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Luke Yang - Blog 2: The Intricacies of Documenting Labour Migration (GOV)

Luke Yang - Blog 2: The Intricacies of Documenting Labour Migration (GOV)

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As I pen this blog, I have already been immersed in the work of Pravasi Nepali Coordination Committee (PNCC) just over a month. Over the past month of my stay in Kathmandu, I’ve been engaged in a constant battle against dampness that creeps into my flat as monsoon season seems to be lasting a while this year. At other times, my mind and efforts are preoccupied in fighting the various technical hurdles that stymie the documentation of labour migration cases.

A constant of Nepali folks can be observed every day at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport, destined for Malaysia, Qatar, or perhaps Saudi Arabia. Many more follow their footsteps in various stages of migration, hoping that foreign lands may hold better prospects than remaining in Nepal. The number of labour migrants exiting Nepal translates directly to the large volume of distress calls that PNCC – an organization dedicated to the support and rescue of Nepali labour migrants - receive on a daily basis. Documentation of cases is crucial to informing better policies and practices. To adequately document the thousands of cases that are processed by PNCC, however, possesses its own set of challenges.

First, there are the challenges relevant to organizing existing large, scattered data sets with limited resources. The intents and assumptions left behind by multiple data collectors over many years must be deciphered. Information recorded in archived emails, shelved paper files, and Excel spreadsheets must be compiled in one place. Long lost contacts must be reached in hopes of just getting one more piece of information to make a case more coherent. The details of individual cases must be delicately balanced with the reality of large sample sizes, where the plight of a migrant, without due diligence, may easily become little more than a number.

Then, there are the intricacies that are particular to the issue of labour migration. Not all migrants are seeking support due to their rights being violated. Not all who had their rights violated seek support. Some are dealing with multiple intersecting issues at the same time. Some have recently migrated; others have worked for an employer for decades and more. The sheer magnitude of variables relevant to labour migration makes its documentation laborious and its operationalization fuzzy.

All that is yet without considering the logistical challenge of translating everything into English.

It became evident to me, after perusing through hundreds of different cases, that the struggles of a Nepali labour migrant is rarely, if ever, isolated and singular. At any given time, a migrant worker can find herself or himself exposed to a combination of risks from debt, illness, deportation, imprisonment, and sometimes injury and death. A migrant worker’s case can be incredibly intricate and individualized; I have continued to work towards finding an adequate framework in collecting and organizing data that expresses this complexity. I am consistently impressed by the tenacity of my coworkers at PNCC in their effort to maintain clear records of thousands of cases over the years, and hope to build upon their work and find new ways to make the process of documenting migrants’ rights issues during my work term.