Migration is an inseparable part of human history. Since the dawn of human civilization people have been moving from one place to another in search of better livelihood options and for many other reasons. In fact it is migration, which has facilitated the exchange and spread of ideas, thoughts, inventions and technologies. Migration is the driving force behind the process we now term as globalization. But unfortunately it has become a very controversial and politicized concept in our time. In the past scenario there was no need to categorize migration since people all over the world had relatively higher degree of freedom of mobility. But with the concept of state system came the concept of internal and external migration.
Most of the world’s migrants – estimated at 195 million in 2005 with women comprising 50% - are migrant workers (those who migrate for employment) and their families. An alarmingly large proportion of
labor migration occurs through irregular channel, aided and abetted by a clandestine and often criminal industry. Thus the challenge for policy makers is how to regulate migration in such a way so that its positive effects are maximized, leading to win-win situation for all concerned – source countries, destination countries and migrant themselves.
However the official picture recorded by the governments in the country of destination is less impressive:
- 20 million in Africa
- 18 million in North America,
- 12 million in Central and South America,
- 7 million in South and East Asia, 9 million in the Middle East,
- 30 million across all of Europe (22 million in Western Europe)
Recent years have seen an emerging international consensus on the positive aspects of
labor migration in terms of linkages with development through remittances, return and transfer of skills and technology, and contributions to the communities. At the same time, a number of negative impacts have been observed: abuse and exploitation of migrant workers in countries of destination, loss of critical skills from developing countries, growth of irregular migration including trafficking and smuggling, and discrimination and poor integration of migrants in host countries.
Bangladesh and international Migration
Bangladesh is a high surplus populated country (147,365,352 inhabitants) and thus belongs to the supply side of the world
labor market. Emigration has become over the last years one of the major employment sector and a response to the livelihood option insecurity. In this context, international migration has emerged in recent years as the most important issue in the development and poverty alleviation discourses and has assumed
center-stage in the economic policy planning of Bangladesh. The government’s strategy is to fully harness its human resources for manpower employment abroad – without enough consideration for their welfare – in order to gain more remittances, which constitute the number one foreign exchange earner and surpass the foreign aid. According to the Bangladesh Bank the amount of remittances attained 43,451.29 million US$ between 1976 and 2007. However the total size of Bangladeshi migrants is not known, as the Bangladesh Government merely keeps records of migrant workers leaving the country with the clearance of the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET), which estimates the total of Bangladeshi job seekers having left their country for better opportunities abroad to 4,889,418 between the years 1976 and 2007. Nevertheless the real figure of migration from Bangladesh assumes to represent twice the data reported by the Ministry of Expatriate’s Welfare and Overseas Employment.
Besides the market for migrant workers is highly imperfect, characterized by unsafe or irregular migration due to a lack of awareness or to information gaps, high transaction costs, exploitation and often misplaced expectations, which can open the way for unscrupulous recruiting agents, middle men and even smugglers and traffickers violating the fundamental human rights of the migrant workers.
The Bangladeshi migrants are mostly destined for the Middle East and for the new industrialized South East Asian countries.
Poverty and physical mobility have always been interrelated. While international migration has received more attention in recent debates on migration, internal migration is far more significant in terms of the numbers of people involved and perhaps even the quantum of remittances and poverty reduction potential. Internal migration is important almost everywhere and in some countries is far greater than international migration.
Internal migration refers to the process of movement within one’s own country. This is usually associated with urbanization and poverty in the rural areas or with the forced movement of people fleeing violent conflict or natural disaster. The evidence suggests that internal population movements are increasing. The classic push and pull forces that resulted in people from poor regions migrating to richer rural and urban locations still exist and may even be accentuated with rising population pressure and deteriorating land and water avail- ability. But many new patterns have also emerged including urbanization, manufacturing, and better circulation.
Though the development of communication and transportation system has made easier to move across countries, a large number of people throughout the world actually moves within the boundaries of their respective countries. The developing world is host to the majority of internal migrants. But it is also happening in the so-called developed world, but in a different manner. Within urban areas, a large population shift from central cities to suburbs has occurred in the last half of the 20th cent. In the 1980s and 90s war and civil strife continued to force massive refugee migration in many parts of the world.
