Migration Narratives: The SHRAM Blog

Gearing up for migrant inclusive development: The road ahead for India

Blog post from Benoy Peter, Executive Director, CMID

Migration has been a major means of social emancipation the world over. It has also been a survival strategy for millions. With the advancements in connectivity, sources and destinations have become significantly closer. However, more and more barriers complicate transnational movement of people. Increasingly, migration is at the centre of global politics. Brexit, Nitaquat and rising popularity of anti-migrant right wing parties in several western countries, point towards this xenophobia. In addition to poverty and conflicts, climate change has also evolved as a trigger for significant movement of people within and beyond their country of residence.

We witnessed more crossings and sizeable increase in the number of deaths and missing cases in the Mediterranean during this decade. Forced displacement peaked; the number of unaccompanied minors crossing borders increased substantially during the recent years. Migrants who aspired to reach Europe got trapped and were auctioned like commodities in Libya. The world even witnessed an attempt of ethnic cleansing in Myanmar.

With the growing concerns, the attention and responses to migration have also been evolving. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have brought in more attention to the issues of migrants. Although the United States have moved away from it, the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants adopted by the UN General Assembly in September 2016 endorses the global commitment towards addressing the challenges faced by refugees and migrants.

The developing world, particularly the Asian region is also witnessing unprecedented growth in migratory moves. With the largest number of international migrants in the recent years, India ranked first among the countries receiving remittances in 2016. Besides, India is destination for millions of migrants from neighbouring countries, particularly from Nepal and Bangladesh. The country also hosts refugees from more than five countries although not a signatory to major international conventions related to refugees.

India is also one of the countries with the largest absolute number of internally displaced people worldwide. The disparities in regional development in the country also result in millions of Indians migrating to destinations within the country for work. Evidence indicate that migration has also been a coping strategy for internal migrants to adapt to climate change. The native Assamese who have been historically the most sedentary in India now travel several thousands of kilometres to work down south in Kerala. There have been several established corridors of labour migration in the country and many more are evolving.

There is considerable lack of clarity on the estimates of people who migrate within the country, who comprise the largest proportion of migrants. The available information suggests significant presence of people from Scheduled Tribes, Scheduled Castes and other minorities among the labour migrants who take up the precarious jobs ignored by the natives in urban India or in the states that are demographically advanced. Mapping the conflicts, floods, droughts, cyclones and other disasters in the country can help portray the sources areas of internal migration to a certain extent. Single women, senior citizens and families also travel thousands of kilometres out of their struggle for survival. The southern Indian states are evolving as major destinations for migrant workers from the rest of India, due to a host of determinants.

The International Migrants Day is an opportunity for us to reflect upon how India is prepared to achieve its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) ensuring a migrant inclusive agenda. There is more competition for the international migrants from India at the destinations and newer challenges are likely to emerge in the GCC countries to which there is significant migration from India. The treatment of Rohingya issue by Government of India in the recent times is a matter of concern when it comes to those who cross borders as their lives are threatened. Migration has been a political issue in states such as Assam or Maharashtra. Vulnerabilities of internal migrants, particularly those in the informal sector continue to remain high even in states with considerable social development. Migrants’ access to social protection is limited across the country. Ensuring decent wages, housing and working conditions, food security, access to legal aid, financial inclusion, access to quality healthcare, access to education for children of migrant workers, etc. still continue to be major challenges. Human trafficking continues to be another challenge. So do forced labour and child labour.

There is only limited data available on internal migration in the Indian context. Census data which does not reflect much the real migration situation and gets dated by the time it reaches those who need it. Final data on migration from 2011 Census is yet to be released as we are about to enter 2018. Work place research in the case of migrants, particularly those in vulnerable job settings is challenging. The proposed draft labour codes by Department of Labour have already seeded uncertainties among the already vulnerable workers in the unorganised sector.  Lessons from academic research is largely confined to paid use and very few think tanks in India focus on migration. Serious public policy deliberations on migration are also rare given the limited interest and expertise within the country.

Interventions among migrants too are far from the actual requirement. Migration is also not a donor priority in the Indian context. Although there are exceptions, the capacities of civil society organisations in India are also limited in responding the various needs of migrants. While there are sporadic efforts such as the migrant collectives raising their demand during the recent Gujarat elections, by and large the migrant workers remain excluded from the collective bargaining power of trade unions even in states which are known for the strong presence of trade unions.

Migrants including refugees and internally displaced are one of the most vulnerable communities who are generally left behind in the discourse of development as the lessons learned from pursuing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) reveal. India’s achieving the SDGs by 2030 calls for immediate attention to the issues of migrants and placing migration at the centre of policy dialogues. Government of India alone cannot address the issues given the complexities and scale of efforts involved. This International Migrants Day is a wakeup call for India to trigger and gear up a collective response of the government, the civil society, academia, bilateral and multilateral organisations, private sector and other key stakeholders towards migrant inclusive development through public policy dialogues on migration, focussed attention on gathering more evidence, leveraging more funds, creating and strengthening platforms and coalitions, piloting and scaling up innovative interventions, documenting as well as disseminating good practices with meaningful involvement of those who migrate and those who are left behind during migration.


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