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«AKM Ahsan Ullah, Yusnani Mohamed Yusof, Maria D'Aria Universiti Brunei Darussalam Working Paper No.20 Institute of Asian Studies, Universiti Brunei ...»

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In order to analyze the data, qualitative techniques were used and some descriptive statistics were applied to show the magnitude of the phenomenon. As for the major challenges in the research, the respondents in many cases were not able to recollect the names of the spots/points they were handed over to another group of traffickers, and the routes they took; some of them failed to recall how long it took for them to get to a given destination. Generally multiple visits were required as respondents were not able to spare the time required for the interview at a single stretch. Some respondents also requested that we revisit them, as they did not want to speak in the presence of their employers under whose control they operate. This research went through ethical review since it involves human subjects.

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Safe migration refers to the adequate level of protection from risks and dangers at all phases of a migration process. This may encompass protection from violation of rights to life, liberty, personal security, privacy, mental and physical integrity, freedom from slavery, and from torture and other forms of inhuman or degrading treatment (Datta, 2011:47). As far as the question of legality of migration is concerned, Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is far from being granted to every human. In fact, the article should guarantee the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state and the right to leave any country, including one’s own, and to return (Gasper & Truong 2010:393). “Lack of legal rights to mobility and to legally accepted forms of livelihood compel marginal and vulnerable groups to lead underground lives, enhancing their vulnerability to harm (Sanghera, 2005:8; Munro, 2009; Ullah and Hossain, 2011).

A migrant—irrespective of gender identity, as any other person, deserves to be protected and their human rights defended. However, the risks of migration are gendered, with women being exposed to specific vulnerabilities and burdens. Historically, gender discrimination, less access to education and jobs outside of the domestic sphere leave women in a disadvantaged position (Kabeer, 2011;

Ullah and Routray, 2007). Smit (2004) takes the view that an unsafe migration in many ways is akin to human trafficking. Adolescent girls, predominantly from the Asia and the Pacific region form the major stream (SHARP, 2008:6). Southeast Asia is notoriously known for unabated human trafficking. Larsen (2010) argues that trafficking is a part of the migration process, and trafficked people may consent to the initial movement but it only becomes evident at their destination that they have been deceived and exploited.

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Figure 1 Migration path migrants go through Adapted from Rahman, 2004:382; Ullah, 2010 Networks play important part in how one aspirant migrant complete her migration. The network could be an element that contributes to unsafe migration (Ullah, 2010). Some studies show how certain networks led smugglers and traffickers to endanger the lives of migrants. Within the flows of trafficking and smuggling, migrants face “exorbitantly prolonged journey time, dehumanizing treatment by the traffickers, secretive transfers at different points and false promises of job offers [which] have made their migration very expensive and complicated (see Ullah, 2010). The UN Convention on Migrants’ Rights addresses the great need for safe migration to ensure a reduction in the exploitation of migrants (Anam 2007:1). Figure 1 reveals the many points where potential migrants are exposed to abuses. In destination countries, the arbitrariness of the employers and the discriminatory policies of receiving states have facilitated the exploitation of migrants (Anam 2007:2). The illicit nature of routes increases the level of insecurity, migration expenses, and decreases life chances. Migrants may spend days, weeks, months, or even years to get to their destinations (Ullah, 2010; 2013). This comes with heavy psychological costs.

Men and women face problems differently in the migration process (Curran and Rivero-Fuentes

2003) because female migrants are more vulnerable than male to abuses. Some scholars (such as Wickramasekara, 2011; Pessar, 2005:3) argue that the gendered division in the job market exposes women to exploitation, because of the fact that they are often offered jobs that men refuse. Women 10 face additional risks and vulnerabilities especially at the time of border-crossings to deal with immigration officers and police. In many cases, potential women migrants willing to cross border get harassed, abused and often raped (Falcón, 2001). In the migration process, female migrants are more prone to abuse than a male counterpart. This is partly because of the fact that they are considered weaker than male. This idea has been ingrained historically in societies across the world. Briones (2011) adds that the lack of respect for migrant rights in the form of racist and discriminatory policies has profound impact on their life trajectory (Briones, 2011). Piper’s (2005) model explains where the un-safeness of female migrants comes from: ‘Exploitative Terms of Work: Pay, Hours and Contracts; restrictions on the Freedom of Movement; right to leave and return to one’s own state, but not to enter, in countries of origin; labour Market Discrimination Against Women – at Home and Abroad Gender wage gap; glass ceiling; labour market segregation; dangerous and Degrading Working Conditions; gender-Based Violence in the Workplace; gendered forms of Racism and Xenophobia Against Women Migrant Workers (at home and abroad) for instance, stigma as domestic worker and ‘entertainer’ or sex worker;

restrictions on Migrant Women’s Ability to Organize for their Rights (at home and abroad)’.

Pre departure Promises, migration cost, members left behind, opportunity cost, psychological cost.

Enroute Time spent to get to destinations; if the route was direct or not; handed over to unknown persons; if food/water/healthcare was available; were they accommodated in unsafe or unhealthy conditions; blackmail, exploitation, abuse and violence; injury and death of others or themselves.

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This is the first or preparatory step of their migration process. For most of the respondents, it was unclear what the migration path would look like. About 58 percent sensed it might not be as smooth as was told to them. About 12 per cent said that they wanted to see how it goes. Figure1 shows that there are many potential points where aspirant migrants are required to spend money. From the first step to last step, the cost of migration is exorbitantly high. In many cases, the high costs compel them to stay put in destination countries even illegally. They seek multiple sources to collect money for financing their migration. In order to recoup their loans, they need to stay for an extended period of time. This means that they get indebted and are likely to do anything to repay the money they borrowed.

