Stories from the field

month October 2016

Kieran Stevens – Blog 2: Podcast Interview Show Extravaganza: Migration Trends, Construction Worker Rights, and the Economic Costs of Development

Hey, potential listener(s)! That is optimistic. This is me interviewing a number folks about a number of things. It also has a gimmick… You’ll figure that out quick. Oh boy. Don’t judge me too harshly for the weirdness and low quality production values (All sound effects and music used is free use). Enjoy.

Obviously this is all my point of view and doesn’t reflect CAPI, RMMRU, or the organizations I have been working with. Everyone else has something like this at the top of their blogs, but better written. You get the idea though. 

Kenda Chang-Swanson – Blog 6: Learnings about open defecation in the context of India

Open defecation.

Before coming to intern in India, I had not heard very much about the issues and implications of open defecation in many parts of the world. Conversations about global issues of inequality and social justice, usually are centred around other basic human needs such as food, water and shelter and so on. Yet, the more that I’m learning about open defecation and its related issues the more I have realised what a crucial issue it is for the health, safety, and dignity of huge numbers of people around the world—particularly in India.

 Although it’s important to also look beyond just the story numbers can tell, here are some quick facts about open defecation in this context:

– About 564 million people, just under half the population in India openly defecate

  • – In rural India 61% of the population practices open defecation
  • – India accounts for about 59% of the 1.1 billion people worldwide who practice open defecation

 There are a variety of issues open defecation is linked to. Open defecation causes numerous sanitation and health problems such as diarrhoeal diseases and stunting to name a couple. In India, almost 400 children per day die from diarrhea linked to poor sanitation. In India almost 38% of children are stunted, which affects not only children’s physical development but also cognitive and often impacts their educational outcomes.Open defecation goes even further beyond the issue It is also very much so an issue of social justice, particularly from a gender perspective. For women and girls, safety is a major issue when having to go out to find space to openly defecate—often far away from their homes. Fears about safety and sexual harassment are rampant. In order to have more privacy, many prefer to go for open defecation when it is dark; yet this also makes it more unsafe for women and girls. Often women and girls describe practicing ways to try and minimize the number of times they must go for open defecation, yet this often results in dehydration from not drinking water or urinary tract infections to name a couple. Women and girls also need proper sanitation facilities that can also provide safety and hygiene during menstruation. Since menstruation is a topic that many are not comfortable talking about, often menstrual hygiene is left out of the conversation around toilets and health.

In India, there has been and currently are huge efforts by the government, NGOs, and community members themselves in order to tackle the issue of open defecation as well as overall sanitation in the country—sometimes with success, sometimes with not as much success. Right now, some are criticizing the current government’s “Clean India” campaign for lack of progress, yet it has brought a lot of resources as well as attention to the issue of sanitation and open defecation in particular.

In the development project I am currently working on, one of the indicators (of twenty) we are working with is “open defecation free” in every single Gram Panchayat (rural area). What has stuck with me is the lesson that something that can seem at first glance like an infrastructure problem, such as there being a lack of facilities to use, is in fact extremely complex and goes far beyond simple questions of infrastructure or financial resources.

Rather, to address open defecation means also addressing the interconnected issues as well.  For instance, dealing with the issue of open defecation also means looking at economic situations, local social dynamics, access to water, sustainability, accountability, and much more. Other complexities for instance involve deeply embedded cultural beliefs and practices. For some older people, toilets may be strange and uncomfortable to use. There are also some cultural beliefs that may understand toilets as not being healthy or safe for certain people.

During the fieldwork I’ve been involved with through PRIA, we’ve interacted with numerous community members who identify open defecation and lack of toilets as major problems in their rural communities. Many of the individuals we meet with are frustrated by the lack of toilet facilities and tired of the health and social impacts of open defecation.

Addressing the issue of open defecation is not an easy task both globally and in India. To address the issue of open defecation through a framework that will ensure looking at the gendered aspects of open defecation and sanitation is even more of a challenge—yet is an essential part of looking at any issue and solution in order for all to experience positive change.

Through my internship here the more I learn, the more I have come to realise that access to sanitary facilities is something that every individual deserves to have. Globally, I think we need to continue to ask more questions and find more solutions as to how we can address open defecation in a sustainable way that will benefit the health and safety of millions.



Nicola Craig Hora – Blog 3: DRR in Taipei

At the end of September I flew down to Taipei to assist with the CITYNET Yokohama Project Office’s annual Disaster Cluster Seminar. The seminar had a number of sessions on different disaster related topics from disaster medicine to community-based disaster risk reduction. There were also four site visits that allowed seminar participants to see first hand Taipei’s disaster risk reduction undertakings.

