Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Buduburam in the Gomoa region of Ghana, west of Accra: From refugee camp to self-sufficient community

By Mariana Chambel

Liberian refugees have been displaced in Ghana since 1990. The Gomoa-Buduburam refugee camp, located 35 km west of Accra, was initially built to host these refugees escaping the civil war in Liberia. Given the nature of their move, Liberians were afforded protection by the Government of Ghana. Initially, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) provided the settlement’s residents with aid and relief to the refugees but by 2007, UNHCR started to advocate the return of the refugees since peace had come to the country. The Government of Ghana followed UNHCR’s steps and actively promoted voluntary return to Liberia. At that time there were an estimated 40,000 refugees in the camp. In 2011, the Deputy Minister of Information in Ghana stated that “Buduburam is no longer needed and that the inhabitants should consider returning to Liberia or settling elsewhere in Ghana”. Yet that statement did not persuade the refugees to leave.

Fast-forward to today, when visiting the settlement, currently managed by the National Disaster Management Organization (NADMO), I came to find a peaceful, structured and multi-cultural place. A place where its residents have access to basic commodities and services, such as water, food and sanitation. In the settlement there is also a hospital, police posts, fire service posts, a school, a place of worship, a Liberian cultural centre, numerous shops and markets, and a security system. Many of its inhabitants engage in farming, trading, or small business.
A significant number of the remaining community of first and second generations of Liberians, sees in the Buduburam settlement their home; while some of them were buried in Gomoa, others were born in Gomoa.
Who has left and who has stayed?
Since peace came to Liberia and the country became politically stable, 18,642 refugees have voluntarily repatriated.
Byrne (2013) argues that the concept of identity influences refugees’ likelihood of finding a durable solution. The sense of national identity, namely being born in Ghana, is an important indicator about a refugee’s desire to remain in Ghana. As Byrne explains, this demonstrates an emphasis on ethno-cultural concepts of identity over civic or legalistic concepts of identity. Those with strong ethnic bloodlines or ancestry, and Liberian national identities would be least likely candidates for local integration.
Durable Solutions
The Ministerial Committee has been tasked by the Ministry of the Interior, to make recommendations for the Buduburam refugee settlement closure. In theory, there are three durable solutions to exile:

Voluntary Repatriation:  
Voluntary repatriation has been considered by some to be one of the most durable solutions for refugees, since returning to one’s root is the best way to redress the situation of those in exile. Still, it is worth asking if return is indeed desired, advisable and/or possible for them. According to Yeboah (2015), some of their concerns about repatriation include: the possibility of attack or punitive action back home, and whether or not they would have access to shelter, health care, quality education, employment, and skills training services. Lastly, they anticipate financial compensations to cover for their lost belongings during the conflict, which is not necessarily going to come to fruition.

By 2007, UNHCR had ceased its repatriation efforts due to the lack of interest from Liberians.

Local integration:
Local integration suggests that refugees are self-reliant and have opportunities to support themselves in the host country. Yet, in 2008, refugee protestors made it clear about their unwillingness to be integrated into Ghana. Interviews conducted by Holzer (2012) revealed that most people feared and opposed local integration. Since the departure of the UNHCR, most refugees felt unprotected and and concerned about the host country’s attitudes towards foreigners. Moreover, local integration is a social and cultural process within the host country. Just like any other type of migrant, refugees go through an adjustment process of integration.

Resettlement to a third country of asylum:
According to Teye (2010), an important factor why many refugees do not consider voluntaryrepatriation or local integration as durable solutions is their desire to join a resettlement programme elsewhere, instead. Even though this is their preferred alternative, less than 1% of refugees are resettled worldwide. Despite the calm and peaceful environment in the settlement, I could feel that my presence raised apprehension among the people living in the settlement. Inhabitants distrust outsiders as they feel constantly threatened with the possibility of having to abandon their homes. Uncertainty comes with a lot of fears; whether they will be forced to repatriate, or forced to integrate, for the past 20 years Liberian refugees have been living in limbo. More than anything, communication would solve a lot of problems. People do not know what their status is, what the national health insurance card means for them, and they do not have information either about what is available when they return.

