CESLAM Kathmandu Migration Conference 2021

The CESLAM Kathmandu Migration Conference, organised by
the Centre for the Study of Labour and Mobility (CESLAM) at Social Science Baha, was held on Thursday, 
18 March 2021 via Zoom.

The conference lasted for three hours with five paper presentations as given below.

(All times are in Nepal time)

7:00–7:05 pm
Welcome remarks: Nirmal Man Tuladhar, Chair, Social Science Baha

7:05–8:10 pm
Panel 1: Experiences of Diaspora Communities 

  1. Experiences of Children of First-Generation Migrants in Nepal
    Chhabilal Devkota, 
    Master in Social Work (MSW), Tribhuvan University
    Sanjeev Dahal, PhD Fellow in Social Work, Boston College

  2. The Entrepreneurship of the Nepalese in Belgium
    Claire Martinus, 
    Lecturer in Anthropology, University of Lille, France

Break: 8:10–8:25 pm

8:25–9:50 pm
Panel 2: Approaches to Migration Governance and Human Trafficking Research

  1. SOAR as an Effective Model: Unpacking Forced Migration and Trafficking through Intersectional Lenses
    Rita Dhungel, 
    Assistant Professor, School of Social Work, Community and Health Studies, MacEwan University, Canada
    Shanti Tamang, trafficking survivor, President, Shanti Foundation, Kathmandu, Nepal
    Reena Khadka, hostel in-charge, Shakti Samuha, Kathmandu, Nepal
    Shashi Tamang, Reintegration Officer, Shakti Samuha, Kathmandu, Nepal
    Tara Ghimire, hostel staff, Shakti Samuha, Kathmandu, Nepal
    Mandira Khatri, volunteer, Shanti Foundation, Kathmandu, Nepal

  2. Decolonising a Rights-Based Approach to Labour Migration: Transnational Migrants Rights Movement in Asia
    Hari KC, 
    Balsillie School of International Affairs, Canada
    Nicola Piper, British Academy Global Professor Fellow, School of Law, Queen Mary University of London

  3. Sovereign Power and the State of Exception: The Returning Nepali ‘Lahures’ during the COVID-19 Pandemic
    Karun K. Karki,
    University of the Fraser Valley, BC, Canada
    Rabindra Chaulagain, University of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada
    Hari KC, Balsillie School of International Affairs, Ontario, Canada
    Chloe D. Raible, University of the Fraser Valley, BC, Canada

9:50 pm
Closing remarks: Arjun Kharel, Research Coordinator, CESLAM



1. Experiences of Children of First-Generation Migrants in Nepal
Chhabilal Devkota and Sanjeev Dahal

This paper describes the psychosocial experiences of children of first-generation migrants at destination. It brings out the hopes and aspirations of migrants along with the reasons of migration from their origin and analyzes the cultural differences and socialization practices adopted by second generation immigrants. Children of first-generation immigrants from Tibet and India comprised the sampling frame for the qualitative study. Data was collected through convenient sampling technique and in-depth semi-structured interviews were used as tools. In- depth interviews were conducted with nine individuals for the study. Thematic analysis was employed to examine the data. The key findings of the study regarding reasons for migration were that opportunities for business, earning a livelihood or developing career, availability of good education, and suitable climate and culture served as reasons for immigration to Nepal, and lack of opportunities for employment and instances of violence at their place of origin pushed them away from destination. The study found that early school experiences facilitated comfortable relationship with teachers primarily for children who shared origin with their teachers. A clear religious segregation was also observed among the immigrants with Indians staying in predominantly Hindu communities and Tibetans in Buddhist communities. The paper also found that supportive behaviour of the locals towards immigrants facilitated acculturation, and high hopes and aspirations of parents along with belief in god helped them to cope with the aftermaths of migration. 

2. The Entrepreneurship of the Nepalese in Belgium
Claire Martinus

This paper focuses on Nepalese immigration to Belgium since the early 2000s, and in particular on a specific category of migrants who invest in local businesses. These Nepalese nationals are collectively integrated into Belgian society through their entrepreneurial life, by opening different types of businesses. Ethnographic data collected during research conducted since 2019 allow to describe and analyze the forms of social organization, gender relations as well as family structures of Nepalese migrant entrepreneurial communities. We will also focus our attention on the question of perpetuation or modification of traditional relations of domination within these Nepalese-run businesses in Belgium.