An encouraging picture…
Poverty Alleviation and Internal Migration
There is a historical relationship between poverty and population movement. Internal migration has had significant positive impacts on people’s livelihoods and well-being and has also contributed hugely to the overall development. The remittance flows are important supplement to household income and have a multiplier effect on economy.
Empowerment of women and Internal Migration
In terms of empowering women internal migration is also playing an encouraging role. In spite of the existence of social, cultural and religious barriers women are moving inside the country in search of better livelihood options. The rises in demand for female work force in certain service sector and the growth and expansions of informal sector have stimulated the recent increase in the number of female migrants. Female migration is the greatest in South- East Asia and South America. Socio- religious seclusion and other cultural restrictions on women’s mobility constrain their options for internal migration. But these are gradually breaking down as the gains from migration become evident. Migration indeed presents women the opportunity to be economically empowered and to ensure upward mobility, which have direct bearing on empowerment in other areas of their life.
… and a controversial reality.
Whether or not migration is poverty reducing, it is a tough undertaking. Migrants travel in perilous conditions, and live and work in harsh environment. Long working hours, high level of insecurity at the work place, injuries, harassment and mistreatment are common combined with inadequate sanitation and poor health care.
The sexual exploitation of women by masons, contractors, the police and others is routine but unreported by women for fear of the consequences (loss of employment, violence). Children are even more vulnerable to such abuse.
The internal migration scenario in Bangladesh
Internal migration has contributed the most to the high rate of urban population growth and this trend is likely to continue in the future as well. Nearly two-thirds of urban growth can be attributed to emigration from rural to urban areas. Women have also increasingly joined the ranks of migrant workers.
Most of these migrants were however previously agricultural
laborers. Their agricultural life offered little incentives to them, so they migrated to towns where they might have better opportunities. For people living on the edge of extreme poverty, migrating to other areas may serve as a relief from unemployment. In Bangladesh the main attraction for migrant workers is the garment industry, particularly for the female workers.
The act of migration brings in its wake significant social and economic costs. Thus, there are now more slums, higher unemployment rate, more environmental hazards and pollution, poor living conditions, more human frustrations, and more crimes than ever before. There is in fact no doubt that rural-urban migration is one of the contributors to the growing urban poverty and the undesirable consequences associated with the process of migration.
Unless the benefits of migration to the cities can be generated in the rural setting even by a modest proportion, if not to the fullest possible extent, the idea of initiating and sustaining the process of reverse migration will not be translated into reality.
Hopeful Horizons turned into nightmare: The plight of Domestic Workers
Domestic workers are hired to assist with the household chores such as washing, cooking, cleaning, looking after the children, etc. As per the definition of the tasks and position of the domestic workers, it should be comprehended by a paid position of regular employment.
However Domestic workers are not recognized as “workers”. They are therefore excluded from the protection provided by the nation
labor codes and denied their fundamental rights.
In many countries domestic workers belong to the poorest part of the society and are often exploited or even considered as slaves. The low social status conjugated with the unrecognized employment situation expose them to vulnerable predicament and economic exploitation, further complicated by abuses and mistreatment which generally take part in their daily life.
The typical scenario starts in village area where underprivileged women or under aged girls migrate to cities, motivated by poverty-stricken circumstances, by the menace to be married off at a young age or to remain in straitened horizons in their “homeland”. They are often misled and abetted with the promise of a fair monetary return on a monthly basis including good living conditions and security.
However the urban “Eldorado” reveals unexpected difficulties. In addition to the separation with the family, harsh working and poor living conditions their plight is compounded by ill treatment, frequent physical mistreatment or even sexual harassment.
To make the matter worse complaining is not an option because of the fear of aggravated mistreatment or of loosing their job. Hence much of the violence perpetrated against domestic workers remains in the shadows since government officials turn a blind eye.
As per ILO (International Labor Organization) most of the girls under the age of 16 years old enrolled in child
labor become domestic workers.
Bangladesh is a typical study case. Domestic workers are found in almost every home and most of them are children ranging from the ages of 8 to 16. In this South Asian country the situation is worrisome and no law or policy protects the rights and welfare of domestic workers. Many organizations are working on these issues nevertheless they are still mistreated on a regular basis at an alarming rate and fail to reach the public eye unless in extreme cases when they land as a story on newspaper.
PEACE Foundation embarks on upholding the rights of domestic workers in its project: Protection of the Rights and Welfare of domestic workers.