Colombia: A Wandering Country?

By: Isabel Ruiz, Official Fellow & Tutor in Economics at Harris Manchester College, and Carlos Vargas-Silva, Senior Researcher, Migration Observatory

We just attended a presentation of the documentary Pais Errante (which roughly translates in English to a Wandering or Nomadic Country) which was presented at the 15th International Association for the Study of Forced Migration (IASFM) Conference that took place in Bogotá, Colombia. Pais Errante tells four stories of forced displacement in Colombia (in Spanish, English subtitles coming soon). Colombia has over 5 million internally displaced people, leading the world in this category. This large internal displacement is the result of a complex and multifaceted-armed conflict that has lasted for over 50 years.

A complex and multifaceted conflict
Colombia has a long history of conflict and the roots of current conflict can be traced to events which occurred several decades ago. A key event occurred in 1948 when a Colombian populist politician, Jorge Eliecer Gaitan, was assassinated. This assassination served as the spark for a civil war in which over 200,000 people died over the period of a few years. This conflict period is known in Colombia as La Violencia (The Violence with a capital letter). A peace agreement was signed by the main parties in the conflict, but the agreement left out many sectors of the Colombian society which decided to continue with (or start) armed struggle. The main rebel armed group FARC (The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), a left-wing guerrilla group, was founded in the mid-1960s by peasants and left-wing politicians. Later on other guerrilla movements joined the fight and while in recent years some of these have ceased to exist, FARC is still in operation.

During the 1980s, Colombia became one the main producers of illicit drugs in the world (in particular, the production of cocaine). Drug lords establish a reign of terror in which assassinations of public officials and politicians became common. Drug lords established small armed militia groups in order to combat the guerillas, in particular to stop the practices of kidnappings and extortion on the part of the guerillas. These small militia groups later became large paramilitary organizations at the service of wealthy landowners and companies focused on natural resources extraction. The activities of these paramilitary groups jointly with the guerilla armed operations have been one of the main causes of displacement in Colombia. In recent years many members of paramilitary groups have been “demobilized”, but many demobilized paramilitaries have joined urban criminal bands. In recent years the Colombian military has also play an active role in the conflict and has been successful in weakening FARC.

Pais Errante: four stories
IMG_5652Pais Errante examines four experiences of displacement: 1) resettlement to a new location, 2) return to the place of origin, 3) itinerant lifestyle (constant movement without a proper home) and 4) continuous risk of displacement.

Resettlement to a new location: The first case presented in the documentary is that of Jackson. His family was displaced by the conflict between paramilitary and guerrilla groups. As many other displaced families, Jackson’s family lives in an informal settlement in the outskirts of a large city (known as comunas in Colombia). He is often discriminated in this new location for being an afro descendant, but while he still misses his home, he has fully adopted his new location. The main thing he misses from his place of origin is the community life in which resources (including food) were easily accessible to everyone. Now in the city he has to work for a living and nothing is free or shared.

Return to the place of origin: The second case presented in the documentary is that of an entire community in Guayacan Santa Rosa, which was displaced by the paramilitaries, but later returned to their territory. They are very proud of the fact that the entire community was able to go back home. They reject the label “returnees” as they argue that this term implies a certainty of staying in their home community. Given the high probability of future displacement and the lack of guarantees from the Colombian Government they see themselves as a community that is just back home for the moment.

Itinerant lifestyle: the third case presented in the documentary is that of a mother with her three young daughters. One given day, members of an armed group arrived at her home to “recruit” her oldest daughter. Her husband convinced the “recruiters” to recruit him instead. The rest of the family abandoned the community immediately and never saw the husband/father again.  Ever since, they have been living here and there without a fixed home and at the mercy of temporary work.

Continuous risk of displacement: The last case presented in the documentary is that of the San Cristóbal community in rural Colombia. The community has survived years of intense conflict between guerrillas and paramilitaries. Now the conflict has subsided and the community is being harassed by developers that want to buy the land for agricultural production, particularly for the production of palm oil. Over time, many people have left the community and those who stayed behind have to deal with the difficulties of a decreasing population and empty homes/lots.

Perhaps the main message from Pais Errante is that forced displacement in Colombia is as multifaceted, diverse and complex as the conflict that the country has experienced in recent decades.

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Teaching practitioners about migration: Challenges and opportunities for ASEAN

By: Bridget Anderson, Professor of Migration and Citizenship and Deputy Director of COMPAS

sessionWhat can Oxford academics have to say to immigration policymakers from South East Asia? I always find it challenging speaking to practitioners, whether from the world of policy or advocacy and campaigning. They are experts with considerable experience whose legal knowledge and practical understanding is often unquestionably of greater reach than those coming to the field from an academic perspective. In this case, jointly delivering a course to ASEAN high level policymakers with the ILO (ASEAN regional integration: challenges and opportunities), the challenge is compounded by the fact that they are from a region in which I am interested but have very limited knowledge. Why would they want to hear from me?

One reason we were invited to speak is that ASEAN (the ten states that comprise the Association of South East Asian Nations, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Philippines, Vietnam) is building towards regional economic integration. The Asian Economic Community (AEC) will be established in December 2015. This will facilitate free movement of goods, services, and skilled workers, and freer movement of capital with the aim of promoting regional integration and enhancing global competitiveness. Thus ASEAN policymakers are interested in learning about intra regional migration within the European Union.

