Thursday, 17 August 2017

Understanding migrant life in the market: The Kayayei of Madina

By Emmanuel Quarshie and Gloria Makafui Dovoh

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

Madam Rakiya, the leader of the Mamprusi kayayei.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 11 August 2017

Is child labour always wrong?

By Dorte Thorsen

Debates about child labour are often emotional and deeply moral. Campaigns use images of small children doing work that looks much too hard, often in dirty rags and sometimes crying. These images speak to the consciousness of northern consumers, not least because they link children’s work in commercial crops, garment factories and mines with their consumption of chocolate, clothing, and various minerals.

Such images also prompt policies to eradicate child labour. Policy-makers have recently called for private companies involved in global supply chains take action to tackle child labour. But what exactly falls under the label ‘child labour’?

Defining child labour
The definition of child labour has evolved over the years; from including all productive activities, to equating child labour with paid employment and as distinctly different from unpaid work within the family. The International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) current interpretation of child labour is that it is work that deprives children of their childhood, potential and dignity, and is harmful to their physical and mental development.

The ILO also states that not all work done by children should be classified as child labour. If work does not affect the child’s health and personal development negatively and does not interfere with schooling, there is no reason to label it as child labour. In such cases, work is likely to help children and adolescents to build skills and experience for their future. This interpretation is a significant softening of earlier stances on child labour. 

Yet, skills development appears to be perceived mostly as chores around the home and in the family business or as earning pocket money outside school hours and during school holidays. Clearly, children are not seen as workers but as school children. Moreover, it is inherently difficult, if not impossible, to measure the three areas of deprivation set out in ILO’s definition of child labour.The language and statistics used in international campaigns about child labour are confusing in several other ways. On campaign posters, UNICEF state that 168 million children are forced to work. This choice of language stimulates associations to forced labour and modern slavery, even though being forced to work may also hail from necessity and does not inevitably imply exploitation. ILO tells us that 168 million children are in child labour but says nothing about being forced to work. Instead, ILO notes that 85 million are in hazardous work.

Figures are frequently communicated as facts despite being estimates. One example is the announcement that the number of children in child labour fell by a third between 2000 and 2012, further detailed by the ILO as a fall by 40% among girls and 25% by boys. A key message from both UNICEF and ILO is that actions to eradicate child labour are effective. Indisputably some of them are, but the lower figure might also pertain in part to the changing definition of child labour. The ambiguous use of figures begs questions about which children should be targeted in programmes addressing child labour?

Approaches to tackling child labour
Contrasting approaches to child labour and child protection exist. On the one hand, abolitionists advocate universal labour standards and a complete ban on child labour. Standards concerning the minimum age for admission to employment (ILO Convention No. 138) are central to this standpoint. This is based on the assumption that keeping children out of work up to a certain age will keep them safe and in school. The call on private companies to root out child labour in their supply chains and their subsequent actions usually fall in this category.

On the other hand, a child-centred approach is gaining ground, which looks more at the issues that motivate children’s work and how they perceive their labour force participation. It is based on the assumption that working children are best supported through protecting them against exploitation and hazardous working conditions. Standards concerning the worst forms of child labour (ILO Convention No. 182) are central to this standpoint.

Troubles with the ‘child labour’ label
Despite the drive for universal standards, all countries have not stipulated the same minimum working age nor does it remain fixed. Special provisions for developing countries means that some signatories have set 14 years as the official minimum age, others 15 or 16 years. Burkina Faso, for example, increased the minimum age from 14 to 16 years in 2008 to align with legislation concerning compulsory education, while Guinea allowed 12-year-old children to work provided their parents or guardians gave written consent. Consequently, programming to eradicate child labour addresses children under twelve in some countries and adolescents up to sixteen in others. Clearly, a standardised approach is inappropriate from a child protection point of view. But will the companies sourcing materials in different countries be willing to address such differences?

When children or adolescents are barred from work due to their age, the reason why they are working and what they gain from this work is not taken into account. They may indeed need to work due to poverty and family circumstances, but they may also choose to work because they receive valuable economic and social rewards for their work. Regardless of the underlying reasons, they may be immensely proud of their ability to earn.

Allowing children’s and adolescents’ views on their work to be heard and seeing it in context is a recognition of them as social actors, and of their rights according to the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child to participate in decisions concerning them. It does not condone the exploitation of working children, nor does it say children always make good decisions. The child-centred approach challenges the idea that the solution to child labour is a ban. Evidence shows that when children and adolescents under the minimum age for entry into paid employment are barred from work, they are often driven into more hazardous and exploitative work. Moreover, if protection is tied to age and not working conditions, adolescents over the minimum age may be subject exploitation and harm.

Worst forms of child labour
ILO Convention No. 182 concerning the worst forms of child labour is a useful instrument. It prohibits employing children up to the age of 18 years to do work considered hazardous to their physical, mental and moral health and development, work that is severely exploitative, or involving children in illicit activities, pornography, and sex work. However, like the minimum age standards, standards concerning occupation and working conditions can also be problematic if applied in broad brushstrokes to classify an entire sector as a worst form of child labour.

