Community Study on the Needs of Returned Migrants Following the Andaman Sea Crisis
1. Executive summary
Following the Andaman Sea Crisis of May‒June 2015, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Bangladesh conducted a community-based study to understand the push factors influencing migrants to travel through irregular channels and the challenges experienced by migrants upon returning to Bangladesh. The study aimed to build the evidence base regarding the needs of returning migrants to inform the development of more effective migrant reintegration practices.
Since early 2015, IOM has worked with the Government of Bangladesh to assist migrants who had been stranded or detained in Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar and Thailand during the Andaman Sea Crisis to return home. As of June 2016, this successful collaboration enabled 2,813 survivors, including 183 children, to return voluntarily to Bangladesh in a safe and dignified manner. As many migrants experienced physical and sexual violence and starvation during the crisis, IOM has also provided psychosocial support to around 2,000 migrants upon return. Many, however, continue to suffer from debilitating health conditions that limit their ability to work, many are in debt as a result of their migration experiences, and some are now financially destitute. There is an urgent need for a more comprehensive approach to support the sustainable reintegration of migrants into their home communities following the crisis.
The study draws on a combination of in-depth interviews and analysis of survey data collected by IOM. The survey data is based on a simple questionnaire administered to 2,813 migrants upon return to Bangladesh. It captures demographic data, key features of the migration experience, as well as returning migrants’ future intentions and aspirations regarding migration and other livelihood opportunities. To complement the survey findings with qualitative insights about the process of reintegration, in-depth interviews were conducted with 22 migrants in two districts of Bangladesh where the highest numbers of migrants involved in the Andaman Sea Crisis originated (Cox’s Bazar and Narsingdi). These additional interviews were conducted around four to six months following their return to Bangladesh. The study concentrates on the experiences of Bangladeshi migrants who were involved in the Andaman Sea Crisis, as this is the group that have been assisted to return to Bangladesh by IOM.
The research has been undertaken to inform new initiatives aimed at supporting the sustainable reintegration for returning migrants, building the resilience of individuals and their home communities, and promoting safe migration pathways.
• Migrants with little or no formal education constituted the majority of those involved in the Andaman Sea Crisis in May‒ June 2015. Of those who recorded their education upon return, 63 per cent had either no formal education or incomplete primary school education. Around 4 per cent of migrants had completed secondary school.
• All Bangladeshi migrants assisted to return following the crisis are male.
• Overall, the migrants are young, with over half (67%) under the age of 25 years.
• Almost all, or 99 per cent, of Bangladeshi migrants involved in the crisis were trying to travel to Malaysia. Most migrants interviewed undertook the journey by sea in search of work, and tended to be looking for work in the construction industry.
• The primary motivation for attempting the journey to Malaysia by boat, as revealed in the interviews, is to search for work that would provide sufficient income for families left behind in Bangladesh. The in-depth interviews suggested that the desired minimum income is around USD 250 per month (around 20,000 taka (Tk)), as indicated by at least three migrants during the discussions.3 Migrants describe making the decision to migrate because they were not able to earn enough money in Bangladesh.
• In the interviews, some migrants describe being inspired by neighbours who had worked overseas and had managed to build nicer, more durable and weather-resistant houses upon return, leading them to believe that if they go overseas, they will also be able to provide this minimum level of comfort for their families.
• Travelling by boat to Malaysia, rather than using a regular and safer migration route, appealed to migrants because it was less costly and did not necessarily require an upfront payment.
All of the migrants interviewed, except for one, revealed that when they embarked on their journeys in 2015, they did not have to pay any money upfront to the middlemen, referred to as dalals. This is a key factor in their decision to use the irregular maritime route. This is notwithstanding that their families later needed to make costly payments for the journey.
Migrants seemed to have chosen the maritime route because it is the one that friends, families and the dalals had advised, and because there was no other available option to them that they could readily access or afford.
• Some migrants described being deceived into travelling to Malaysia, explaining how they were told that they would be working in the construction industry once they arrived. While it is unclear how many of the 2,813 survivors experienced human trafficking, 5 of the 22 people interviewed claimed some form of coercion or deception to encourage them to undertake the journey. Many of the migrants who were interviewed also described initially going voluntarily and then changing their minds once they reached the departure points in Cox’s Bazar, but were not allowed to turn back.
• Upon return, migrants are experiencing significant financial hardship as they attempt to reintegrate with family members, re-establish livelihoods and overcome high levels of debt. Some migrants are also under pressure from family members to go abroad again, even though they are still recovering from their recent experiences.
• Debt is the most commonly reported issue that migrants are seeking assistance with following their return. Families of the migrants often sold income-generating assets (such as land, rickshaws, CNGs4 and cars) during the crisis to pay the fees sought or extorted by dalals during the journey. Returned migrants have experienced serious difficulties re-establishing businesses and incomes reliant on these assets. Families are also using land as collateral for loans following the crisis, risking destitution not only for the individual, but also for the household if the land is taken by creditors.
• Many returned migrants describe wanting assistance to establish their own small businesses. Very few indicated in the interviews that they are interested in being employed by others or undertaking skills training. Low literacy rates contributed to perceptions that training programmes would be difficult. Training, skills programmes or apprenticeships that interfere with or require time away from existing jobs are also not appealing to returned migrants, although some could see the benefits of the training if the conditions were carefully structured.
The financial stress experienced by migrants upon return is motivating many of them to search for ways to migrate again. The survey of all returned migrants suggested at least 24 per cent were considering travelling abroad again when they first returned. The interviews suggested that the proportion of migrants contemplating migration after they had been home for a period of time again is even higher. Of the 22 migrants interviewed, 18 indicated they want to travel abroad in search of work again.
• When returned migrants were specifically asked in the interviews whether they would prefer to travel through regular or irregular routes, almost all indicated that they would prefer regular, legal migration channels if they go abroad again.
However, when asked how they would access legal migration channels, most could not describe how they would do this.
• At least 4 of the 22 returned migrants interviewed stated that they would prefer to stay and work in Bangladesh rather than go abroad; however, they do not believe they could establish sufficient sources of livelihoods within their communities.
• At least three of the returned migrants described how they followed media updates about new government-togovernment arrangements relating to labour migration, such as new agreements to allow Bangladeshis to work in Malaysia.
• For younger returned migrants, motivations for wanting to migrate again are not only related to incomes, but also because they cannot see a future for themselves in their communities. In this way, the motivations for migration, especially for younger people, include aspirations to travel.
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