the Mediterranean Sea to Italy. After 10 days in the desert there was no more food and water. A young man, sitting right next to Becky on the back of the truck, died.

When they finally arrived in Libya, the civil war broke loose, and it was no longer possible to cross the sea. After hiding in Libya for two months she had to go back to Nigeria. On the way back her friend died.

The friend was nine months pregnant with a Libyan man’s baby, a sex client she had met while they were waiting to cross the ocean. She went in labour in the desert, but the placenta was stuck. A fellow travelling woman told them that the placenta could be pushed out, if the woman giving birth bit hard in a spoon. The little group of women and men stood by helplessly and watched as she died.

Now Becky had a dead friend and a new-born baby in her arms. She delivered the baby to its grandmother in Benin City with a message that her daughter would call soon. Since then the film about Becky did well and sometimes it was possible to get money from screenings around the world. We sent the money to Becky. But the small amount of money and two failed attempts did not make her give up her dream of Europe, and towards the end of 2015 she tried again.


Women as smugglers


Becky’s third attempt was also through the desert. Before that she asked me if I knew whether boats were still arriving in Italy from Libya. “Yes, they do”, I said. “But Becky, it’s very dangerous. Don’t travel that way. Have you heard about all the boats that sink in the Mediterranean?”

“Yes, of course I know”, Becky replied, “I watch everyday on CNN. But I’m not afraid. If I die, I don’t care. If I get the opportunity to cross the sea, I will do it. I won’t stop before I reach Italy. I’ll do it for me and my family. But I hope that my madam can take me on a plane to Italy”. Becky’s madam wanted €60,000 to get Becky to Italy by sea. But then something happened – Becky negotiated the amount down to €30,000. In return, she would travel around Edo state and find five other women to bring along. Becky became an agent and a smuggler herself.

Typically, the images we see of trafficking or smuggling are dominated by tragedy, exploitation and death – and all are perpetuated by men. We see images of the trafficker – a man in handcuffs – and what arises are thoughts of the criminal, deviant man from the Global South.

Women, on the other hand, are portrayed as victims who are transported passively, and – as I have earlier written – often drown. But women are not just passive in this process. They may not be the captains of any ship, but research shows that women also take part in this and other parts of the ‘migration industry’. Women recruit, negotiate prices, instalment plans, collect wire transfers, clean the temporary housing where migrants sleep before they can be smuggled, cook the food, and some are drivers.

Research on human trafficking and smuggling shows that there are three typical ways into the world of smuggling: 1) via social networks or “the entrepreneurship of coincidence”; 2) the person seeks out or is at the place where the demand for smuggling exists; 3) the smuggling act is part of the woman’s own migratory journey – as it was for Becky.

One of the last photos she sent me was a selfie of her with four other woman – all of them all dressed up with make-up. These were the women who were going with her to Europe, and they were drinking beer at a bar on plastic chairs in Benin City to celebrate that they would begin their journey to Europe the next day. A farewell party.

Becky against the world


Becky’s life is a portrait of political and economic reality. A kind of microcosm of the world situation. Her life provides important insights into the many conditions that determine the routes of migrants, of small, lived and dreaming human life that is complicated and made impossible by conditions that are out of control.

Becky’s trajectories were entangled with everything from Islam (which she converted from); Boko Haram (who up until now have killed six of her family members); the fall of Gaddafi in Libya (which thwarted her second attempt to reach Europe); the EU’s migration controls (which forced her to indebt herself to get to Italy); and corruption in Nigeria (a rich country where wealth is not distributed fairly).

Becky asked me: “What do I say Sine when I get to Italy, if the police take me? Do I say that I’m a victim of trafficking or that I escaped Boko Haram?” The line between migrant and refugee is not always clear. Many are both at the same time.

Her third attempt to reach Europe did not succeed – she had to turn around, and was stopped in Niger. On the way back she got pregnant. The baby died in her womb, and she died, because the doctor’s attempts to get the baby out in a worn down clinic failed. Becky died of something as common as pregnancy. Just like her friend in the desert.