This is the case for domestic service in Rwanda, for example. Yet, young children and older children rarely do the same chores. In many situations, the boys and girls employed as domestic workers do chores that are in accordance with local perceptions of what is age-appropriate. Young domestic workers are mostly engaged to do childcare, clean and collect water, while older domestic workers are deemed sufficiently knowledgeable and mature to be tasked with cooking. Unsurprisingly the ways in which domestic workers below 18 years are treated can be placed on a continuum from very good to very bad, suggesting that a case-by-case use of the Convention No. 182 to protect working children would be more adequate.

Working children’s potential
The assumption that children drop out of school to do paid work is a persistent idea among abolitionists. Evidence focusing on adolescent migrants from rural areas who have come to the city to work shows that this is rarely the case. Most of the adolescents drop out of school due to school malfunctioning or their parents’ inability to pay school-related expenses. This is particularly prevalent at senior secondary level when schooling becomes notably more expensive. Adolescents counter the lack of opportunity in rural areas by leaving for the city.

Many of them migrate with the objective of continuing education while working or back home when they have saved up money for fees. Distant relatives who employ an adolescent to work for them, frequently promise to pay fees for vocational training instead of a wage. Migration is thus a means to continue education in one way or other. Even for those who do not pursue education in the formal sense, the migratory and occupational trajectory is often structured by an element of learning. Through work they acquire skills that allow them to ask for jobs that command higher wages and shift from unskilled work to lowly skilled, urban work.

These children and adolescents may not engage in the production of goods serving global commodity chains, but the issues their work project regarding educational prospects, risks, and vulnerability are important to bear in mind. Companies sourcing globally may help working children by recognising that not all are involved in child labour. They can also insist on standards concerning occupation and working conditions being used sensibly by producers, sub-contractors and law-enforcing authorities in order to protect working children and help them attain skills and education.

BOURDILLON, M., LEVINSON, D., MYERS, W. & WHITE, B. 2010. Rights and wrongs of children's work, New Brunswick, New Jersey and London, Rutgers University Press.

HASHIM, I. M. & THORSEN, D. 2011. Child migrants in Africa, London, Zed Books.

ILO 2013. Marking progress against child labour - Global estimates and trends 2000-2012. International Labour Office, International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC), Geneva.

THORSEN, D. 2013. Weaving in and out of employment and self-employment: young rural migrants in the informal economy of Ouagadougou. International Development Planning Review, 35, 203-218.

THORSEN, D. 2014. Jeans, bicycles and mobile phones. Adolescent migrants' material consumption in Burkina Faso. In: VEALE, A. & DONÀ, G. (eds.) Child and youth migration. Mobility-in-migration in an era of globalization Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.

Monday, 7 August 2017

A hand-to-mouth life: The story of migrant shoe-makers in Accra

By Emmanuel Quarshie and Chris Zigah,

Migration has always played an important role in socio-economic development, especially in the developing world and Ghana is not an exception. Irrespective of the tremendous contribution of the informal sector to socio-economic development of Ghana, certain jobs have not been adequately studied by researchers. For example, cobblers within the urban informal sector - people who mend and polish shoes. Since Ghana’s early independence, the shoemaker's trade has been gradually increasing. People have traveled to neighboring countries in West Africa like Burkina Faso, Togo, Nigeria, Benin to engage in this informal sector activity. 

Various types of Cobblers
While in many settings women outnumber men in the informal sector cobbling is a mainly a male dominated field with little or no female contributions. Cobblers in Accra can be grouped into three main types:

Type 1 the professional cobbler – they are fewer in numbers, however they make the most in terms of income. They engage in the manufacturing of locally made footwear popularly called the “Kumasi sandals” found on the Ghanaian market. The professional cobbler unlike the other types of urban cobblers can be said to be a more stable profession.

Type 2 the stationed cobbler - they provide services like mending and polishing of footwear, belts, leather bags and other products. The stationed cobbler is located at a particular area where their customers come to them with their footwear for servicing.

Type 3 the “mobile cobbler” -  the commonest of the three types found in Accra. Just like their name suggest, they move from one area to  another with their small wooden box in search of customers. Comparatively, the mobile cobbler makes the least income of the three. They also provide similar services as the stationed cobbler, however they move to their customers rather than their customers coming to them.

Despite their significant roles in the informal sector, cobblers are confronted with numerous problems in addition to their low income and living conditions in Accra. Key among them is the poor housing and accommodation conditions due to the expensive rents coupled with higher initial deposits requested by landlords aside the overwhelming utility bills. Also, most of these cobblers are not able to access quality health care as a result of their low income levels since majority of them do not enrol on the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) even though they are aware of it. As a result, they reside in the informal settlements which comes with challenges due to poor sanitation and congestion. Despite all of the difficulties that they face, an overwhelming number of cobblers are of the view that migrating to the city was not a wrong choice since they believe that it has led to improvements in their living standards. 

The Unseen South-South Movement
With the search for employment and better living conditions being some of the most prominent reasons for migration especially amongst rural folks in Ghana, rural-urban migration is perceived as a key strategy for survival by most young adults. Most migration studies focus on those who move from the North to the South of Ghana. It is noteworthy that chunk of these cobblers migrate from rural areas in southern Ghana to Accra in search of employment. This is as a result of pockets of poverty found within rural areas within the southern part of Ghana where farming is becoming less lucrative. Low skills and insufficient start-up capital, coupled with the poor job availability, mean that many find work in the informal sector. The urban informal sector has remained the major cushion for a majority of unemployed individuals by providing them with employment opportunities.