Not an Asian EU
The AEC proposals are a very different model from the EU. There will not be AEC citizenship, and mobility will be restricted to skilled workers, in a context where labour markets are often (but not always) considerably less regulated. However, as in the EU there is often public hostility to migrants from poorer states, pressure from employers in some sectors to loosen border controls and irregular migration. In this respect the course was an interesting two way learning opportunity.

breakout sessionBut it wasn’t just a question of bringing a comparative perspective. For the participants it offered two days of going back to basics. Thinking about who counts as a ‘migrant’, what is ‘work’, and when is work in the labour market – all questions which turn out to be surprisingly contentious, but which pass unremarked when devising policy on ‘migrant workers’. Whose interests are prioritised in immigration policy making? And what are states trying to do with immigration policy – make distribution more equitable? Increase productivity? Preserve public order? What about internal contradictions and conflicts within states? Why is immigration policy so often the preserve of interior rather than labour ministries? These are important questions that the participants do not usually have the time nor the framework to consider, where academics have something to offer. The course offered an opportunity to step back from the day to day

Playing the part
buttonsThe session that I as a session leader found most enjoyable, was the one on domestic labour. For reasons of time it was the only session where it was possible to do group work. We held a role play, with a fictional state, Astopia, consulting various interest groups about whether they should open up a migration route for domestic work. It was striking how some participants were able to take on new roles very convincingly. One man, who was in fact a representative of Malaysian employers, was portraying a trade unionist and making an impassioned argument for a closed shop and compulsory trade union membership – the response to this suggestion from our ‘domestic workers’ was not positive. They had been advocating for the importance of joining a trade union, but now the complexion of Astopian trades unions was revealed they were having second thoughts.  For participants it demonstrated the importance of consultation between trades unions and migrant workers if trades unions are to represent their interests. As well as developing a common position, each interest group was given an additional task. Domestic labour, we said, is all about multi-tasking, and it is often considered unskilled. This is certainly the case when it comes to immigrationpolicy. So we asked the policymakers to sew some buttons on to canvas while they were having their discussions, and to use their product when they gave evidence. In some groups the women participants showed the men what to do. The sending country representatives were extremely apologetic about the poor quality of their product. “You see, we are only bureaucrats. We sent all our domestic workers away, and now we do not have the talents we need to sew on buttons”. I don’t know if they will remember how demanding some apparently simple tasks are when they get home, but I hope so.

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Boom and Bust: Where do migrant health professionals fit into the reforming NHS?

By: Helen McCarthy, Research Assistant

Migration and the NHS
NHS logo drip feed
It seems that in recent months the NHS has barely been out of the news. Whether it’s the privatisation of services, the impending funding crisis, or the length of waiting times the NHS is regularly in the headlines.  This is in part to do with the fact that the NHS is undergoing a period of substantial change; the whole structure has been fundamentally re-ordered and despite the budget being ring-fenced, hospitals are being asked to find savings as money is reallocated to provide care in the community. Nevertheless, despite the often alarming headlines, surveys consistently show public support for and pride in the NHS , attitudes which were recently corroborated by a study that ranked the NHS as number one of 11 OECD health care systems.

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The Scottish diaspora and Scottish independence

By: Rob McNeil,  Head of Media and Communications, Migration Observatory

(This piece was first published as a Migration Observatory Commentary)

Emigration and identity
Much of the discussion around the relevance of migration and migrants to the Scottish independence debate revolves around the effects of independence on current immigration policies in Scotland and the rest of the UK. But in the last two centuries, Scotland’s population change has been characterised more by emigration than by immigration.

????????????????While this long period of emigration is often discussed in the context of the loss of young, productive and talented people from Scotland, and in raising questions about whether the nation’s economic development suffered as a result, it also led to a huge Scottish ‘diaspora’ – communities of Scottish descent that have become established all over the world. This diaspora has significant implications for Scotland’s role in the world, from both a cultural and an economic standpoint.

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Reverse missionizing: Migration, Christianity, and civic engagement in London

By: Leslie Fesenmyer, ESRC Future Research Leaders Fellow

Much current public and policy discourse in the United Kingdom is concerned with migrants and with religion. When these topics converge, it is typically in relation to Muslim (im)migrants.  Yet, at Easter this year, Lady Warsi, the Foreign Office minister and minister for faith, ‘told the [Guardian] paper that immigration was making Britain more Christian  ”because some of the biggest church-goers are those whose heritage is in Africa and the Caribbean”.’  Her comments followed on the heels of Cameron’s Easter reception at which he proclaimed Britain to be a ‘Christian country’. He said, ‘Jesus invented the Big Society 2,000 years ago, I just want to see more of it…. And that is something I think we should all want to see: a bigger role for faith-based organizations in our society’.

If one looks at the statistics on church attendance in the United Kingdom, Lady Warsi is indeed correct about whom church-goers increasingly are. Brierley (2006) reports that, during the period between 1998 and 2005, non-white church attendance in England increased by 19%, while white church attendance decreased by 19%. And, the highest percentage of black churchgoers could be found in Greater London (Brierley 2006: 91, 99-100; see also Rogers 2013: 25-39). Growth in attendance comes primarily from Pentecostal churches: Brierley notes that these churches showed a 30% increase between 2005 and 2012, accounting for just over half (52%) of all churchgoers in London (2013: 6).

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