Closed borders but continued migration?

n-a SNESHA AGRAWAL, Daayitwa Fellow 2021 , 10th November,2021

"An idea not coupled with action will never get any bigger than the brain cell it occupied."
                                                                                                                                ~ Arnold Glasow

March 2020, an unexpected epidemic hit the world hard, leaving people in despair, uncertainty, and shock. For a few months, it felt as though the world had stopped functioning. With everything suddenly closing, we got a terrifying pause in our rush-filled lives. However, how long could the pause have lasted, we still managed to move on. We still managed to get back with our lives through any means viable. Our privilege became more and more prominent during this period because probably the people reading this blog own a laptop or a desktop managing to study and work despite a global epidemic. But how many times do we turn and look at the children who haven’t been to school in 18 months now? How many of us think about the Himalayan children who haven’t received an ounce of knowledge because their teacher can no longer travel from the capital? How many times have we turned and thought about our popular remittance sending population who have been waiting to get their lost jobs back?  How many times had we honestly thought about the labour migrants at all prior to the epidemic? Why did it take a pandemic for our country to wake up to the issue of migration and its vulnerability? Migrants were spotted crossing rivers via India, setting their journey on foot to reach their homes. The same home that closed its doors on their faces.  Stranded with children, families, and pregnant women as even their villagers hesitated to take them back. 

Nepal has 1,921,494 emigrants according to the 2011 census data which constituted 7.3% of the total population (CBS 2014). The 2016 National Demographic and Health Survey showed that nearly half the households surveyed (47%) reported at least one person who had migrated from the household in the preceding 10 years (NDHS 2016: IOM 2019). The data speak for the number of migrants who have left the country, however, it does not record in cases where there is entire household migration. As the migration issue and vulnerability starts with a lack of concrete data at source and destination countries, this issue affected me extremely because of an account I had with a Nepali migrant in India. 

5 years ago, on a highway in Gurgaon, India, I spotted a woman weeping on the roadside and talking to her daughter in Nepali. Perplexed and astonished by her pain, I understood that I should go and speak to her. While I was running late for my dream corporate internship, I knew that I had to help her no matter what.  When I spoke to her, for the first time in my life I was a witness to Nepali domestic helper's vulnerability not only in India but also in other parts of the globe. After being exploited, harassed, and betrayed, she was penniless and stranded on the roadside. Worse, she didn't even know the language. 

Since that very day, the issue of labour migration had become very close to my heart. As I progressed with educating myself in commerce and finance, I started questioning my life path and purpose every single day. Little did I know that after these many years of exploring my career and finding the path, Daayitwa would give me an opportunity to work for one of the issues that meant the most to me. 

Today, two months down the lane, I have been endowed with this exciting opportunity to provide an agency and a voice for migrant-returnees in our Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development. The question of the reintegration of these returnee migrants means a lot to me because most of the people I have interviewed do not want to leave the country. They claim to want to live here with their family, their culture, and kin despite being forced to leave for mostly hot-sweaty weather countries to fulfil the basic needs of their families.  

I am exploring my passion through this fellowship where I can strategize measures and policies to reintegrate the migrant returnees in the agricultural economy so that they relate back to their roots. According to my research, many migrant returnees choose to opt for agriculture after their return to the source country because of their familiarity and family’s familiarity in agriculture prior to leaving for another country. Even after returning some fail to earn enough finances and successfully produce and sell the goods because of a lack of knowledge, resources, and financial support. This research has given me a prospect to place these challenges and find policy solutions for the same. The enthusiasm and zeal of the emigrants are astonishing as they shared their stories and experiences with me but also a hope for a better tomorrow. 

Moreover, the leadership course taught by Daayitwa has given me confidence and learning about my future goals. It has taught me the implementational and motivational aspect of what I learned for two years in my Masters’ degree. I always struggled to feel confident in initiating something whether it was a small impact or strategizing to bring together multiple people, however, now I believe that working with like-minded people has given me a chance to take more action rather than wait for the right moment. 


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