One cobbler, Mawuli, said:

“I migrated from Ho to Accra mainly in search of employment, as I saw many of my colleagues migrate to the city to improve upon their living conditions and that of their families back home. Before migrating into the capital city, I engaged in crop farming but could not make enough income from produce to support my family. This was as a result of the high cost of fertilizers, limited access to land and our localized system of farming which did not enable me to engage in large scale farming activities.  After a long but unfruitful search for employment in Accra and the quest to survive, I learnt the job of mending and polishing footwear. Even though this isn’t my preferred choice of work, in order to survive here I hang on this hand-to-mouth life as a cobbler till I get a relatively better paying job.”

Just like Mawuli, most young male adults migrate to Accra with the hope of finding their dream occupations. When all efforts to search for employment seemed futile, some find other means of survival, of which becoming a cobbler is one. Being a cobbler requires less skills and capital than others. 

The way forward
Other informal sector workers have associations, however cobblers, irrespective of the type, do not. There is the need for a special cobblers’ association to be formed to see to the specific needs, welfare and development of cobblers. With regards to health, it is also important that Ghana Health Sector encourage them to enroll on the National Health Insurance Scheme to be secure in that regard. Acknowledging the fact that Type 1 cobblers are able to manufacture hand-made shoes, it would be expedient on the part of government to enhance their skills to intensify the quality of leather wear.

Zigah, C (2017). “Rural- Urban Migration and its Consequences on Socio­­-Economic Livelihoods:  A Case Study of Cobblers in La-Nkwatanang-Madina Municipal Assembly”, Bachelor’s Dissertation, Department of Geography and Resource Development, University of Ghana, Legon.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Semantics in migration policy making and why they (should) matter

By Kuda Vanyoro,

This year’s 10th anniversary of the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) hosted in Berlin was themed Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration Now: Mechanics of a Compact Worth Agreeing to. Implicit in this theme was the idea that some consensus among civil society and with states on what the Compact should look like had to be made. According to the organisers, the Berlin GFMD registered the highest number of civil society delegates since 2011. 

On the opening ceremony of Civil Society Day 1, there was a myriad of progressive symbolisms; including two female co-chairs, one of whom Spoke Spanish, and two other women on the panel. One of the speakers stated: “safe, orderly and regular migration is a common interest”. Within this atmosphere of hope, many civil society delegates unequivocally felt that the GFMD was perhaps at its most “momentous phase” since its inception in 2007. In the famous words of the Common Space Grand Rapporteur Gibril Faal, the only problem the GFMD had to reconcile now was how it was “over-principled but under-performing”.

Emerging directly from the Bangladesh GFMD’s call for a Global Compact, the Forum appeared to be preoccupied with a focus on just that: designing a social contract on “safe, orderly and regulated migration” that would prioritise the implementation of its principles. The GFMD has certainly put in a lot of time, energy and resources to get to the point of negotiating the multilateral governance of migration issues, by having both sending and receiving states on the same table; among themselves and with civil society. Recurrent leitmotifs included “reintergration”, “return”, “detention”, “deportation”, “xenophobia”, “recruitment”. This time around and unlike in previous years, the GFMD took a slightly different format, with the Common Space running in between the first and second civil society days (which were termed “Recommendations Day” and “Commitments Day” respectively).

What does a Global Compact (not) mean? A battle of semantics

But despite this air of commitment, there were many dilemmas. One striking feature in many civil society delegates’ reactions to the very idea of a Compact was, what did it even mean, what would it have to achieve? Even the event coordinators and discussion starters did not demonstrate adequate knowledge of what it was, but only what they thought it would look like. For many, it was just “something”. For example, one panellist stated that “there is no one out there who knows what a global compact is”, while another defined the Compact as a global commitment to work towards the governance of safe, orderly, regular migration, driven by measurable outcomes.

Yet, more than anything, there was a valid preoccupation with what the Compact was not; signifying a semantic battle of interpretation. There was first a lack of consensus on whether or not this Compact should/would be binding on states. Some felt that, after all, civil society had come so far, therefore it was also its prerogative to remain as ambitious as possible by demanding that states take the Compact as a binding agreement. This, they thought, was civil society’s role after all; to hold states to ransom by making full-on progressive demands from them. After all, states have the resources to implement these mandates.

Others felt that there was no need for the Compact to be a binding agreement; or lay such a demand in the first place. This school of thought held that the negotiating process was, to begin with, a fragile one, and moreover, having taken so many years to get this far, they felt that demands for a binding contract would jeopardise the process by pitting different states against each other on the issue of ratification. A binding agreement would certainly impose certain expectations, which would create obligations on states with different interests in the global economy. Therefore, these delegates preferred to pursue the route of soft law. After all, they added, the process had been informal and voluntary until now, and migration’s inclusion on the global policy agenda had come from not putting obligations on states.