 





Use #MOOPconf to discuss or comment with @MigrationRPC and @SinePlambech


Dr Sine Plambech is a post-doc anthropologist at the Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS) and a former research fellow at Columbia University in New York. Her research interests include Nigerian sex workers in Europe and their deportation, as well as the sex work and marriage migration of Thai women. She combines her academic work with directing documentaries, most recently Becky’s Journey. This has so far resulted in four award winning documentaries on the topics of international migration, sex work and human trafficking. Follow her on Twitter @sineplambech.
 

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Women on the move in Ghana: Gender, social change, and migration

By Dorte Thorsen


Thinking on gender and migration is often underpinned by assumptions that aren’t supported by empirical facts. Remote, rural communities are NOT always sites of stagnant traditions and social inertia! Young women’s migration is NOT always an escape from marriage!

A new working paper in the Migrating out of Poverty series analyses qualitative data from a study of intra-household dynamics and youth aspirations. It demonstrates that economic and environmental explanations of internal migration from northern to southern Ghana are insufficient on their own. Migration is prompted by, and prompts, deep seated social and cultural change - which this paper explores.

In a setting where women’s migration was frowned upon until recently, it is peculiar that young unmarried women have become the majority of southbound migrants. It begs the question of what has changed in rural communities to make this change possible.

Unpacking social change

Conceptually the paper situates itself with debates about culture, globalisation and modernity to untangle what social change involves. Imaginatively the authors combine Clifford’s work on culture and modernity to question what triggers change and Pieterse’s work on globalisation and culture to distinguish between different forms of change.

They look at surface elements of change such as food habits, fashion, art forms etc. and deep seated elements relating to norms and values. The analysis departs from Pieterse’s preoccupation with hybrid identities produced in migration to capitalise on Clifford’s deliberations on how outside influences trigger change in local places.

By pegging the analysis on this distinction between different types of change, and being inquisitive about the social changes reinforcing, or being reinforced by, economic and environmental factors, the paper sheds light on changing gender dynamics in northern Ghana.

Social change leading to migration

In northern Ghana men are increasingly unable to provide for their families. This is key to understanding changes in the social fabric of rural communities. That men in northern Ghana have difficulty in meeting their culturally mandated responsibilities is not a new phenomenon. It underpins the economic and environmental explanations of men’s migration.

However, these explanations fall short of explaining why more and more women and not men move in response to the grinding poverty.

Women are making up for men’s dwindling provisions by engaging in a wider range of farm and off-farm activities to help feed their families. Helped by the development of infrastructure and the greater availability of goods, women have expanded petty trade. The mobility that goes with acquiring goods and accessing markets has opened the door for a gradual acceptance of greater mobility among women.

Young women’s migration is tied into older women’s responsibilities and access to resources. Given the relations of production and reproduction in northern Ghana, young women have little access to resources and little control over their own labour: they work for their mothers. This dynamic supports migration in different ways. Mothers sponsor the migration of daughters (biological or social) to receive remittances which help cover household expenses. Daughters may migrate under their own steam to relieve themselves of unpaid work and gain control over their income.

Marriage and migration

Marriage has not disappeared from the migration equation. Senior men are increasingly unable to meet responsibilities related to marriage. As a result, young men are required to find the money for bride wealth (payments to the girl’s family). Because senior men are struggling these payments have grown. In the past the groom and the girl’s family provided the bride with a trousseau of things needed to run a household but this expense has increasingly been shifted over to young women before marriage or in the early days of their marriage.

The need to pay for continued education, to purchase the things they desire, and to enter marriage in a way that establishes their position in the marital household motivates young people to migrate. It motivates young women more than young men because they have the least access to resources. Senior men’s inability to provide these things has gradually eroded patriarchal authority in northern Ghana leading to a continuation of the flow of young female migrants towards the south.