All in all, voluntary repatriation, local integration and resettlement to a third country have been widely accepted in literature as durable solutions to refugees, however, these solutions have not been fully materialized and refugees’ expectations, to improve their standard of living and find safe haven from persecution, have not been fulfilled. It is important to remember that under national law, refugees who are being integrated are entitled to the same rights and benefits as are nationals. However, considering what they have experienced, we should consider that they will likely need more support. Policies and measures to protect refugees and grant them rights should consider the identified factors that would make them self-reliant while taking note of their varying background characteristics. Displaced people, like any people, have different dreams, needs and goals that need to be accommodated in this process.

Mariana Chambel is a Migrating out of Poverty Communications Research Assistant based at the University of Ghana, Centre for Migration Studies.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Human Smuggling and Border Crossings - en français

We repost the blog by Dorte Thorsen originally published by Border Criminologies. This is a French translation by Alice Jeanelle.

Par Dorte Thorsen, directrice de la recherche qualitative et sur le genre, pour le consortium du programme de recherche « Migrating out of poverty » (MOOP), de la School of Global Studies, Université du Sussex, DPhil in African Studies, est chercheur associée au LMI-MOVIDA.

Traduction Alice Jeannelle 

Note de lecture de l’ouvrage Human Smuggling and Border Crossings, par Gabrielle E. Sanchez (Routledge, 2015).

Cette critique a été originellement publiée en anglais par le réseau « Border Criminologies » le 22 juillet 2016 (lire ici) ainsi que sur le site du MOOP le 1er aooût 2016 (lire ici).

C’est avec succès que Human Smuggling and Border Crossings (Trafic d’humains et passages de frontière) défie la prédominance d’un discours qui rattache le trafic d’humains aux organisations criminelles de type mafia, à la violence extrême et à la cupidité. Gabriella Sanchez brosse un tableau de réseaux fluides d’hommes et de femmes ordinaires, qui s’engagent pour faciliter le passage de la frontière extralégale dans l’Etat de l’Arizona, aux Etats-Unis, afin de surmonter des disparités de revenus ou de lutter contre – et s’opposer à – la marginalisation structurelle. À travers une combinaison unique de connaissances solides du contrôle aux frontières et des procédures judiciaires, obtenues via son travail d’interviews des détenus pour un tribunal régional, d’une analyse critique des dossiers judiciaires et d’une recherche ethnographique de terrain, Sanchez expose les diverses activités qui composent les opérations de passage de frontières. Son travail est une contribution importante au corpus de recherche émergent, qui souligne les perspectives et les pratiques des individus qui facilitent ces passages.

L’ethnographie s’attaque de façon continue aux discours mondial et local sur le trafic et le passage de frontières extralégales, en identifiant les visions biaisées et les déformations qui ont pour but de promouvoir des politiques publiques spécifiques. Conformément aux chercheurs critiques des régimes contemporains de la gestion de la migration, Sanchez remarque que porter l’accent sur les crises humanitaires, la violence et les morts dans les zones frontalières aboutit souvent en arguments hors-contextes et a-historiques, qui échouent à prendre en compte les effets des inégalités de race, de genre et de classe. Ceci, démontre-t-elle, est particulièrement problématique dans le contexte de l’Arizona, où les inégalités raciales remontent à plus d’un siècle et sont devenues avec le temps, à des degrés divers, institutionnalisés dans les législations du travail et de l’immigration.

Tandis que la marginalisation des immigrés Mexicains pourrait soutenir l’idée qu’ils sont enclins à s’engager dans des activités délictueuses pour gagner de l’argent rapidement, la déconstruction continue par Sanchez des mythes autour du trafic enterre cette idée avant qu’elle ne s’installe dans notre esprit. Son analyse détaillée des gens facilitant le passage de frontière montre qu’ils forment un groupe hautement disparate, tout en pointant avec précision les points communs relatifs au travail et au genre. Bien que les hommes comme les femmes peuvent opérer comme recruteurs et coordinateurs, les hommes sont habituellement ceux qui s’aventurent à guider les migrants à travers les frontières et les zones désertiques, les conduire d’un point à un autre, ou à la destination finale. Les femmes tendent plutôt à travailler en lieu sûr, où elles procurent des soins et apportent un soutien aux migrants en transit, remplissant ainsi le rôle important de garantir la fiabilité du réseau.