Second, like some colleagues, I was personally concerned with the possibility of the words in the GFMD theme and Compact being left open to interpretation by statesman and politicians (I had Trump and Zuma particularly in mind here). What would the terms “orderly” and “regulated migration” mean in the Compact to state actors? Some felt that “regulation” to states could mean controlling migrants by providing fixed short-term labour permits/contracts that would allow for states to throw them out at will, after benefiting from the developmental attributes of migrants; thereby undermining their rights to settle. “Orderly” was also a disconcerting term: but most civil society delegates knew what they meant by it: promoting regular migration while minimising the risks of those who move (illicitly or not). But there was one semantic pitfall, won’t states sign on to the Compact and then “hijack” the “orderly” agenda by deploying it to further securitise the borders by saying “well, your migration better be orderly, otherwise!”; which would entail deportations of the so called “unorderly”. As Mary Douglas reminds us, it is only by categorising matter in place (“order”) that we come to also define what “matter out of place” means. Overall, the bigger question was also, where do irregular migrants stand in this whole discourse and should civil society therefore prescribe minimum standards for deportation of “unorderly” irregular migrants since they do not fit neatly in this narrative?

And as an aside, the question of the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) role was also raised. Where would the IOM take its stand, and what demands or commitments could civil society make of it? For instance, should they ask for a “protection mandate”? These were the difficult questions that were, in my view, not adequately addressed.

What can we expect now?

I look forward to seeing how these issues will be tackled in the Compact, but whatever it will look like, it will undoubtedly constitute a milestone in the global governance of migration (at least symbolically). Ironically, there appears to be more political will at an international level than the local, which is dominated by nationalist rhetoric. Therefore, the GFMD is indeed an illustrious platform. Civil society has now been tasked with the role of taking the compact to local and national level. It remains to be seen whether it will be engaged on by local and national actors, particularly policy makers, with the seriousness it deserves.

The author Kuda Vanyoro attended the 2017 GFMD in Berlin (29 June – 1 July) and moderated a parallel working session on Theme 2 of the GFMD: ‘Safe, orderly and regular mechanisms to create welcoming societies for Migrants in the face of growing Xenophobia’. This blog was first published on the Migration and Health Project website.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Dreaming in Dhaka: a postscript on the Global Forum on Migration and Development 2016

This adapted version of a blog by Kellynn Wee was first published on the Migrating out of Poverty (Singapore) site and is re-posted here to mark the start of the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) 2017.

Building on an op-end I wrote with Kuda Vanyoro and conversations with sharp, wonderful colleagues, these are my immediate impressions of the GFMD 2016. (My experiences stem from attending two sessions on labour recruitment and global supply chains, another on migrant diasporas and entrepreneurship, and a final session on developing a gender-sensitive approach to the Global Compact.)

We still tend to talk about migrants as workers first, people second. 
This is a thread that runs powerfully through discussions pre-empting the Global Compact on Migration, and was particularly evident on Common Space Day. We talked about labour markets, push and pull factors, entrepreneurship, skills development and matching, recruitment fee regulations, and how migrants brighten local economies as a justification for their entrance into nation-states, employers, ethical recruitment–all of which are crucial topics–but we talked less about migrants’ changing family dynamics, socio-cultural incorporation and inclusion, intimate relationships, and reproductive rights.

Women aren’t just domestic workers.
This tends to be our default mode when we talk about women in migration. Firstly, this reverts to point #1: we see women migrants, first and foremost, as migrant workers. The second problem is that we have fallen into a familiar narrative of adopting domestic workers as the default ‘worker’, which in no way diminishes the urgency of the issues that surround domestic work, but crowds the spaces that we have to discuss women in labour migration. What about, for example, women who engage in embodied and intimate labour, such as migrant sex workers? This is a trickier and more divisive terrain to navigate, but important nonetheless. The third and most pressing problem is that a gender-sensitive approach cannot and should not be restricted to women as workers. Marriage migrants are a significant migration flow: in Singapore, one in five marriages are between a citizen and a foreign spouse. A foreign wife’s legal status is dependent on her husband and a rising number deals with shocking levels of abuse. Or what about ‘study mamas‘, women who accompany children who migrate to study abroad? We also did not discuss transgender women and queer women, and the specific vulnerabilities that they must grapple with. Will these women make an appearance in the upcoming Global Compact, or our future discussions about migration and women.

The host country plays a powerful role in setting the agenda. 
The candidness of H.E. Shahidul Haque, the Bangladesh Foreign Secretary and this year’s GFMD Chair, was a breath of fresh air. Playing both provocateur and realist, he was forthcoming, reflexive about the mandate of states, and eager to urge civil society to take a leading role in issues of migration in the years ahead. “How about a free, fair, and responsive approach, rather than safe, regular and orderly?” H.E. said at today’s Common Space speech. “The strength of every movement is the people, not the state. Have you ever seen a state lead a transformation?” he said at the GFMD Civil Society Days opening speech.  (It helps that he’s very quotable.) In comparison to last year, I thought this year’s Common Space had a relaxed openness to it, with civil society representatives and government delegates truly interacting, responding, and mixing, not just in the interstices of the conference, but within the formal spaces of the conferences as well.

Moderation and session structures are critical to the quality of the discussions.
Well-moderated discussions had several common elements: good timekeeping, critical in reining overenthusiastic speakers in; reminding delegates to ask pointed, concise questions; an ability to make thematic connections between disparate comments and questions; and, most importantly, the facilitation of interaction, rather than panellists’ monologues. In a room full of experts who have spent years working closely with migrants, it is, I think, less important for panellists to share statistics about rates of migrant abuse–an issue we can safely assume to all be intimately familiar with–and more important for a lively Q&A which will allow panellists and the floor to dynamically shape their responses in relation to each other, and to better explore topics of discussion.