Social change wrought by migration

Migration creates surface level changes as rural youths adopt new ways of being in the South. It is often thought that return migrants’ urban dress and hairstyles and their new eating habits entice rural youths to migrate. However, in northern Ghana surface level changes are dismissed by young and old alike. Migration, this paper argues, is fostered squarely by deep seated social change in rural communities.

Migration also creates deep seated changes. The ways in which migrants conduct themselves at the destination in relation to intimate relationships, having children, and marrying has provoked changes in the practices, norms and values surrounding marriage. Young migrants do not always adhere to the rules of endogamy but enter inter-faith and inter-ethnic relationships which are frowned upon in northern Ghana. They also break with the former sequence of marrying first, then co-habiting, and then having children and often end up relying on kin to perform the marriage rituals after having started a family.

Within rural households migration sparks changes in norms and values relating to decision-making and the division of work. Tasks in the household and on the farm are usually done in accordance with local notions of age- and gender-appropriateness. But the allocation of work becomes more flexible when no-one of the right age or gender is around. Nowadays boys do some of the work in the house that used to be considered girls’ work. Men and women, boys and girls all chip in doing farm work. This flexibility is not entirely new but it has become much more visible, if not normalised, due to the numbers of young women migrating.

By drawing attention to the different dynamics creating social change in northern communities the paper demonstrates that the relationship between migration and social change is not unidirectional. The power of senior men is gradually eroding and they can do little to preserve the norms that used to give them prerogative and power within the family and in the local community. Grinding poverty in northern Ghana contributes to broader social changes in multiple locations. This impacts on gender relations within households and across generations in ways that empower women by affording them room to make decisions and increasing their independent incomes. However, the changes may also make young women more vulnerable because parents and other senior relatives cannot, or will not, intervene in marital conflicts if they have not endorsed the marriage or the marriage rituals have not been completed.

___

Dorte Thorsen is Theme Leader on gender dynamics in the Migrating out of Poverty Research Programme Consortium in the School of Global Studies. She is also Associate Tutor in Anthropology.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Buduburam in the Gomoa region of Ghana, west of Accra: From refugee camp to self-sufficient community

By Mariana Chambel

Liberian refugees have been displaced in Ghana since 1990. The Gomoa-Buduburam refugee camp, located 35 km west of Accra, was initially built to host these refugees escaping the civil war in Liberia. Given the nature of their move, Liberians were afforded protection by the Government of Ghana. Initially, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) provided the settlement’s residents with aid and relief to the refugees but by 2007, UNHCR started to advocate the return of the refugees since peace had come to the country. The Government of Ghana followed UNHCR’s steps and actively promoted voluntary return to Liberia. At that time there were an estimated 40,000 refugees in the camp. In 2011, the Deputy Minister of Information in Ghana stated that “Buduburam is no longer needed and that the inhabitants should consider returning to Liberia or settling elsewhere in Ghana”. Yet that statement did not persuade the refugees to leave.

Fast-forward to today, when visiting the settlement, currently managed by the National Disaster Management Organization (NADMO), I came to find a peaceful, structured and multi-cultural place. A place where its residents have access to basic commodities and services, such as water, food and sanitation. In the settlement there is also a hospital, police posts, fire service posts, a school, a place of worship, a Liberian cultural centre, numerous shops and markets, and a security system. Many of its inhabitants engage in farming, trading, or small business.
A significant number of the remaining community of first and second generations of Liberians, sees in the Buduburam settlement their home; while some of them were buried in Gomoa, others were born in Gomoa.
Who has left and who has stayed?
Since peace came to Liberia and the country became politically stable, 18,642 refugees have voluntarily repatriated.
Byrne (2013) argues that the concept of identity influences refugees’ likelihood of finding a durable solution. The sense of national identity, namely being born in Ghana, is an important indicator about a refugee’s desire to remain in Ghana. As Byrne explains, this demonstrates an emphasis on ethno-cultural concepts of identity over civic or legalistic concepts of identity. Those with strong ethnic bloodlines or ancestry, and Liberian national identities would be least likely candidates for local integration.
Durable Solutions
The Ministerial Committee has been tasked by the Ministry of the Interior, to make recommendations for the Buduburam refugee settlement closure. In theory, there are three durable solutions to exile:

Voluntary Repatriation:  
Voluntary repatriation has been considered by some to be one of the most durable solutions for refugees, since returning to one’s root is the best way to redress the situation of those in exile. Still, it is worth asking if return is indeed desired, advisable and/or possible for them. According to Yeboah (2015), some of their concerns about repatriation include: the possibility of attack or punitive action back home, and whether or not they would have access to shelter, health care, quality education, employment, and skills training services. Lastly, they anticipate financial compensations to cover for their lost belongings during the conflict, which is not necessarily going to come to fruition.

By 2007, UNHCR had ceased its repatriation efforts due to the lack of interest from Liberians.

Local integration:
Local integration suggests that refugees are self-reliant and have opportunities to support themselves in the host country. Yet, in 2008, refugee protestors made it clear about their unwillingness to be integrated into Ghana. Interviews conducted by Holzer (2012) revealed that most people feared and opposed local integration. Since the departure of the UNHCR, most refugees felt unprotected and and concerned about the host country’s attitudes towards foreigners. Moreover, local integration is a social and cultural process within the host country. Just like any other type of migrant, refugees go through an adjustment process of integration.

Resettlement to a third country of asylum:
According to Teye (2010), an important factor why many refugees do not consider voluntaryrepatriation or local integration as durable solutions is their desire to join a resettlement programme elsewhere, instead. Even though this is their preferred alternative, less than 1% of refugees are resettled worldwide. Despite the calm and peaceful environment in the settlement, I could feel that my presence raised apprehension among the people living in the settlement. Inhabitants distrust outsiders as they feel constantly threatened with the possibility of having to abandon their homes. Uncertainty comes with a lot of fears; whether they will be forced to repatriate, or forced to integrate, for the past 20 years Liberian refugees have been living in limbo. More than anything, communication would solve a lot of problems. People do not know what their status is, what the national health insurance card means for them, and they do not have information either about what is available when they return.

All in all, voluntary repatriation, local integration and resettlement to a third country have been widely accepted in literature as durable solutions to refugees, however, these solutions have not been fully materialized and refugees’ expectations, to improve their standard of living and find safe haven from persecution, have not been fulfilled. It is important to remember that under national law, refugees who are being integrated are entitled to the same rights and benefits as are nationals. However, considering what they have experienced, we should consider that they will likely need more support. Policies and measures to protect refugees and grant them rights should consider the identified factors that would make them self-reliant while taking note of their varying background characteristics. Displaced people, like any people, have different dreams, needs and goals that need to be accommodated in this process.



Mariana Chambel is a Migrating out of Poverty Communications Research Assistant based at the University of Ghana, Centre for Migration Studies.


Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Human Smuggling and Border Crossings - en français

We repost the blog by Dorte Thorsen originally published by Border Criminologies. This is a French translation by Alice Jeanelle.

Par Dorte Thorsen, directrice de la recherche qualitative et sur le genre, pour le consortium du programme de recherche « Migrating out of poverty » (MOOP), de la School of Global Studies, Université du Sussex, DPhil in African Studies, est chercheur associée au LMI-MOVIDA.


Traduction Alice Jeannelle 


Note de lecture de l’ouvrage Human Smuggling and Border Crossings, par Gabrielle E. Sanchez (Routledge, 2015).

Cette critique a été originellement publiée en anglais par le réseau « Border Criminologies » le 22 juillet 2016 (lire ici) ainsi que sur le site du MOOP le 1er aooût 2016 (lire ici).





