This report, The Intersection of Climate Change, Migration and Changing Economy, explores the links among climate change, economic activities and migration in the coastal areas of Khulna and Jashore, Bangladesh, demonstrating its impact on the availability of decent work and people’s decisions to migrate.
Download the full report here.
Eight years ago, Rubina Lama moved to Kathmandu from her nearby village and started working as a cook in a student hostel. One day, flipping the national daily newspaper Rubina came across an advertisement for a “golden opportunity in Japan.” Instantly, she knew she should grab this opportunity.
The next day, she visited the labor recruiting agency providing the chance to work in the Japanese garment industry. The agent assured her that there would be no fees as long as she began language and tailoring training. For Rubina, there was nothing more to ask. She immediately started classes, joining some three dozen other trainees, almost all under the age of 30.
It never occurred to her that the agent might ask for money in near future. Two weeks into the training, the agent asked her for 40,000 rupees (approximately $400) to cover costs.
A labor broker promised Rubini Lama a job in Japan but seven years later, it never materialized. Credit: Courtesy Rubini Lama
Managing her work as a cook and taking two classes were not easy for Rubina. But nothing could beat her determination, she says. In addition to her coursework, she continued working in the morning and evening at the hostel. Rubina says, “Only after I finished my work late at night at the hostel, did I have time to study and do the homework given in the language training. The girls of the dormitory always used to joke of my determined dream of going to Japan.”
Rubina was very excited as the training went well for the first few months. One day the agent told her, “A Japanese man is going to come soon to observe your tailoring skills and progress.” This information increased her determination. She felt closer to her dream of working and living in Japan. The following day, the agent said that each trainee would have to deposit 600,000 rupees (approximately $6,000) for visa application processing for Japan. He added that for those students who paid the fee quickly, the process would start immediately.” After a week or so, a Japanese man indeed visited the tailoring training classes. Meeting the Japanese observer confirmed that Rubina could not let her Japan dream slip away.
The sum demanded by the agent to process a visa was huge. Rubina confided her dream to her father, who wholeheartedly supported his daughter’s chance at a brighter future in Japan. Her father, however, had no source of income and decided to take a loan out against the only piece of land he owed to secure the fee. Rubina handed the $6,000 to the agent immediately after completing the bank procedure.
Days, months and years passed by after handing over the money. The agent kept saying that the process was moving. Rubina kept believing his assurances. Meanwhile, payment of the monthly interest for the loan was becoming increasingly difficult to pay on time. Around the same period, Lama’s father was diagnosed with cancer. Rubina was mentally and physically exhausted by juggling combined problems—the loan, her father’s worsening health and the stagnant visa process. However, Rubina continued to attend trainings provided by the agent.
Two years passed, the visa application still in process, which kept her hopes alive. One day, Rubina says the agent called advising her to quit her cooking job as her visa for Japan was on its way. Trusting him, she gave up her job and went back home to be with her ill father. Another year passed, with no visa. Rubina’s aspirations for Japan were still alive. Five years passed, and lost her father.
Completely broken inside and with empty hands, Rubina decided to return Kathmandu—still nurturing her spirit and determination to work in Japan. She started calling and calling the agent. One day, he answered her call, again reassuring her that the visa application process was continuing. He told her to trust him, and because of her dream, she did.
For survival, she started working as a day laborer. A month later, she found a job in a household as a domestic worker. Suddenly the agent called again and said he needed 150,000 rupees (approximately $1,500) to finalize the visa. Rubina provided him with the hard-earned cash she had earned over the previous two years—and then he disappeared. Now, seven years after trying to get to Japan on her own, she learned it generally takes a week for the embassy to process visa applications. She could not believe she had trusted a liar agent over six years.
Rubina had to move on. She took a job as a domestic worker and made plans to start a business, until the 2015 earthquake shattered that dream. Still, she says she is fortunate that she was able to fulfil her dream, at least in part. Today, after paying 400,000 rupees (approximately $4,000) to another labor recruiter, Rubina is working outside of Nepal—in Turkey as a domestic worker. She received a visa and, in 2017, left her country and began working for an affectionate family of three.