Ces informations fournissent de nouveaux éclairages. En approfondissant l’analyse pour comprendre les dynamiques de genre en jeu, Sanchez décompose les positions structurellement différentes et les parcours des hommes et femmes Mexicains aux Etats-Unis. Elle démontre que les femmes facilitatrices du passage de frontière sont plus installées dans les zones frontalières de l’Arizona que leurs homologues masculins, et que cela leur permet de puiser dans différents créneaux du processus de facilitation. Ces créneaux réitèrent les inégalités de genre dans le salaire, mais pas nécessairement dans la position sociale. Tandis que les stéréotypes raciaux au sein des autorités et forces de l’ordre exposent davantage les hommes Mexicains aux contrôles d’identité, les femmes facilitatrices et leurs familles sont, en réalité, plus profondément affectées dans les situations de détention et de déportation. Pour les femmes, la déportation implique la séparation d’avec les enfants, tandis que pour les hommes, dont les familles restent souvent dans le pays d’origine, la déportation n’a pas le même effet.

Enfin, défiant l’idée que les trafiquant appartiennent à des réseaux criminels, Sanchez décrit le caractère social et flexible des réseaux de parents et de proches de la facilitation du passage de frontière en Arizona. La plupart des gens ne s’engage pas dans ces réseaux par cupidité, mais inscrit plutôt sa participation dans un acte de solidarité et le sentiment d’être concerné. Quelqu’un en difficulté économique peut se voir encouragé par ses proches à participer à la facilitation du passage de frontière pour surmonter son embarras, ou encore les facilitateurs peuvent permettre aux migrants de travailler au lieu de payer un prix dont ils ne pourraient s’acquitter autrement. Souvent, les facilitateurs enrôlent les migrants comme chauffeurs (c’est-à-dire comme partie prenante du processus de facilitation) et leur proposent alors un prix réduit. Ces pratiques montrent la fluidité et la flexibilité des réseaux de passages de frontière en Arizona.

Human Smuggling and Border Crossings est un compte-rendu captivant, fondé sur des recherches de terrain, montrant comment et pourquoi les facilitateurs de passage de frontières s’organisent. Sanchez encadre son approche analytique dans le débat vieux comme le monde de la structure et de l’agency, et s’en réfère au travail de Bourdieu pour souligner que les choix se font dans les interstices des limites imposées par l’habitus et des liens tissés entre les gens autour de contraintes sociales et structurelles dans la lutte pour une position sociale. Toutefois, ce débat n’est pas évoqué dans son analyse.

Son argumentaire aurait peut-être gagné à proposer une théorisation plus approfondie de la multiplicité en entrecroisant l’économie morale autour des immigrés Mexicains dans les zones de frontières de l’Arizona, et les responsabilités sociales et la réciprocité dans la communauté mexicaine au sens large, ainsi que dans les relations plus intimes. Cet angle aurait pu faire ressortir plus succinctement les contradictions de la gestion de la migration en Arizona, tel que le traitement différent des femmes et des hommes mexicains, ou accorder aux migrants irréguliers un certain degré de régularisation, tout en leur refusant une légalisation complète. Cela m’intéresserait d’en savoir plus sur les façons dont les normes et les valeurs en lien avec les inégalités de genre et de classes sont affectées par les processus de marginalisation en Arizona, et comment la communauté Mexicaine est liée aux inégalités raciales.

La lecture de Human Smuggling and Border Crossings est un remarquable contraste avec le stéréotype médiatisé du trafiquant d’humains, qui arrive à point nommé, et offre ainsi une importante contribution à la compréhension des effets des régimes migratoires dans les pays du nord. Ce livre intéressera particulièrement les étudiants en master ou dernière année de licence, les chercheurs, les journalistes et les gens qui s’intéressent à la diversité des flux migratoires, au contrôle aux frontières et à la gestion de la migration. L’ethnographie étant abordée sans jargon anthropologique, c’est une introduction simple au type de vision et au genre de détail que les études ethnographiques proposent.

Traduction Alice Jeannelle

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

The Business of Adventures: Talking with Cai Yinzhou, Founder of Geylang Adventures

by So Young Chang

Adventure: an unusual, exciting, and possibly dangerous activity, such as a trip or experience, or the excitement produced by such an activity. (from the Cambridge Dictionary)

By definition, an adventure is something that takes place far from one’s comfort zone. It is not a word that would be used to describe activities in one’s own neighbourhood, that is, unless you live in Singapore’s red light district. Having grown up in Geylang all his life, the connotations of the place weren’t always known to Yinzhou. It was when classmates laughed at his introduction, or when army mates probed him about brothels in the area, that he realised how Geylang configures in the Singaporean imagination. 

