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Since 1993, Association for Stimulating Know How (ASK) has been working with grassroots communities, NGOs, governments, and corporations in India and beyond. ASK’s work includes capacity building, research and evaluation, and corporate social responsibility projects working towards a more just, equitable, peaceful, and secure world. A long-term network partner of Verité, Vision caught up with the ASK team this month to learn more about their work on migration.

Read the interview below, visit the ASK website, or contact Dr. Aqueel Khan for more information.

How did ASK get started working on the issue of migration?

Migration is a cross cutting issue that informs much of ASK’s work. ASK has worked on migration for several years including working on training programs for organizations that engage with migrant communities and conducting research on migration that incorporates workers’ voices. Through an India-wide study, ASK mapped interventions on unsafe migration and human trafficking across the country, which illuminated unmet needs of the migrant communities. ASK has also conducted capacity building for NGOs working on migration issues and is designing new intervention strategies to leverage the expertise of NGOs working in this field.

What are the migration corridors, both internal and external, that you have researched?

ASK has focused extensively on the issue of labor mobility within and outside India, especially in the informal sector. Labor mobility for income opportunities is very prevalent within the country, which creates numerous corridors of migration from source to destination states. ASK has identified certain states as major source areas, including particularly impoverished areas like Odisha, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Assam and has researched destination states of Delhi, Haryana, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and Tamil Nadu. Among these states, the most prominent internal migration corridors are Odisha and Jharkhand to Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana; and Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar to Delhi and Haryana. These internal migration corridors are funneling workers from some of the poorest parts of India to places with jobs like construction, harvesting, and businesses peripheral to India’s tech sector.

In addition, ASK has researched external corridors focusing on cross-border and unsafe migration, the conditions of migrant workers in the destination countries, and the challenges pertaining to making these pathways safe for all aspiring migrants. These corridors include Kerala to Gulf countries; Nepal to Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Delhi, and; Bangladesh to West Bengal.

What has changed about migration routes since you started working on this issue?

In India, new source and destination points emerge over time depending on economic factors and the establishment of urban centers as satellite towns to major cities. One significant change that has recently emerged is that India has become a prominent transit point for migration from Nepal. Delhi, Mumbai, and Lucknow have become transit points by Nepalese migrants, especially women, going to the Gulf. This is partly because of regulations by the Government of Nepal, which require women migrating out of the country under a certain age to be accompanied by a male family member. As a result, the women cross the border into India to evade this regulation

How does gender play a role in the migration of workers? Are there specific sectors or jobs where women/girls are more likely to seek work or to be in forced labor situations?

Rates of migration from source states show trends in gender. West Bengal, Odisha, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, and Rajasthan are all states where women migrate from for work in high number. On the other hand, states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Gujarat witness significantly low rates of migration among women for work. These trends are affected by the social structures and the position that women have in their respective family structures. In certain regions, women are more reluctant to participate in income generating activities. In those regions, men are expected to be the sole earning member of the family. However, some women who migrate with their husbands from their villages to cities, eventually start working due to the high cost of living in the city.

Certain sectors of work such as construction, domestic work, and brick kilns, receive more female migrant workers, either alone or with their families. The domestic work sector has the highest number of female workers in India. A majority of these workers are migrants who have settled in cities and semi-urban locations for work either within or outside of their state of origin. Being limited to the private sphere of a household, domestic workers are vulnerable to end up in situations of forced labor where they work for long hours at low wages, receive irregular or no payment, and are at risk for physical and sexual exploitation.

Are there children who are migrating for work? Are they traveling with family members or are they alone? What kinds of jobs do they do?

In India, children migrate either alone or with their family to work in carpet weaving, informal eateries, small hotels, garment or shoe-making factories, domestic work, construction, brick kilns, begging, rag picking, or firecracker manufacturing. Familial or village networks play an important role when children migrate alone. ASK’s research has shown that people known to the family facilitate migration of the child and introduce him or her to prospective employers. Children as young as five years of age migrate with their families to work in brick kilns, and girls of 10 to 12 years of age migrate for domestic work.

What did you learn from the responsible recruitment work in Nepal and India you did with Verité? How did you share the good practices and what effect did this have on workers’ lives?

ASK learned that vulnerabilities of migrant workers to human trafficking and forced labor can be reduced through the facilitation of safe migration. Governments need to collaborate to ensure that individuals migrating for better employment opportunities do so legally. Instead of trying to regulate or control migration outright, it is necessary to develop policies that ensure safe migration. It is a basic human right of an individual to move from one place to another to have access to better resources and build a better life.

In the age of globalization, where economies are not only exchanging goods and services but labor forces as well, it is important for any government to engage proactively in bringing about policy level changes to match up to the changing migration trends. Drawing from this work with Verité, ASK will raise awareness among the target migrant communities about the rights of migrant workers and engage with government authorities to ensure that migration data is maintained more effectively. With rapid urbanization and the Indian government’s commitment to developing the skills of the country’s rural workforce, it is likely that large-scale internal migration will continue in the next decade making relevant policy frameworks a necessity.

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