C’est avec succès que Human Smuggling and Border Crossings (Trafic d’humains et passages de frontière) défie la prédominance d’un discours qui rattache le trafic d’humains aux organisations criminelles de type mafia, à la violence extrême et à la cupidité. Gabriella Sanchez brosse un tableau de réseaux fluides d’hommes et de femmes ordinaires, qui s’engagent pour faciliter le passage de la frontière extralégale dans l’Etat de l’Arizona, aux Etats-Unis, afin de surmonter des disparités de revenus ou de lutter contre – et s’opposer à – la marginalisation structurelle. À travers une combinaison unique de connaissances solides du contrôle aux frontières et des procédures judiciaires, obtenues via son travail d’interviews des détenus pour un tribunal régional, d’une analyse critique des dossiers judiciaires et d’une recherche ethnographique de terrain, Sanchez expose les diverses activités qui composent les opérations de passage de frontières. Son travail est une contribution importante au corpus de recherche émergent, qui souligne les perspectives et les pratiques des individus qui facilitent ces passages.


L’ethnographie s’attaque de façon continue aux discours mondial et local sur le trafic et le passage de frontières extralégales, en identifiant les visions biaisées et les déformations qui ont pour but de promouvoir des politiques publiques spécifiques. Conformément aux chercheurs critiques des régimes contemporains de la gestion de la migration, Sanchez remarque que porter l’accent sur les crises humanitaires, la violence et les morts dans les zones frontalières aboutit souvent en arguments hors-contextes et a-historiques, qui échouent à prendre en compte les effets des inégalités de race, de genre et de classe. Ceci, démontre-t-elle, est particulièrement problématique dans le contexte de l’Arizona, où les inégalités raciales remontent à plus d’un siècle et sont devenues avec le temps, à des degrés divers, institutionnalisés dans les législations du travail et de l’immigration.

Tandis que la marginalisation des immigrés Mexicains pourrait soutenir l’idée qu’ils sont enclins à s’engager dans des activités délictueuses pour gagner de l’argent rapidement, la déconstruction continue par Sanchez des mythes autour du trafic enterre cette idée avant qu’elle ne s’installe dans notre esprit. Son analyse détaillée des gens facilitant le passage de frontière montre qu’ils forment un groupe hautement disparate, tout en pointant avec précision les points communs relatifs au travail et au genre. Bien que les hommes comme les femmes peuvent opérer comme recruteurs et coordinateurs, les hommes sont habituellement ceux qui s’aventurent à guider les migrants à travers les frontières et les zones désertiques, les conduire d’un point à un autre, ou à la destination finale. Les femmes tendent plutôt à travailler en lieu sûr, où elles procurent des soins et apportent un soutien aux migrants en transit, remplissant ainsi le rôle important de garantir la fiabilité du réseau.

Ces informations fournissent de nouveaux éclairages. En approfondissant l’analyse pour comprendre les dynamiques de genre en jeu, Sanchez décompose les positions structurellement différentes et les parcours des hommes et femmes Mexicains aux Etats-Unis. Elle démontre que les femmes facilitatrices du passage de frontière sont plus installées dans les zones frontalières de l’Arizona que leurs homologues masculins, et que cela leur permet de puiser dans différents créneaux du processus de facilitation. Ces créneaux réitèrent les inégalités de genre dans le salaire, mais pas nécessairement dans la position sociale. Tandis que les stéréotypes raciaux au sein des autorités et forces de l’ordre exposent davantage les hommes Mexicains aux contrôles d’identité, les femmes facilitatrices et leurs familles sont, en réalité, plus profondément affectées dans les situations de détention et de déportation. Pour les femmes, la déportation implique la séparation d’avec les enfants, tandis que pour les hommes, dont les familles restent souvent dans le pays d’origine, la déportation n’a pas le même effet.