Migration and entrepreneurship of Nepalese in Belgium

In Belgium, several migratory waves from Asia, particularly from the SAARC countries, India, Pakistan and Nepal, have facilitated the emergence of diaspora communities. As opposed to migration from Maghreb countries, Sub-Saharan Africa or the Gulf countries, Asian migrants are not given much visibility and media exposure.

Many Nepalese who settle in Belgium aspire to open a business for several reasons: not to depend on an employer, to generate more profits than with salaried work, and also because the entrepreneurial spirit is culturally highly valued. Nepalese who start a business in Belgium do it mainly in one of these four sectors: local food shops open beyond supermarket opening hours (called Night shops or Pakis in Belgium because of the large number of Pakistanis who have opened this type of store), Asian restaurants, car washing stations or souvenir stores for tourists.

Nepalese migrant entrepreneurial communities

The people of Nepal in Belgium have established a variety of associations and meeting places such as Nepalese in Belgium, NRNA Belgium (Non-Resident Nepali Association), or BNFA (Belgium Nepal friendship association). NEBAB (Nepalese Businessmen's Association in Belgium) gathers about 400 entrepreneurs of Nepalese origin. Very few, under five, are women.

Nevertheless, even if there are few businesses run by women, their functions and status are highly important because the businesses or restaurants are mostly run by the family.

Nebab's mission is to provide information to Nepalese who are interested in establishing a business in Belgium. A team of volunteers organizes seminars and trainings on topics such as social secretariat or insurance, in order to facilitate the formalities.

The data collected allow us to understand the thorny issues that arise for any migrant: the perpetuation or modification of traditions in the country of origin as well as the specific domination relationships that exist there. We will present a summary of the observations regarding gender relations, intergenerational relations, and inter-caste interactions. 

3. SOAR as an Effective Model: Unpacking Forced Migration and Trafficking through Intersectional Lenses
Rita Dhungel, Shanti Tamang, Reena Khadka, Shashi Tamang, Tara Ghimire and Mandira Khatri

This paper explores the experiences and the voices of the women who were forced to migrate to Kathmandu, capital of Nepal, and India from their home communities/places for sexual exploitation in Nepal. A participatory Action Research (PAR) as a liberatory and empowerment methodology was conducted with eight female trafficking survivors, after their return to Nepal, to critically understand intersectional gender oppression increased the vulnerability of the women to trafficking and hindered trafficking survivors in their reintegration. Participatory action research allowed survivors to critically understand their own oppression, develop strategies and effectively act towards ending forced migration and trafficking as preventive and protective measures. The research team that includes the researcher and the trafficking survivors, who are also recognized as ‘co-researchers’ in this paper, identified and used a wide range of pragmatic approaches/tools such as street dramas, conversation café, photo voice and press conference. This provided them with an opportunity not only to share their voices and experiences of migration and trafficking, but also to highlight transformative impacts, including personal and social transformation, promoted and advanced by PAR process. For the purpose of this paper, the research team will be presenting the paper in a group at the conference.

A national and international academic community and non-profit organizations in collaboration with the Government of Nepal (GoN) have conducted a number of studies to understand migration and human trafficking and its implications, however, research related to the areas from human rights and social justice standpoints, through the use of PAR, is still marginal, leaving communities, researchers and policy makers are uncertain of anti- human trafficking programs and policies development and its implementations. Using a case example from Nepal, grounded on the narratives of trafficking survivors, this paper aims to unpack forced migration and trafficking with a focus on cumulative impacts on survivors’ lives and community at large from intersectional lenses, and examine the model ‘Stop Observe Ask and Respond (SOAR)’ in order to effectively address the identified issue as it relates to human trafficking, informed by the research. This paper is structured into seven sections and they include: (1) migration and trafficking; (2) theoretical framework: critical and feminist theories; (3) participatory action research as a process and an outcome; (4) cumulative trauma; (5) intersectional gender oppression; (6) SOAR model; and (7) Implications for research, policy and practice. Overall, by utilizing survivors’ knowledge, skills and experiences in addressing the identified issues, through educational and advocacy campaigns such as dramas, posters and meeting with the Minister of Women Children and Social Welfare, their meaningful and effective involvement in this study is one of the most unique contributions of this PAR research.