Stories are crucial. 
And in many ways, this year, they shone. Poet Vanessa Kisuule’s performances were a gift: necessary, honest, funny, piercing; they felt organic, not shoehorned or tacked on, and I appreciated her active participation and reflection in the days following her poetry. The photo exhibition at the foyer–titled ‘The Best Years of My Life‘ and put together by Shahidul Alam–tracked the lives of Bangladeshi migrants to Malaysia, and glowed with open empathy. Nonetheless, however, I echo the comment we made in our reflection on last year’s GFMD. 

What is the role of research(ers) at the GFMD?
There are times where I itched, and tried, to temper abstract principles in empirical stories, data, and information. I think I talked often, for example, about how recruitment fee flows are gendered in Asia: women migrate through debt; men migrate through upfront fees. These have hugely different implications and will need different solutions. The perennial question of how to connect a global process to local contexts remains something that we will need to explore.

I am both optimistic and wary (and weary. Goodbye forever to 6 am wake-up times! I say fervently). It has been an exciting few days, with many ups and downs, coloured with lots of frustrations and Twitter rants and furiously whispered conversations with people at tea tables and in the audience, but also with moments of delight and joy, and a conviction that some conversations are, at last, moving forward and taking flight. Warm, warm congratulations to the Bangladesh team for pulling off a fantastically organised conference on a tremendous scale. Until we meet again.

Monday, 26 June 2017

The elephant in the room: Why should global civil society care about academia?

By Kellynn Wee,

Data. Research. Facts. Evidence. In this world’s age of migration, these terms are so often used as hopeful synonyms for ‘truth’. We would like these truths to calibrate policy-making, to buttress justice, to make compassion viable. Numbers, fed from databases, would tell us which populations are moving, and how quickly; interviews, immaculately conducted by social scientists, would tell us why.

These truths often arise from international organisations, transnational activist networks and policy-oriented think tanks, which produce working papers, research reports and policy briefs that jerk back the curtain to reveal grim realities: migrant slums; the exploitation of children; the trafficking of women. Beyond this, however, another set of truths—less immediately interesting, and more abstract—is held in abeyance: the theories, ideas, and concepts that mark the work of academia. While the researchers who work on both may be the same, they often present their truths differently. In academic journals and conferences, pre-fixes and suffixes bristle to demarcate new theoretical thresholds: mobilities, (im)mobilities; precarious work, precariousness, precarities, hyper-precarities…

The response to these ideas is often, understandably, let’s get on with it. The re-christening of construction work in Qatar is unlikely to make the tangible realities of work for Bangladeshi migrant men any safer. The perception that academia—neutral, neutered—is irrevocably divorced from the realm of policymaking is reflected in the processes of international fora. For example, the upcoming Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD), held 29 June to 1 July in Berlin, divides their count of academics from civil society practitioners.

But why should civil society care about academia? What does academia have to offer? What are the ethical responsibilities of migration researchers in geography and in sociology to global civil society? Does academia have an ethical responsibility in the first place?

To answer this question, we must ask another one: in this tiredly post-truth world, what do we still consider to be true?

There is an old story: get a group of people to close their eyes and reach forward to touch an elephant. One describes the feathery ear, another the tough belly, a third the whisking tail, a fourth the stump of a leg. They are all correct. They are all partial. It is, still, an elephant.

One of the critical ideas of academic scholarship is that reality does not offer up truth, neat as a dinner dish, but that truths create realities. There is no curtain, no stage, no lightning-strike revelation. Data does not mirror reality, but produces it. The more words we have for the elephant, the better we are able to understand it.

We can choose to see migration flows in numbers, counting every body that crosses a border, and that is one kind of truth, a truth that bristles with threat. We can choose to see migration as the result of complicated geopolitical ties, or as intertwined with development, or vested with entrepreneurial spirit; as waves, or infestations, or as tides, a push-pull as constant as the world. All of these truths exist, elbowing each other gently, simultaneously. (This is of course, not to say, that poorly-done research—and out-and-out lies—do not exist. Some people, for example, will swear up and down that an elephant has feathers and is out to take over every job currently available in your country.)

In global civil society, we are guilty of assuming a particular kind of truth: that, firstly, only one exists. And that, secondly, more information, better information, neutral, evidence-based, and unbiased information—a more robust truth—will help us to find it. This truth, ideally, would fix the gaps we already think we see.

What good, self-reflexive academia can do is to dislodge this idea. Our realities—and any radical potential for transformation in migration policy—are critically shaped by what we know and the ideas that we can put together to describe this knowledge. A constructivist approach allows us to acknowledge that data and research are not neutral, but are shaped by bias, methodology, and flows of funding. Flipping the relationship between “data” and “policy”—allowing research and its competing, conflicting truths to exist without needing to become revelatory evidence—opens up new and creative ways of thinking about potential policy interventions. There are no better truths; there are only many.

Part of the Migrating out of Poverty research focuses on the migration industry. If we analyse migration brokers and agents—who are often profit-oriented and help to facilitate, curtail, and shape migration—with an eye to uncovering exploitation and forced labour, then that is of course what we will see. The framing of ‘problem’ and solution’ fits nicely over the contours of this sort of (undoubtedly still invaluable) research, which supports punitive, regulatory measures in response. Hence: zero recruitment fees; licensing; the end of informal brokers; demerit points.