Krishma Sharma is a Solidarity Center program officer in Nepal.
This JustJobs and Solidarity Center report asserts that post-earthquake Nepal is at a unique moment when it can leverage the reconstruction process to protect worker rights and ensure that migration out of the country for work is a choice, not a necessity.
Xenophobia and racism are embedded in the daily economic and social situation of labor migrants and refugees, according to Joseph Rudigi Rukema, a sociology professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
“The world is witnessing a growing level of intolerance against foreign labor migrants, refugee and asylum seekers,” he says. Rukema kicked off the afternoon session of the first day at the January 25–27 Solidarity Center Fair Labor Migration conference in Johannesburg, South Africa. (See more conference coverage here.)
The more than 120 conference participants joined in discussions on xenophobia and racism and ended the day by strategizing at break-out sessions on union responses to migration flows and migrant worker exploitation.
Although Rukema focused his presentation on conditions in South Africa, the experiences of migrant workers he described occurs across Africa—and the world.
Unions can play an important role by advocating creation of conducive economic and political condition in migrants’ home countries, says Joseph Rukema.
The exploitation of migrant workers begins with their journey, as labor brokers and others take advantage of their precarious situation, says Rukema. After migrant workers arrive in their destination countries, they “define racism in terms of their working conditions”—such as employer exploitation, he says. Migrant workers also are subject to daily harassment by police and other officials, often inhumane treatment by officials when seeking work permits and lack of access to banking institutions.
“If you look at most of migrants, they flee economic conditions in their home countries,” says Rukema, and unions can play an important role by advocating creation of conducive economic and political condition in migrants’ home countries.
“Build a network with existing institutions and really strong grassroots networks,” he says. (Download Rukema’s full presentation here.)
In the two final break-out sessions, participants discussed the challenges to reaching and empowering migrant workers. They identified such obstacles as the difficulty in reaching informal economy workers, many of whom are migrant workers; xenophobia and suspicion by local residents; and the difficulty in documenting those migrating for work.
Further, union leaders pointed to the need to step up efforts to ensure their governments ratify international conventions, especially the International Labor Organization Convention 143 on migrant workers, and develop comprehensive strategies to ensure migrant workers are represented.
Over the next two days, conference participants will develop concrete proposals to meet the challenges of empowering migrant workers. You can follow the conference on Twitter with the hashtag FairMigration and check out Solidarity Center on Facebook for regular updates.
An estimated 998,000 African migrants entered South Africa between 2011 and 2015, says Mondli Hlatshwayo, coordinator with the Center for Education Rights and Transformation at the University of Johannesburg, where he researches community and trade union education, especially strengthening and building grassroots social justice formations.
But although labor migration from Africa has historically been a male-dominated phenomenon, the pattern has changed significantly in recent decades.
“African women are leaving their countries of birth to create new lives elsewhere. Economic opportunities are primarily available in child care,” and domestic work, he says.
Speaking this morning at the first day of the Solidarity Center conference on fair labor migration, Hlatshwayo provided a detailed overview of migration flows in southern Africa, especially what he describes as the “feminization of migration,” a key focus of the January 25–27 conference’s opening day.
Nearly half of all migrant workers are women, with the feminization of migration increasing in Africa over the past few decades as women seek to support their families. Yet “the situation is worse for women immigrants” who face exploitation based on their sex, he says.
Hlatshwayo described the experience of Pamela Khumalo, a woman migrant worker working in South Africa’s early childhood development sector, who described both her struggle and her courage:
“We have to persevere. Resilience keeps us going. We have to survive against all odds and that has to do with the fact that there are no job and economic opportunities in Zimbabwe. We survive violence on the way to South Africa, because we are looking for work.”
Read Hlatshwayo’s full presentation here.