2019 has been an incredibly busy year for Xchange. Our information-gathering missions took us all around the globe, from Niger to Venezuala to Malaysia, uncovering the unique and personal experiences of life at the forefront of forced migration. Our hard work culminated in six exceptional new new publications: Niger Reports 1 & 2, The 2019 Rohingya Survey, Lost Childhoods report, Venezuelan’s in Columbia and Rohingya in Malaysia.
NIGER: VOICES FROM A HISTORICAL TRANSIT HUB
On February 1st, Xchange published the first half of a report on smuggling trends and the effects of European policy in Niger, West Africa. Primary research was conducted during a field visit to Agadez towards the end of 2018. This report explores how recent changes in Nigerien anti-human trafficking laws have transformed the face of migration in the Agadez region. Introduced in 2015, Law 2015-036 effectively made it illegal for non-Nigerien nationals to travel north of Agadez. Findings from the report highlight how this has led to a diversification in migration routes, driving it largely underground with the aim of avoiding detection.
One of the main and most striking aspects of this report is that most of those interviewed set out with no intention of travelling to Europe. Rather, their plan is to migrate within the ECOWAS region, or to any safe country where they can find work and stability. This dramatically contradicts the popular belief that most migrants intend to carry on to Europe, even after reaching safety.
On February 28th, part two was published, containing stories and testimonials from 189 migrants transiting through Niger. The second half of the report complemented part one by outlining recent changes in migration routes – in particular for returning migrants – as well as highlighting the human rights abuses that occur along these routes, and the expectations and plans of migrants moving through this area. One recurring theme was seeking safety:
“I wanted to go to a country where I could feel safe. I would like to find tranquillity and a new life.”
“I wanted to go to Libya to feel safe and find security. I didn’t find it.”
Despite the many traumas and hardships of the journey, many interviewees continue to encourage young Africans to seek a better future outside their home countries.
“Life goes on. We are strong.”
ROHINGYA SURVEY 2019
In March 2019, Xchange returned to Bangladesh to collect first-hand data from Rohingya refugees living through the protracted crisis. The three-week long survey about daily life in the camps explored topics including trust in government officials and NGOs, illegal activities, and future plans. The freedom to work and secure a formal education for their children was often mentioned.
“I don’t want to live in this horrible situation, I want to live with free movement.”
“I want to ask the world to help us to go back to Myanmar with our citizenship rights or help us send somewhere where we can live without fear and can educate our kids.”
The findings presented in this report provide a valuable insight into the refugee situation in Cox’s Bazar and help to understand how the most recent influx of Rohingya refugees are navigating the transition from humanitarian emergency to protracted displacement. The data recognises the ongoing and developing challenges that exist in the camps as a result of this shift, as well as in identifying the priorities for meaningful developments in the medium and long term.
LOST CHILDHOODS VIDEO REPORT
In April 2019, Xchange produced a video report investigating Rohingya parent-child separation in Shamlapur refugee camp, Bangladesh. Humanitarian actors in the region have voiced fears for a ‘lost generation’ of Rohingya children. Building on previous research, the objective of this study was to further understand the reasons and circumstances underpinning the parental decision to send their children out to work or to give their babies up for adoption.
“I felt so much sorrow and confusion […] I did not give my child with joy… I was forced mentally due to bad circumstances. I kept this sorrowful feeling inside my heart.”
The report argued that adoption or child labour were never the parent’s first choice for their children; all participants in this study expressed feeling forced to make such choices because of lack of resources.
“If the international community supported us financially or helped us, then the lives of our children and our future lives would be brighter and better.”
This research brought attention to the reality faced by many Rohingya children currently living in refugee camps in Bangladesh. Without official access to the labour market, insufficient educational opportunities, food insecurity and dire living conditions, many Rohingya parents are forced to give up their children.
VENEZUELANS IN COLUMBIA
It is estimated that by the end of 2019 the number of Venezuelan’s fleeing their country could reach over 5.3 million. In July 2019, Xchange explored the experiences of Venezuelan migrants traveling through Colombia on foot. The video report attempts to understand how life in Venezuela compares to Columbia, identify the biggest challenges and risks for migrating men, women and children, and discover their plans for the future:
“I’d like to find a job, a stable job, but of course it’s all a long process. They said they will open the web page [to register], but until we manage to get the permits, we’re in limbo.”
All participants in our Venezuela report commented on heart-warming friendships made between families during their migration journeys – with older migrants often ‘adopting’ younger migrants.
“The people I have met have been an absolute blessing. All of us that stay in the plaza are very close, the days when we don’t get food at the soup kitchen, we all get together and make a soup, we make whatever food by the river and well, we share.”
The last wave of Venezuelan migration composed of more women and children travelling on foot than ever before. Most of the participants showed an overwhelming lack of understanding on what the legal migration and resettlement procedures were in their new community. Supporting these potentially vulnerable members of society therefore requires greater resources and support from the host community than is currently on offer.
ROHINGYA IN MALAYSIA
In July 2019, Xchange conducted 17 in-depth interviews in Malaysia with Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh. This video-report aimed to provide an overview of the migration experience between Bangladesh and Malaysia as well as an understanding of the life of the Rohingya diaspora in Malaysia. Reasons for leaving Bangladesh mainly centred around the lack of education, work opportunities and citizenship:
“Bangladesh is such a small country, such a populated country. Bangladesh received us… That is our good luck. But none of the Rohingya will make a better future in Bangladesh.”
But life in Malaysia isn’t all roses either:
“No one can spend life easily abroad. We are country-less. Abroad means difficult. Living in your own country, that means easy. Everybody who goes abroad has to work hard. Who came here to be comfortable?”
The report highlights the need to treat Rohingya refugees as valuable members of society and not merely as inactive victims in need of humanitarian assistance, both by host countries and the wider international community.
WHAT WILL 2020 HOLD FOR EXCHANGE?
Xchange Foundation continues to be dedicated to the publication and dissemination of objective data-driven migration content. Our thematic focusses will continue to follow the world’s migration flows, depending on the emergent crises, as we explore the causes, roots and impact of forced migration on the world’s most vulnerable communities.
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