What we have found, however, is that migration brokers in Singapore, Indonesia and India are not (only) slavers and traffickers, but are (also) creditors, translators, protectors, ex-migrants themselves, navigators of seasonal uncertainties, or vehicles to speed migrants through labyrinthine bureaucracy. They act as they do not only because they believe migrants are less or are products or are exploitable but also because their practices are shaped by lines of credit and debt, or because they too are peddling a particular, peculiar kind of hope. In Singapore’s migration industry, for example, women migrate through debt-financed migration, in which a loan extended by a prospective employer travels all the way back to Indonesia to become capital to allow women to migrate as a livelihood strategy. But these lines of debt and credit are not a singular river; as they cross nation lines, they multiply, criss-cross, expand like deltas, meet with undercurrents, holding agent, worker, and employer in a web of liability and risk, ultimately creating a set of conditions in which workers must be coaxed or controlled for the continued possibility of future migration from countries of origin.

If we focus on understanding the social and cultural world of brokers and migrants, then this might actually open up more room for innovative policy interventions. Global civil society has the advantage of overcoming nation-states’ preoccupation with governing within their own borders. By bypassing closed state systems entirely, civil society might, for example, immediately, transnationally, and flexibly collaborate with brokers themselves instead.    

There are no easy policy recommendations that come from this partial perspective of the migration industry, but an acknowledgement of these many truths. Gently elbowing. The elephant comes into better view.

Academia is not a panacea, but adopting its tenets of multiple truths allows us to better understand the world in which we work. To go forward, we need to do two things: first, academics must themselves consciously broker their own knowledges. Second, the perception of the value of qualitative research must change.

Firstly, researchers must be cognisant of the ways that their work affect social and political realities, and to seek to translate their research beyond conventional forums and outlets. The academic industry does not reward researchers for communicating their work to mainstream media outlets, policy-makers, civil society, or the general public. Doing so does not secure contracts, citation counts, or project funds. This, amongst many other factors, creates a situation in which researchers are, first, disinterested and disengaged; and, second, unable to broker their own knowledge in ways that render it accessible to non-academics who might need that knowledge most. No doubt this is a systemic issue, borne from an increasingly precarious academic industry, but migration researchers can do more to describe their experiences with that elephant in ways that others would be able to use to compare with their own.  

Secondly, the perception and value of qualitative research in civil society spaces should move beyond proffering up decontextualised “stories” and “case studies”. When one makes a call for data in civil society, one is often asking for large-scale quantitative data or longitudinal panel studies. These, of course, are important; but it is also timely to recognise that qualitative and ethnographic work move beyond the scattered stories of small-n samples and can instead offer new ways of seeing.

Now the hide, rough to the touch. Now the long nose, the wet snout, curiously searching.  

Image credit: Blind monks examining an elephant, Hanabusa Itchō (1652–1724).

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Why don’t all migrants return in times of crisis?

By María Hernández-Carretero

In the early 2000s, numerous migrants arrived in Spain, attracted by the prospects of finding a job in the country’s booming economy. They quickly grew to represent 11% of the total population in 2008, from 2% in 2000. But when the financial crisis hit and Spain topped Europe’s unemployment rates, immigrants became disproportionately affected – 35% were jobless, compared to 22% among people with Spanish or double nationality. Years earlier their labour had been needed and welcome, but as discontent set in some Spaniards started calling for unemployed (especially if also paperless) migrants to “go back” to their countries of origin, now that no jobs were to be found. Some did leave Spain, whether to return to their country of origin or seek better luck elsewhere. Yet many others stayed.

Faced with an economically bleak and politically hostile landscape in Spain, why did so many immigrants choose to stay all the same? This question was part of the starting point for my chapter in Hope and Uncertainty in Contemporary African Migration where, focusing on the case of Senegalese migration to Spain, I look into why for some, deciding to emigrate can be easier than returning home.

Is return a better alternative to staying?
“Even though you didn’t find what you were looking for here, you can’t go back just like that! If you do, what are you going to do with your life, then? […] Going back now without certainty... And you’re at an age when you’re no longer allowed to make mistakes. You shouldn’t make mistakes. Do you understand? Since you made a mistake by coming here, don’t make a mistake in your return!”

Babacar*, like many other migrants, arrived in Spain in the 2000s hoping he would find the opportunities to build himself a better future. By 2012, he had neither a job nor reliable prospects of finding one, but he did not consider returning to Senegal empty-handed to be a viable option. He would go back if he had the necessary savings to start his own business, he explained, but returning with no money and no certainty that he could sustain himself would for him be senseless: it would only compound his failure at making it in Europe and, as his words above express, amount to a double mistake.

Return, as leaving, is indeed largely a matter of resources and opportunities. Access to financial, monetary or social resources makes it easier to go back, whether temporarily to assess the conditions for a more durable return, or to stay permanently. Possible income sources or housing security in Senegal, or an open door to re-entering Europe, all decrease the uncertainty associated with cutting the migration project short. Migrants who, for example, had saved money, started a business or built (and paid-off) a house in Senegal, had a family business there they could lean on, or had permanent residence in Spain or Spanish nationality faced an easier choice between staying or returning.

