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
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. The refugee crises in the Middle East and among the Rohingya, and hardening attitudes about the costs and benefits of migration have meant that it is a regular headline maker.

Last year the General Assembly of the United Nations brought together international governmental stakeholders to debate policy innovations. This culminated in a pledge to develop Global Compacts on migrants and refugees.

Within these discussions issues of poverty reduction and gender are fairly prominent. However, their parameters are often tightly drawn. When it comes to development, the issue of remittances looms large with some discussion of labour rights and overcoming inequality, as outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals. This angle frames migrants as drivers of development through their bolstering of the local economy in their communities of origin, their investments in infrastructure and the new ideas they bring into these communities.

It also frames migrants as victims when exploitative labour markets are thought to breach their rights or reduce their potential as drivers of development. Little attention has been paid to the relationship between poverty and social change and how that may prompt the migration of new categories of migrants. Likewise, the social outcomes of migration and remittances in terms of desired life paths and (dis)empowerment are under-explored despite the fact that they often are perceived as indicators of development. A new area which has only just begun to be explored is the effect on poor people of large inflows and settlement of refugees and internally displaced people.

When it comes to gender a common misconception lingers: that migration is a male issue. The exception is global care chains which unanimously are spoken about as the feminisation of migration. Gendered dynamics linked with migration thus become demoted to concern the sex of the migrant. This may be due to weaknesses in data collection, spanning from failing to capture migration forms that women are more likely to engage in, to constructing migrants as non-gendered while privileging the male experience.

Where women’s migration is addressed within policy it is increasingly in relation to trafficking and coercion and yet female migration has many facets and is not automatically disempowering and abusive. The same holds for women managing remittances and the family’s well-being temporarily or more long term. How they negotiate empowerment and constraint deserves more attention to better understand the links between migration, development and gender.

Other weaknesses in the formulation of policy and practical guidance include that: policy processes are highly politicised and often fail to take account of the best available evidence; the voices and experiences of migrants and those closest to them are not prominent within public and political debates; source and destination community insights on migration are marginal; and there is too little discussion of how households are affected by migration in material and non-material (social and cultural) ways.

What will we do?
To expand our knowledge and networks on gender, development and migration we will be hosting a half-day workshop in London where speakers from academia and the non-governmental sector will share insights from their work.

Who is it aimed at?
It is a discussion that should be of interest to those working on poverty reduction 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.

Through this dialogue we aim to:
• Hear the latest in gender, development, and migration
• Forge new partnerships
• Strategise about the development of the global compacts and dialogues and actions related to the Sustainable Development Goals
• Explore how we can continue to share learning in the future