Enfin, défiant l’idée que les trafiquant appartiennent à des réseaux criminels, Sanchez décrit le caractère social et flexible des réseaux de parents et de proches de la facilitation du passage de frontière en Arizona. La plupart des gens ne s’engage pas dans ces réseaux par cupidité, mais inscrit plutôt sa participation dans un acte de solidarité et le sentiment d’être concerné. Quelqu’un en difficulté économique peut se voir encouragé par ses proches à participer à la facilitation du passage de frontière pour surmonter son embarras, ou encore les facilitateurs peuvent permettre aux migrants de travailler au lieu de payer un prix dont ils ne pourraient s’acquitter autrement. Souvent, les facilitateurs enrôlent les migrants comme chauffeurs (c’est-à-dire comme partie prenante du processus de facilitation) et leur proposent alors un prix réduit. Ces pratiques montrent la fluidité et la flexibilité des réseaux de passages de frontière en Arizona.

Human Smuggling and Border Crossings est un compte-rendu captivant, fondé sur des recherches de terrain, montrant comment et pourquoi les facilitateurs de passage de frontières s’organisent. Sanchez encadre son approche analytique dans le débat vieux comme le monde de la structure et de l’agency, et s’en réfère au travail de Bourdieu pour souligner que les choix se font dans les interstices des limites imposées par l’habitus et des liens tissés entre les gens autour de contraintes sociales et structurelles dans la lutte pour une position sociale. Toutefois, ce débat n’est pas évoqué dans son analyse.

Son argumentaire aurait peut-être gagné à proposer une théorisation plus approfondie de la multiplicité en entrecroisant l’économie morale autour des immigrés Mexicains dans les zones de frontières de l’Arizona, et les responsabilités sociales et la réciprocité dans la communauté mexicaine au sens large, ainsi que dans les relations plus intimes. Cet angle aurait pu faire ressortir plus succinctement les contradictions de la gestion de la migration en Arizona, tel que le traitement différent des femmes et des hommes mexicains, ou accorder aux migrants irréguliers un certain degré de régularisation, tout en leur refusant une légalisation complète. Cela m’intéresserait d’en savoir plus sur les façons dont les normes et les valeurs en lien avec les inégalités de genre et de classes sont affectées par les processus de marginalisation en Arizona, et comment la communauté Mexicaine est liée aux inégalités raciales.

La lecture de Human Smuggling and Border Crossings est un remarquable contraste avec le stéréotype médiatisé du trafiquant d’humains, qui arrive à point nommé, et offre ainsi une importante contribution à la compréhension des effets des régimes migratoires dans les pays du nord. Ce livre intéressera particulièrement les étudiants en master ou dernière année de licence, les chercheurs, les journalistes et les gens qui s’intéressent à la diversité des flux migratoires, au contrôle aux frontières et à la gestion de la migration. L’ethnographie étant abordée sans jargon anthropologique, c’est une introduction simple au type de vision et au genre de détail que les études ethnographiques proposent.

Traduction Alice Jeannelle

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

The Business of Adventures: Talking with Cai Yinzhou, Founder of Geylang Adventures

by So Young Chang



Adventure: an unusual, exciting, and possibly dangerous activity, such as a trip or experience, or the excitement produced by such an activity. (from the Cambridge Dictionary)

By definition, an adventure is something that takes place far from one’s comfort zone. It is not a word that would be used to describe activities in one’s own neighbourhood, that is, unless you live in Singapore’s red light district. Having grown up in Geylang all his life, the connotations of the place weren’t always known to Yinzhou. It was when classmates laughed at his introduction, or when army mates probed him about brothels in the area, that he realised how Geylang configures in the Singaporean imagination. 

In his own words, an adventure is “a sense of the unknown and an experience that you can’t define if you haven’t been on it before.” To counter some of the stereotypes he encountered, Yinzhou began doing walking tours of Geylang for friends, which eventually expanded to friends of friends. Two years ago, he quit his full-time job to start Geylang Adventures, a social enterprise that organises trails around Geylang among other activities such as Back Alley Barbers, an initiative that began by offering free haircuts to migrant workers, and Majulah Belanja, an annual event that brings together teams of three migrant workers and one Singaporean for a cookout competition. In the long run, his project is ambitious and idealistic: he hopes for a change in perspective where people’s work can be recognised in terms of their contribution to society and not by how much they are paid for the job. In fulfilling that vision, he is using Geylang Adventures as a platform to start a conversation, starting with those with an appetite for a bit of adventure. 