Lat, another Senegalese migrant, explained that whether going back to Senegal was a preferable alternative to staying in Spain at the time of the crisis really depended on what one was returning to. Going back to the same situation that one left back home could be “worse” than staying in Spain, he assured me. Landing back in Senegal without savings to start one’s own business and without prospects of finding employment in a setting with few employment opportunities is not simply a regression to the point of departure – a point of livelihood uncertainty and bleak future prospects. Returning in such circumstances can, as Lat explained, in many ways be even worse. It is a regression compounded by the failure of having had the highly-coveted chance of improving one’s situation through migration but failed at doing so, and having to admit that defeat and lack of progress in front of one’s family and wider social circle. In this sense, returning empty-handed would not only be a failure but a risky undertaking too.

Return as the time to show results, not take new risks
When Babacar talks about not wanting to make a mistake in his return and relates this to his age and the original act of emigration, he is pointing to a way of thinking common to many Senegalese emigrants: return is the point when the success of the migration project is evaluated – especially by migrants’ social circle back home. Since at the time of speaking he feels that leaving in the first place might not have been the right decision, it is all the more important for him to not return as a failed migrant, with no savings from his time abroad and no prospects of making a living in Senegal. From Senegal, Europe and more generally “the North” represents a place of wealth and opportunities. Lavish foreign lifestyles fill TV-screens. Successful migrants and businesspeople bring back money, gifts, flashy clothing, electronics and home appliances, cars, business investments and even materials to build houses. The idea of the West is associated with money and opportunities on which those coming back are expected to have cashed and then at least partly redistribute among others back home.

Babacar also refers to the fact that, while it is acceptable for youths to explore and take chances to build their future, adults are expected to display responsibility through solvency and the ability to provide for their families. Return is therefore not the time to take new risks. Neither is it, for most, something to be done impulsively or rushed, lest one disappoints one’s social circle and loses face in front of all for having been unable to display proof of a successful time abroad. In this light, an unprepared, unsuccessful return might, in fact, be a worse prospect than staying in Europe. Abroad, one can continue struggling alone, away from the judging gaze of one’s social circle back home. Remaining in Europe also allows keeping alive the hope that better times might still lie ahead.

Giving up Europe, giving up hope
“What I was looking for, right now . . . there is none of it: work. There is no work. But . . . Africa is always difficult. Here, it’s difficult, I know. But Africa is always difficult. Because over there, your family is there, you’re seen, you’re surrounded by ten people . . . and they see you, and you have nothing to give them. [He pauses, then chuckles] But when you’re here, they don’t see you. But you can talk to them and relieve them. Give them hope. For . . . yes, give them hope to wait . . . that one day things will be good. And they can feed on that hope.”

The words of Pape, another migrant, reflect how returning to Senegal without having met one’s migration goals would mean putting an end to the hope that not only migrants but also their families have placed on the migration project. They also illustrate how important this hope is for families in coping with everyday hardship in Senegal. Given the huge, and increasing, difficulty of entering Europe for would-be migrants, many of those who have already succeeded in entering are reluctant to relinquish the possibility to stay in or re-enter Europe. Irregular migrants, especially, could not return to Europe after leaving. The images along Europe’s borders suggest what a profound loss of effort, hope, time and resources this would represent. The difficulty, or impossibility, of crossing the border is likely to make it less attractive to leave Europe in times of hardship to assess prospects for returning back home. This has been shown to be the case along the US-Mexico border where, as border security increased, Mexican migrants with residence permits in the US continued to circulate back and forth between the two countries, while fewer irregular migrants did.

Confronted with the choice of enduring a precarious life abroad and facing the shame of returning empty handed, some might therefore choose the former – or at least delay the latter as much as possible. As some described it, patiently enduring hardship abroad while keeping open the possibility of a different future signals perseverance and masculinity through a commitment to finding the means to forge oneself a good life and help one’s family. By contrast, many fear that going back without achieving this would appear as merely giving up this quest and the hope it bears.

*All migrant names are pseudonyms.
The photo is by María Hernández Carretero and depicts posters advertising the services of the Concerted Immigration Company, from Canada. They offer the opportunity to continue one's studies in "France, Europe and Canada". They claim to be the "leader in the industry of permanent and student migration." It was taken on the campus of the University Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Brokers in the migration industry in Ghana: The positive side untold

By Emmanuel Quarshie

Despite their significant role in the migration industry, little has been said about the role of brokers. When people do focus on brokers they tend to highlight the unscrupulous behaviours of some recruitment agents. However a wide array of recruitment agencies in Ghana play roles in the management of risks among migrants and are valued as a result. A working paper by the Migrating Out of PovertyResearch Programme Consortium examined the agency role in the migration brokerage for domestic workers in Ghana.

People on the move

The relative importance of the North-South migration in Ghana has gained ground within key policy dialogue in recent times. The surge in the growth rate of Ghana’s informal sector within urban settlements has remained one of the key pull factors compelling young people to migrate from the Northern part of the country to the southern cities. Over the past few decades, the country has experienced admirable economic growth coupled with improvement in infrastructure and larger engagement in the service sector. This, in turn, has tremendously increased women’s participation in the labour force rendering them less able to participate in household production. As a result there has been a renaissance in the already existing industry which trains people (mostly migrants) to take up these abandoned domestic activities.

What do brokers do?