Most of them reported that they were given false promises in which they believed. A majority of them said that once they deposited a portion of the money to the brokers, or the so-called company, it was difficult to contact them. About 15 per cent said that they were abused sexually even before they departed. This is the reality of unregulated or unauthorized migration. When government policies fail to ensure safe and G2G migration, unauthorized migration flow becomes an attractive alternative. Wickramasekara’s (2011) work also endorses the fact that visa fees, recruitment agency charges, insurance and medical test costs all push migrants towards bigger debts. This increases the risks of exploitation, debt bondage, usury, fraud and falsification of documents.

Journey: Crossing borders

This is the second step which is the crucial part of migration process. The success of migration largely depends on how they make it. The danger of border crossing was driven home recently when mass graves and suspected human trafficking detention camps were discovered in early 2015 by Malaysian police in towns and villages bordering Thailand. Police discovered about 200 large graves containing the remains of hundreds of people in two places in the northern state of Perlis, which borders Thailand. Malaysian police uncovered 28 suspected human trafficking camps located about 500 metres from the country’s northern border (Ullah, 2015; Guardian, 2015). The unfortunate migrants did not make it to their destinations. Ullah (2010) discovered similar findings in his study on rationalizing migration in Southeast Asia. Crossing borders is often the defining 12 moment in an illegal migrant’s journey. These include both the traversing of political borders of nation states, and also geographical borders within the natural landscape; both of which pose their own challenges. The alternative route is to go by sea, generally by fishing or rubber boats. In order to reduce the risks of interception, smugglers increase the risks for migrants (Carling, 2007b).

“... they were forbidden to make any sound and they had no opportunity to retreat. They had to go forward, risking their lives, to an unknown destination. They walked six hours at a stretch at night.

One of the respondents said that he heard a big shout from behind from one of the members of the group begging for help; however no one was allowed to look back. In the morning, when they stopped in the jungle to wait for night to come again, they found that one of their members was missing. No message about him was ever received. They feared he was bitten by poisonous snakes and died. The brokers paid no attention. They heard later many stories of this kind from their compatriots. The group had to endure in silence for many days, living without shelter, water for bathing, and in fear of snakes and poisonous insects. They each had only two packets of salted biscuits and two bottles of mineral water. River and sea crossings were part of the journey. One of respondents said that ‘while on board a small boat at dead of night on the sea, the feeling was that we could not arrive on the shore alive’. The migrants were forced to get out of the boat when it was at least 300-400 metres away from the shore...” (Ullah, 2010:57) This study shows that of the total, 63% reported being sexually abused en route; 29% reported being verbally abused, 57% reported being served meagre food, and 36% reported being threatened by the traffickers. The migrants were handed over to many groups of people at different points (Figure 1). Of the total respondents, 32% reported to have been handed over to different people whom they had never met before at least two times during their journey; 43% reported they were handed over 3-4 times at the dead of night to other groups. Most of the respondents (62%) were caught while being trafficked and were in debt-bondage. Most of them have their documents confiscated by their agents or taken away by owners who forced them to engage in sex work. Their position is so vulnerable so much so that they remain always at the mercy of their employers. They cannot protest, refuse demands or disobey their employers; if they do, they will be threatened with being turned over to the police. Safe migration during travel requires the assistance of all countries involved, not only the sending and receiving countries, but also the transit countries and the 13 international community at large. Transit countries are especially important in the process, because migrants are often either detained in these countries or are forced to stay in the transit countries for an unknown amount of time. Hence safe migration is often perceived by scholars within the ambit human rights discourses and sometimes from empowerment point of view.

As many as 47 per cent of the respondents from Myanmar; 71 per cent from Cambodia, 53 per cent from Indonesia and 28 per cent from Vietnam reported to have been transported through jungles, often over mountains at night time and then by boats. Some Indonesians however reported that they traversed across Malaysia to get to the country of destination. Across source countries, the forms of routes vary. The survey data shows that 12 per cent of respondents from Cambodia, 58 per cent from Lao PDR, 41 per cent from Myanmar and 12 per cent from Indonesia reported to have taken 1-5 days to reach their destinations; and 67 per cent Cambodians, 21 per cent Laotians, 29 per cent Mynamarese and 12 per cent Indonesian required 5-10 days getting to their destination.

Of the total respondents, 23 per cent spent more than 20 days to get to the destination. More than 82 per cent believed that they paid exorbitant amounts of money to the agents/traffickers to finance the trip.

Risk shifting strategies that traffickers employ is another reason why migrants’ lives enroute become vulnerable. In order to reduce the chance of being caught by the border guards or coast guards, the smugglers reduce the number of journeys while retaining the same number of migrants, therefore they increase the number of individuals per boat, thus causing overweight and instability of the boats.

Safe migration is one way in which we can guarantee that migrants are treated fairly during all phases of their migration process through fair implementation of policies, programs, and training.

It requires participation of all countries involved in the migration process and helps migrants by creating more opportunities for safe migration by empowering and educating people (Hageboeck et al., 2005:6). A holistic framework for safe migration is important because that enables the discourse to move from a narrow perspective to safety for all. Securitization of migration has been serving the nation states’ security rather than the migrants themselves. Therefore, without bilateral cooperation, safe migration initiatives will certainly fail.


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