So, what is Geylang? It is indeed the only legalised red light district in Singapore, and over the years it has also gained a reputation for having some of the best food joints. It is also where a lot of changes have taken place post-Little India riots due to its large migrant worker population, becoming the testing grounds for the newest and latest surveillance technologies. 

Where most tour operators would stop at the curbside restaurant and a sideways glance at the “vices” in the streets, Yinzhou is much more nuanced and thorough in his approach. He makes you notice how right next to a brothel at street number 69, there is an established Buddhist association, speaking to the salvation and sin that co-exist in Geylang. Or facing an old apartment building, he makes you guess which flats have been converted into workers’ dormitories (hint: they are not supposed to be seen.) He points out how local residents would sometimes spray water on the ground to keep workers from gathering or how ultra-bright street lamps have been installed in every corner and alley to discourage people from hanging around. 

As a resident himself, he has a vested interest in the welfare of Geylang and emphasises multiple times throughout the trail that he operates on the principles of neutrality and mutual respect. His intention is not to protest the changes taking place in Geylang. Rather, he wants to ensure that all the stakeholders—whether local or migrant, influential or overlooked, rich or poor—are included in the dialogue and remain aware of each other’s needs in the space. 

Yinzhou does not see himself as an activist, but more as a facilitator who mediates the process of change. As a young Singaporean, he is wary of how his generation grew up without understanding how the current model of economic development has happened at the expense of a certain demographic of people, where low-wage migrant workers are seen as an economic asset.

“And when they get injured, they become a liability in this equation for growth, unscrupulous employers cancel their work permits, demanding that they should be taken out, and sent back as soon as possible. This chain of events is a direct consequence of their sudden lack of ability to contribute to the company's economic success.” 

This attitude is reflected in how migrant workers are geographically isolated and hidden from view by design—the ‘invisible’ dormitories being the most obvious example. He places a lot of importance on debunking this logic of “if you don’t see it, it means it’s not there.” 

“Because it’s not just a behaviour we are developing, it’s a culture. It’s a culture of being ungrateful to people who we know contribute directly to our success.” 

Seeing youth as a critical group, he also devotes a lot of time to speaking with students on leadership and community involvement. 

Walking through Geylang with Yinzhou, you get the feeling that he sees life itself to be an adventure. He is someone who is continually learning at every moment, whether at a library, from the street talk, or through plain old observation. Talking about why Singapore needs Geylang, he stresses that the lack of conflict and tension is not equivalent to harmony. Trying to keep people from gathering on the streets may bring down the level of noise or even the number of disturbances, but it may also take away the freedom and agency that everyone needs. He may not have the solutions to the problems that he sees, but with Geylang Adventures, he is helping to carve out opportunities for people to construct their future together. 

As he says, “real change is not about changing the dynamics of the ecosystem, but firstly to objectively accept and secondly to have the safe space for that conversation to happen.”




Talking with the sage of Geylang, who amongst his many endeavours, was once salvaging shipwrecks off the coast of Indonesia. (Photo by Kae Yuan)


Find out more about Geylang Adventures on their website or follow their Facebook page for updates on their upcoming events.



So Young Chang has recently finished a 3 month internship with Migrating out of Poverty based at the Asia Research Institute at the National University of Singapore.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Here is not my home. The story of a migrant construction worker in Ghana

by Collins Yeboah


In Ghana, both skilled and unskilled migrant workers seek greener pastures in the highly concentrated city of Accra and its sprawling peri-urban areas. Most of these migrants end up working in the informal and insecure sectors as domestic and construction workers.

Usually, the migrant construction workers are practicing craftsmen – masons, carpenters, and steel benders. A study by Yaro et al (2015) indicates that migrants skilled in construction work spend years perfecting their trade at home before migrating, due mainly to the surplus of crafts persons in their originating communities.