Brokers are key players in the migration process spanning the pre-migration, migration and post-migration periods. Trust and cultural brokerage are central to this, linking the sending and destination communities and managing the migration process. As part of their role brokers reassure the migrant’s family that their ward is in trusted hands with a high level of certainty of acquiring a good job. It is also the duty of the broker to guarantee the employer that all possible damages, time wastage or misconduct will be resolved appropriately. They also serve as guarantors for migrant workers to ensure some level of credibility and trust in their prospective employers. This can be in the form of written or unwritten agreements with a signed memorandum of understanding. As noted by one of the agencies:

“Our girls cannot mistreat our clients’ kids and they also cannot do the same to our girls. Whatever he/she damages, you, the client, should let us know and, if you want her to pay, she will work for it and pay but you cannot mistreat the person because she is your home help. She is not your slave, she is there for you and you are also there for her, so you work together.”

Alex, a broker, said:

“Yes, I am the guarantor for almost all of them and it is very risky; for most of them, it is because I know either their brother or their sister so I am able to guarantee them. With most of the girls I send to work for expatriates, the least thing that happens, I am the first person to be called, so it is very risky and I always pray that nothing bad happens. I always ensure that I talk to them about staying out of trouble, I always tell them I did not take a penny from anyone when they arrived. Instead, I fed them and paid for their transport so they should stay out of trouble. By the grace of God, nothing bad has happened.”

They also work to overcome negative and prejudiced attitudes among prospective employers.  A recruitment agency acknowledged:

“People mostly don’t trust the Ewes [the third-largest ethnic group in Ghana, mainly from the Volta region] partly because of the fear of juju (voodoo). You would be amazed at how many enlightened people will tell you that. Yes, the Ashanti girls are loud and lazy, yeah a lot of people don’t like them… People prefer Fantes, Akuapems, yeah. Central and Western regions. Oh, Akuapems are polite, do you know what I mean?”

Additionally, brokers serve as mediators for bargaining over wages, working conditions, and workers’ rights. Even though brokers can be guilty of influencing workers to accept jobs where the conditions and wages are poor, they importantly serve as an interlocuter for women in vulnerable positions with little education when they need to negotiate the terms of their employment. As stated by Margarette, from Hammani:

“You send somebody to a place and maybe the agreement was that he/she was supposed to stay at work until Friday and go away on weekends but maybe the employer will say ‘I want you to stay Saturday and Sunday’. Then we draw their attention to the fact that, in order for the person to stay on Saturday and Sunday, the employer needs to pay extra to the person. If the person doesn’t agree, the employer can’t force him or her.”

The way forward

Despite the above-mentioned roles of brokers within the migration industry, they have been generally perceived to be illegitimate and unscrupulous in their approaches to mediating between the prospective workers and employers. This is due to the presence of some non-traceable, unregistered and illegal individuals who manoeuvre their ways into the system to exploit the industry to their own advantage at the detriment of their legit cohorts. However, brokers are important elements in migrants’ strategies to exercise agency, which they would probably otherwise struggle with, given the highly unequal power relationships they face at home and also at their work destination with employers. It is therefore imperative to see the need for a more nuanced and more differentiated understanding of the role and the practices of brokers and intermediaries as they navigate the multi-faceted space in the recruitment process for migrant domestic workers. This is especially important as efforts to regulate the domestic work sector in Ghana intensify. 

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Invitation to a workshop in London on gender, migration and development, 5 July

When: 5 July 2017, 09.30-13.30
Where: Christian Aid, 35-41 Lower Marsh, Lambeth, London SE1 7RL

The issue of migration is a hot topic all over the world in current times. Yet, there is a tendency to focus on the flows into Europe despite the fact that many more people remain within their continents. An extension of this focus is an undue insistence on separating legal and irregular migration, and desired and undesired migrants, when the reality of migration flows (and migrant categories) are, in fact, more mixed.

Aim of workshop: Re-focus the attention to migration beyond Europe. We will look at different forms of migration, for example labour migration, forced displacement, and adventure, and how they link with poverty reduction and development, or lack of same.

Understanding gendered and generational dimensions of these links will be at the centre of the discussion to debunk some of the myths about child migrants and migrant women, and to draw attention to social changes linked with migration that may empower women and girls and challenge power relations across generations.

We will identify gaps in the evidence needed to guide policy, programming and advocacy. We will also discuss strategies for countering the highly politicised policy processes that focus narrowly on migration flows and border control, without considering fully the many consequences of migration for migrants and those close to them.

What will we do?: The workshop is planned as a space for sharing knowledge and identifying synergies among international NGOs and researchers, with a view to establishing more durable links and collaborations. During the workshop participants have the opportunity to highlight research and learning priorities in their organisations and to discuss current and emerging issues in thematic groups. Depending on participant interests, thematic groups can focus on children and youths, internally displaced people, people affected by migration, and migrants and decent work.

Who is it aimed at?: It is a discussion that should be of interest to those working on poverty reduction, youth, and gender – whether they are migration experts or not. Our intention is to have multiple foci to share knowledge about migrants, internally displaced people, and refugees in the neighbour zones of conflicts and about the social, and highly gendered, outcomes of migration for non-migrants of different generations.

  • Dorte Thorsen and Kate Hawkins, Migrating out of Poverty Research Consortium
  • Sophie Efange and Fraser Murray, Christian Aid
  • Hannah Newth and Joe Costanzo, Save the Children
  • Howard Mollett and Rebecca Gibbons, Care International