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Migration is safety net for vulnerable and poor households

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By Abdallah Kayonde

When the diplomatic code under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has to best defend all its possible interest in the name of the country they represent including Economic Sanctions, Economic Statecraft, Foreign Assistance, Trade Policy or coffee, oil and gold deals Armed Force, Deterrence, arms Control, Peacekeeping, Intelligence and Covert Actions.

Don’t expect the Minister of state for Foreign Affairs, Okello Oryem, to remember rights of national migrant workers especially in the gulf region or not to contradict in defending National interests of which migrant workers exportation is one!  Call it a labour export business!

No wonder the continued suffering of Ugandan migrant workers in Saudi Arabia, the minister comes out bluntly to expose the country’s compromise in the suffering of its nationals and failure to protect them even though they cannot avoid the business.

The minister wants to assert that there is nothing wrong with Uganda labour employment regime and he makes it worse when he disclaims the government not having a responsibility of protection of its nationals abroad by the embassies and missions abroad!

The minister exposed his bones when he seriously detached government from the deployment of Ugandans to Saudi Arabia through its duly licensed recruitment agencies with a full regulation in which it uses to yield the enormous returns and the most popular one being $30 (Shs 115000) cut per head sold in job orders cleared by ministry of gender labour and social development!

Okello Oryem seemed disconnected from the real life Situations happening in Uganda especially when he lamented wondering what really drives the migration of Ugandans to the Gulf as if all the school dropouts, graduates and the rest of the country youths have been all able to be employed by the country with a better minimum wage to attract them stay home!!

However, migration in Uganda today has remained a protective strategy, essentially a safety net for very many vulnerable/poor households. Migration has become the last resort or a response to a severe shock presents a dilemma for the theory of social protection.

We can think of migration as social protection as fulfilling promotion, preventive and protective elements of social protection. Some individuals may migrate in order to improve their life chances or incomes. 

This would be a promotion strategy. Others use migration as an insurance or risk diversification strategy (preventive).That is a family strategy may be to send one or more of its members abroad or from a rural to an urban setting, but the whole family will only move once the migrants have secure livelihoods though for Uganda it has been migration for short term contracts and come back to either start up a life or reunite to support to support their families home. 

By diversifying their activities the family reduces vulnerability through both income diversification (agricultural and non-agricultural for instance) and informal insurance (retaining a livelihood at origin represents a fallback position for the migrants in case they are unsuccessful in the destination location). 

The World Bank’s Social Risk Management Framework has failed to address one which is the ‘risk coping’ category of the dilemma which hinges on the distinction between migration as a forced reaction to shock or severe vulnerability and migration as a voluntary social protection choice.

Before one could think of migration as a reaction to flooding or severe poverty, for instance the seasonal flooding which occurs in Kasese and landslides in Bududa. 

As the migration represents a reaction to negative conditions, it cannot at the same time be argued to be part of a strategy (which requires at least a little forward planning). Similarly it is problematic to categorise the movement as a coping strategy as often migrants move from a very bad situation to an even worse one. 

For these reasons, Migrant Workers’ voice does not consider unplanned forced migration as a social protection strategy, but rather focuses on the social protection needs for this situation. 

The second case, migration as a choice in the context of extreme shock or vulnerability/poverty–clearly falls within the previous definition of social protection.

The distinction between migration as a coping strategy Ugandans and migration as social protection can be made still clearer by considering the role of remittances in migration. 

Way forward

The development of two models, using insurance and investment as the main alternative for migrants to send remittances back to their families: 

The first model is premised on an insurance contract between the household and the migrant. The decision for a member or several members of a household to migrate may be motivated by insurance and social welfare fair arrangements recognising workers’ efforts to join associations and trades.

Abdallah Kayonde

President migrant WORKER’S VOICE

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