Why do construction workers leave?

“There are jobs in the Volta Region for masons like me, but they are not too many - it is the big construction firms that get all the contracts and pay us the masons as they want”. 

These are the words of Divine, a 23-year-old mason from Tsitsito, in the North Tongu district in the Volta Region of Ghana. Divine migrated to Accra because of poor salaries and low frequency of jobs in the Volta region.

Our Migrating out of Poverty global qualitative study in Ghana* found that the livelihood options in origin areas, though diverse, are of limited benefits to the emerging youth. The towns and peri-urban areas have limited construction projects mainly provided by the state, the Ghanaian diaspora and residents. It was also found that the non-farm sector has blossomed but with limited profit margins due to poor purchasing power and low populations. Farming is an important activity in both Northern and Volta Regions of Ghana but one whose significance is decreasing due to dwindling land sizes in peri-urban areas, falling soil fertility, soil erosion, and rising input cost. Petty trading is therefore the norm in the origin areas, especially for women.

Given the above local origin context, rural-urban migration for skilled work is encouraged by the entire household. The study further found higher wages in Accra are a major attraction for migrants. Also, the waiting time for moving between contract jobs is shorter in Accra. Added to this is the fact that the desire for housing - as reflected in the aspiration of the middle classes desire to own houses - drives the demand for the services of construction workers. Global processes of industrialization, modernization, and urbanization also provide the opportunities and conditions for migration.

Our study found that the migration of skilled workers is encouraged by the entire household as it holds promise for moving them out of poverty. Like many migrants, Divine reported that his family members consented to his migration and gave him their blessings. He self-financed his migration from his savings as a mason in Tsitsito and thus doesn’t have any debts to repay:

“I financed my migration from Tsitsito to Accra. I do not owe anyone in my village. I have a purpose, to make enough money and go back so I can start my own business…” 

Others use loans from family members and friends to finance their relocation.

Conditions in the migrant construction sector

Migrants seek jobs wherever they perceive jobs are possible. Where there is an opening, an offer is made with conditions advantageous to the employer. There is little job security in the sector and few people have formal contracts. Arrangements are usually agreed verbally. Our study found that masons in the construction industry earn between Ghc 30-40 a day. Workers are only paid for days worked - an indication of the extent of casualisation in the industry. They are not provided with sick pay, except in cases where a worker falls ill on the job and cannot continue for the rest of his/her hours that day. But they are not paid for any subsequent days off.

Construction workers tend to labour throughout the week from 7:30 to 17:00, with one day off on a Sunday. The six-day work regime is used across all categories of construction work and there are high levels of flexibility for the non-formalised sector where the rule is fulfilling one’s contract rather than the time used. A mason in Accra is expected to lay 100 blocks a day or plaster two walls a day. A good worker is capable of achieving this task in 5 hours (also called ‘finish and go’). As Divine puts it:

“I can lay more than 100 blocks a day. Masa, when you start, there is no rest for you. You see the difficulty involved? It is a work for the strong not the weak” 

Despite the challenges that he faces in the city Divine still holds the idea to save enough and go back to Tsitsito. The intention to stay in Accra permanently, or acquire assets in Accra, is not part of Divine’s plan. He considers himself a ‘hustler’ and therefore sees Accra as a temporal place, a survivalist strategy to save money and return home:

“I did not come here to spend heavily on food. No way! I have plans to save enough of what I earn so I can go back to Volta region and establish my own work. Here is not my home”. 




Yaro, J. A, Awumbila, M & Teye, J.K (2015). The life struggles and successes of the migrant construction worker in Accra, Ghana. Ghana Journal of Geography Vol. 7(2), 2015, pages 113-131

*GP011 MOOP study- See one of our journal articles based on this study: Social Networks, Migration Trajectories and Livelihood Strategies of Migrant Domestic and Construction Workers in Accra, Ghana