In his own words, an adventure is “a sense of the unknown and an experience that you can’t define if you haven’t been on it before.” To counter some of the stereotypes he encountered, Yinzhou began doing walking tours of Geylang for friends, which eventually expanded to friends of friends. Two years ago, he quit his full-time job to start Geylang Adventures, a social enterprise that organises trails around Geylang among other activities such as Back Alley Barbers, an initiative that began by offering free haircuts to migrant workers, and Majulah Belanja, an annual event that brings together teams of three migrant workers and one Singaporean for a cookout competition. In the long run, his project is ambitious and idealistic: he hopes for a change in perspective where people’s work can be recognised in terms of their contribution to society and not by how much they are paid for the job. In fulfilling that vision, he is using Geylang Adventures as a platform to start a conversation, starting with those with an appetite for a bit of adventure. 

So, what is Geylang? It is indeed the only legalised red light district in Singapore, and over the years it has also gained a reputation for having some of the best food joints. It is also where a lot of changes have taken place post-Little India riots due to its large migrant worker population, becoming the testing grounds for the newest and latest surveillance technologies. 

Where most tour operators would stop at the curbside restaurant and a sideways glance at the “vices” in the streets, Yinzhou is much more nuanced and thorough in his approach. He makes you notice how right next to a brothel at street number 69, there is an established Buddhist association, speaking to the salvation and sin that co-exist in Geylang. Or facing an old apartment building, he makes you guess which flats have been converted into workers’ dormitories (hint: they are not supposed to be seen.) He points out how local residents would sometimes spray water on the ground to keep workers from gathering or how ultra-bright street lamps have been installed in every corner and alley to discourage people from hanging around. 

As a resident himself, he has a vested interest in the welfare of Geylang and emphasises multiple times throughout the trail that he operates on the principles of neutrality and mutual respect. His intention is not to protest the changes taking place in Geylang. Rather, he wants to ensure that all the stakeholders—whether local or migrant, influential or overlooked, rich or poor—are included in the dialogue and remain aware of each other’s needs in the space. 

Yinzhou does not see himself as an activist, but more as a facilitator who mediates the process of change. As a young Singaporean, he is wary of how his generation grew up without understanding how the current model of economic development has happened at the expense of a certain demographic of people, where low-wage migrant workers are seen as an economic asset.

“And when they get injured, they become a liability in this equation for growth, unscrupulous employers cancel their work permits, demanding that they should be taken out, and sent back as soon as possible. This chain of events is a direct consequence of their sudden lack of ability to contribute to the company's economic success.” 

This attitude is reflected in how migrant workers are geographically isolated and hidden from view by design—the ‘invisible’ dormitories being the most obvious example. He places a lot of importance on debunking this logic of “if you don’t see it, it means it’s not there.” 

“Because it’s not just a behaviour we are developing, it’s a culture. It’s a culture of being ungrateful to people who we know contribute directly to our success.” 

Seeing youth as a critical group, he also devotes a lot of time to speaking with students on leadership and community involvement. 

Walking through Geylang with Yinzhou, you get the feeling that he sees life itself to be an adventure. He is someone who is continually learning at every moment, whether at a library, from the street talk, or through plain old observation. Talking about why Singapore needs Geylang, he stresses that the lack of conflict and tension is not equivalent to harmony. Trying to keep people from gathering on the streets may bring down the level of noise or even the number of disturbances, but it may also take away the freedom and agency that everyone needs. He may not have the solutions to the problems that he sees, but with Geylang Adventures, he is helping to carve out opportunities for people to construct their future together. 

As he says, “real change is not about changing the dynamics of the ecosystem, but firstly to objectively accept and secondly to have the safe space for that conversation to happen.”

Talking with the sage of Geylang, who amongst his many endeavours, was once salvaging shipwrecks off the coast of Indonesia. (Photo by Kae Yuan)

Find out more about Geylang Adventures on their website or follow their Facebook page for updates on their upcoming events.