4. Decolonising a Rights-Based Approach to Labour Migration: Transnational Migrants Rights Movement in Asia
Hari KC and Nicola Piper

In this paper, we aim to address two overarching and interconnected questions: first, why does the human rights-based approach to global migration governance need decolonising? And second, in what way can this be decolonized? Using the case of the Nepali migrant workers’ precarities and migrant rights activism in Nepal, this paper critiques the western-centric rights- based approach to migration governance, arguing for the need of decolonizing such a governance approach, and put forward a decolonized approach that is grounded in the leadership of local and regional migrant rights activists and organisations in shaping the migrant worker rights agenda.

Although, as a welcome development, efforts are being made at the global level for integrating the right-based and developmentalist approaches to migration governance by recognizing the multi-level, multi-sectoral and multi-actor complexities entailing migration, in reality no fundamental change has occurred towards addressing the temporary migrant workers’ lived precarities within the intraregional migratory corridors in Asia. We explore two main reasons behind the failure of the right-based global migration governance. First, the rights-based migration governance approach is firmly built on a neoliberal market ideology that looks at labour migration through a depoliticized lens considering migration as a benevolent outcome of international labour markets that create a triple ‘win-win-win’ situation for the source and destination countries, as well as the migrant workers themselves. Such a governance approach fails to pay heed to the systemic economic and political structures that create conducive conditions for people to migrate in the first place, let alone redressing them. Consequently, the human-rights discourse which essentially goes against colonization ends up being subjected to neocolonization (both domestic and global), particularly serving the neocolonial political ends.

Secondly, at the cost of labour rights of migrant workers, the rights-based approach to migration governance places the political rights at the centre of governance that are more geared towards the rights of refugees and asylees. Prepondering the political rights of migrants has thus severed the right-based migration governance discourse from the economic and social rights to which migrant workers should be entitled on the basis of international human and/or labour rights instruments. The rights-based migration governance discourse has ended up being confined to aspirational goals and failed to address the lived precarities of the migrant workers in Asia. In global migration governance, there is thus a need for an epistemological shift – fusing human and labour rights of migrant workers – that reclaims and reconnects the rights-based approach to migration governance with migrant rights activism and organizing in the Global South within the broader context of neoliberalism. We argue for the need of such a decolonised rights-based approach to migration governance that emanates from the political organizing and activism within the local, subregional, regional and global networks, channelled through collective organisations and social movements. 

5. Sovereign Power and the State of Exception: The Returning Nepali ‘Lahures’ during the COVID-19 Pandemic
Karun K. Karki, Rabindra Chaulagain, Hari KC and Chloe D. Raible

Employing and building on Michael Foucault’s “biopolitics”, Achille Mbembe’s “necropolitics”, and Giorgio Agamben’s “bare life”, this paper explores how biopolitical and necropolitical spaces within the borders of the nation states govern people, and how the state’s sovereign power becomes a persistent recurrence of the process of exclusion and disposition of people. More specifically, this paper examines the ways in which the Nepali state’s sovereign power produces the “state of exception” to imperil the lives of Nepali migrant workers returning from India during the COVID-19 pandemic while exploring the possibility of resistance against the exercise of state sovereignty even in the face of precarities. We delve into these three questions: Whose lives matter, or who gets to live and who dies? How does the Nepali state exercise its sovereign power over the migrant workers returning from India? Why are these migrant returnees ignored and trivialized while the national economy significantly depends on their remittances? Following the onset of the pandemic, the barring of the “Lahures” as they are popularly known in the public discourse can be taken as an instantiation of how the state, through the imposition of the state of exception, produces precarities citing the “bare life” as a potential threat to the nation. 

The paper draws on the secondary data sources, particularly the publicly available media reports and photographs/images, pertaining to the interceptions of the Nepali migrant workers on the Nepal-India borders. To analyze those photographs/images, we employed visual methodology (Barbour, 2014), a new and novel approach to qualitative study which captures rich multidimensional data by adding valuable insights into the everyday worlds. We conclude our paper that the government of Nepal should develop and implement effective and efficient bilateral labour migration policy particularly targeting to migrant workers in India. The bilateral policy should be a ‘work-worker- centered’ to ensure labour migration and safeguard workers’ rights.

Keywords: Nepal; migrant workers in India; sovereign power; biopolitics; necropolitics; state of exception; COVID-19 pandemic; resistance

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