Thursday, 21 March 2019

Webinar: Connection Men, Dalals, Maid Agents – traffickers or not?

10.00-11.00 GMT, 29 March 2019

In this webinar, researchers from the University of Ghana, the University of Sussex and the National University of Singapore will present findings from their research on migration brokerage.

The research focuses on migration for domestic work and construction which are usually carried out by migrants from disadvantaged backgrounds. 

Learn more about:
  • Northern Ghana and the capital city of Accra which are important origin and destination points for women and girls recruited for domestic work;
  • The Chapainawabganj area of Bangladesh where men are routed to Qatar for construction work; and
  • Singapore, which has a highly developed network of brokers and agents for selecting, hiring and placing female domestic workers from Indonesia and other poorer countries in the region.

The speakers will provide an overview of the structure of brokerage networks and how they work with other individuals and organisations in government and civil society to facilitate migration. While brokers are clearly exploitative and involved in perpetuating forced labour they also create avenues for employment and provide opportunities for change that would otherwise not be available.

These studies have much to offer to ongoing debates about trafficking.

Speakers and presentations

Please, thank you and sorry – brokering migration and constructing identities for domestic work in Ghana - Mariama Awumbila

A game of chutes-and-ladders: How maid agents and domestic workers navigate the migration industry in Singapore - Kellynn Wee

The recruitment of Bangladeshi migrants for construction work in Qatar -
Priya Deshingkar

To register for the webinar please click on this link and follow the instructions: 

You can read more about our work on migration brokers in our recent Special Issue of the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies.

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Libya - haven for smugglers and hell for migrants?

By Priya Deshingkar

Mention “Libya” and “migration” and this immediately conjures up terrible images of hazardous journeys across the desert, the trading of human beings by unscrupulous smugglers, lawlessness and detention centres.

It was surprising therefore to hear contrasting accounts of migrant journeys during our fieldwork in Ghana where the team has been speaking to men in the Brong Ahafo region who have returned from Libya. This region in middle Ghana has a long history of international migration and is known for its network of “connection men” or brokers who specialise in getting people across the desert into Libya – a process called “pushing”. It also receives the largest number of returnees from Libya even though they may have originated from other parts of Ghana – according to the Ghana Immigration Services roughly 4000 migrants returned to Brong Ahafo from Libya in 2017.  

As media reports suggest, overland journeys to Libya, the preferred mode of travel for irregular migrants and the smugglers who are getting them across, are extremely hazardous – long drives through the desert without food and water and traversing multiple checkpoints across borders where the language and currency are different. The last leg of the journey is extremely dangerous with armed gangs in search of migrants as they are easy prey in a situation with no protection and often because they are on foot, having been left by cars to find their way to the border. We heard stories of “connection houses” where migrants are detained if they are unable to pay brokers enough to begin the next part of the journey. They may be stranded for weeks in limbo without knowing when they will travel again and have to work for a pittance in these transit points.

For those who make it to Libya, other kinds of risks and vulnerabilities await – many of the migrants that we spoke to said that black people are still treated like slaves in Libya and being beaten and racially abused by employers was a common experience. Not only that, with rival armed militias roaming the streets unchecked and robbing and shooting people randomly, they are too afraid to step out of their homes as they are easy targets. In some cases relatives or friends (so-called sponsors) in Libya may also finance brokers to bring them over by offering to pay for the migrant’s passage on the promise that s/he works to pay off the debt. Ghanaians in Libya are therefore hyper precarious  – trapped in low paid work or in a few instances debt-bondage and also precarized by their irregular status.

To then hear that migrants who have been arrested and deported back to Ghana from such horrible conditions have plans to migrate again is counter-intuitive. There are two reasons for this – the first is the opportunities that Libya offers – for remunerative work and the possibilities of onward journeys. Despite the lawlessness, dangers and precarity, Libya is an important labour market for those who want to save and attempt a crossing to Europe or invest back at home. Most irregular migrants quickly find work in the construction industry through other Ghanaians and they may also be employed in small eateries and businesses. The employment is completely informal without contracts and carries risks - there were cases of non-payment leaving migrants with no legal recourse because of their irregular status. Although most migrants are men, there are a few female migrants and they too are employed as hairdressers or food sellers by Ghanaians who came before them. These diaspora networks make it possible for new migrants to survive and integrate in Libya.

According to one returnee, even on a short stint in Libya before he was deported, he managed to save enough money to buy a plot of land at home. Another reason given by the respondents for preferring work in Libya is that they do not have to give expensive gifts to senior masons to learn work skills the way they need to in Ghana and they can move up the skills ladder more easily. Libya is regarded as a place with multiple opportunities for well-paid work with the added bonus of getting a chance to migrate to Italy if they are lucky. One man had been through hellish journeys to Libya nine times and was still planning to re-migrate.

The second reason for re-migrating is to save face in the community and fulfil family expectations. Deportation abruptly disrupts the migration project and when migrants come back as failures there are consequences within the family and the wider community. Re-migration can maintain the identity of man as a good and courageous family man.  For both these reasons deportation and information campaigns to discourage migrants appear not to be making a dent in either people’s desire to migrate or the migration industry enabling them.

There are no easy “solutions” here but just recognising that scaremongering tactics are unlikely to succeed would be a first important step. Rather than viewing Libya as a place where migrants to Europe should be interrupted, detained and deported, the EU, IOM and Government of Ghana need to recognise its importance as a work destination in its own right. The EU and IOM could try to facilitate discussions between Libya and the Government of Ghana to develop systems of labour circulation that allow migrants to work in Libya for a period of time. At the same time, any such measures should try to minimise bureaucratic procedures as this is often a prime reason for opting for irregular migration and brokers in the first place.