So Young Chang has recently finished a 3 month internship with Migrating out of Poverty based at the Asia Research Institute at the National University of Singapore.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Here is not my home. The story of a migrant construction worker in Ghana

by Collins Yeboah

In Ghana, both skilled and unskilled migrant workers seek greener pastures in the highly concentrated city of Accra and its sprawling peri-urban areas. Most of these migrants end up working in the informal and insecure sectors as domestic and construction workers.

Usually, the migrant construction workers are practicing craftsmen – masons, carpenters, and steel benders. A study by Yaro et al (2015) indicates that migrants skilled in construction work spend years perfecting their trade at home before migrating, due mainly to the surplus of crafts persons in their originating communities.

Why do construction workers leave?

“There are jobs in the Volta Region for masons like me, but they are not too many - it is the big construction firms that get all the contracts and pay us the masons as they want”. 

These are the words of Divine, a 23-year-old mason from Tsitsito, in the North Tongu district in the Volta Region of Ghana. Divine migrated to Accra because of poor salaries and low frequency of jobs in the Volta region.

Our Migrating out of Poverty global qualitative study in Ghana* found that the livelihood options in origin areas, though diverse, are of limited benefits to the emerging youth. The towns and peri-urban areas have limited construction projects mainly provided by the state, the Ghanaian diaspora and residents. It was also found that the non-farm sector has blossomed but with limited profit margins due to poor purchasing power and low populations. Farming is an important activity in both Northern and Volta Regions of Ghana but one whose significance is decreasing due to dwindling land sizes in peri-urban areas, falling soil fertility, soil erosion, and rising input cost. Petty trading is therefore the norm in the origin areas, especially for women.

Given the above local origin context, rural-urban migration for skilled work is encouraged by the entire household. The study further found higher wages in Accra are a major attraction for migrants. Also, the waiting time for moving between contract jobs is shorter in Accra. Added to this is the fact that the desire for housing - as reflected in the aspiration of the middle classes desire to own houses - drives the demand for the services of construction workers. Global processes of industrialization, modernization, and urbanization also provide the opportunities and conditions for migration.

Our study found that the migration of skilled workers is encouraged by the entire household as it holds promise for moving them out of poverty. Like many migrants, Divine reported that his family members consented to his migration and gave him their blessings. He self-financed his migration from his savings as a mason in Tsitsito and thus doesn’t have any debts to repay:

“I financed my migration from Tsitsito to Accra. I do not owe anyone in my village. I have a purpose, to make enough money and go back so I can start my own business…” 

Others use loans from family members and friends to finance their relocation.

Conditions in the migrant construction sector

Migrants seek jobs wherever they perceive jobs are possible. Where there is an opening, an offer is made with conditions advantageous to the employer. There is little job security in the sector and few people have formal contracts. Arrangements are usually agreed verbally. Our study found that masons in the construction industry earn between Ghc 30-40 a day. Workers are only paid for days worked - an indication of the extent of casualisation in the industry. They are not provided with sick pay, except in cases where a worker falls ill on the job and cannot continue for the rest of his/her hours that day. But they are not paid for any subsequent days off.

Construction workers tend to labour throughout the week from 7:30 to 17:00, with one day off on a Sunday. The six-day work regime is used across all categories of construction work and there are high levels of flexibility for the non-formalised sector where the rule is fulfilling one’s contract rather than the time used. A mason in Accra is expected to lay 100 blocks a day or plaster two walls a day. A good worker is capable of achieving this task in 5 hours (also called ‘finish and go’). As Divine puts it:

“I can lay more than 100 blocks a day. Masa, when you start, there is no rest for you. You see the difficulty involved? It is a work for the strong not the weak” 

Despite the challenges that he faces in the city Divine still holds the idea to save enough and go back to Tsitsito. The intention to stay in Accra permanently, or acquire assets in Accra, is not part of Divine’s plan. He considers himself a ‘hustler’ and therefore sees Accra as a temporal place, a survivalist strategy to save money and return home:

“I did not come here to spend heavily on food. No way! I have plans to save enough of what I earn so I can go back to Volta region and establish my own work. Here is not my home”. 

Yaro, J. A, Awumbila, M & Teye, J.K (2015). The life struggles and successes of the migrant construction worker in Accra, Ghana. Ghana Journal of Geography Vol. 7(2), 2015, pages 113-131

*GP011 MOOP study- See one of our journal articles based on this study: Social Networks, Migration Trajectories and Livelihood Strategies of Migrant Domestic and Construction Workers in Accra, Ghana