Taipei is vulnerable to a wide array of hazards. They frequently have earthquakes, they are regularly hit by typhoons, and because of the city’s geography they experience flooding from heavy rainfalls. September is the middle of typhoon season in Asia and the day that I flew out of Tokyo, the city was hit by a typhoon leading to a very bumpy take-off. When I arrived in Taipei the weather was beautiful. I was there for 6 days and it didn’t rain once. Fortunately I was only there for 6 days because the following day Taipei was hit by the largest typhoon in recorded history. The entire city closed down for two days, winds were over 250km/h and there was 3 feet of rain in some parts of Northern Taiwan. After spending the past 6 days learning about Taipei’s DRRM undertakings in the city it was fascinating to then see them in action from afar.

One of the site visits that we had was to the Taipei Emergency Operations Center (EOC). The EOC goes into full swing when an emergency is declared. The center has large television screens with live-stream cameras that help provide the city with live updates on the situation across the city. Taipei is dissected by a number of rivers and is surrounded by tall mountains. Because of the city’s variability of low-lying and highland, neighbourhoods in the city can be affected very differently so monitoring is extremely important. The building that houses the EOC is also considered the safest building in Taipei and has lots of anti-earthquake reinforcements. In a large scale earthquake the foundation is able to absorb a lot of the shock. There is also a helipad on the top, which we got to visit. It was easily the best view of the Taipei 101 tower.

There were also two visits to flood mitigation sites in the city . The first was called the Yuanshanzih Flood Channel and is a large-scale project that was funded by the national government. The size of the channel completely blew me away. It was 8 by 8 metres and diverted river water from going towards New Taipei City and led it to the ocean. It was not the prettiest project because it was grey and oppressive but it was clear just how necessary its construction was. This area of Taipei used to experience frequent flooding that regularly resulted in casualties. Since it’s construction in the mid 2000s there has been no flooding or casualties. We also visited a retention basin called Dago Stream Ecological Park. This was hands down my favourite part of the trip. It is a beautiful park that is used to hold floodwater during heavy rain. It is in a neighbourhood called Naha that used to experience lots of heavy flooding that would also often caused casualties. Since this project was completed there has been no flooding in the area or flood related casualties. What I loved the most about this flood retention basin is how it is dual-purpose. The design of the park preserves the river valley’s natural geography and is gorgeous. We visited on a sunny Sunday afternoon and the park was filled with people of all ages enjoying the park and the weather as a community. It was unbelievable to think that this park that was being used by hundreds to enjoy their afternoon picnics would be underwater 2 days later. The Dago Stream Ecological Park brought community members together during normal times and protected that same community from disaster.

The Disaster Cluster Seminar date coincided with National Disaster Prevention Day in Taiwan and we were able to go and check out the city’s organized activities. It was held at the National Dr. Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall in downtown Taipei. Various NGOs, NPOs, and government agencies set up tents to spread awareness about their roles in disaster management and enhance public levels of preparedness. There were lots of children with their families and they could check out emergency vehicles, ride on an earthquake simulator and have a hands-on experience with life saving things that they could do at home to protect their families. The City of Taipei saw the event as the perfect time to release their first ever disaster prevention manual. There was a huge public ceremony that was attended by the mayor of Taipei and some of the city’s emergency personnel. The seminar participants were also provided with the honour of being a part of the unveiling ceremony. Public events like this are extremely important in raising awareness because passers-by, who may not have known about the event, can stop and check it out. The children who were participating in all the activities were laughing and enjoying themselves, there was even a dance competition where kids could perform a dance routine that illustrated the correct actions to take during an earthquake!

At the end of my six days in Taipei I was filled with lots of new knowledge and a love for the city. Taipei’s eagerness to share its best practices in disaster management and prevention was great to see. I am incredibly grateful to everyone who contributed to my ability to fly down and help out with the seminar. Being an intern at the CITYNET Yokohama Project Office is an incredible experience and I can’t thank the office or CAPI enough for providing me with this opportunity.  

Zachary Brabazon – Blog 4: Obstacles in the Discourse: How Conceptions of “Migration” Can Disrupt the Realization of Protection

(Disclaimer: the following is a post centered around my own personal experiences and reflections. Any definitive statements are only worded as such because they save space, and may thus be treated as entirely anecdotal and subjective)


What the readership must know before reading the Blog:

I am Zachary, and I am interning with an organization called RMMRU in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Ok, so I need a little extra pre-amble this week. Basically, what happened here, what’s arrayed in 11-pt. font words below, is a reading exercise that got a bit out of control. Over the last two weeks, I’ve been working with a RMMRU associate of mine on a paper focussing on irregular migration. I thought, hey, why not do my blog on this. 

I’m not sure if that was a bad impulse at this point. Given the monstrous hybrid that resulted – again, talking about that baby just waiting a few lines below, which is half-blog, half-essay – I am inclined to think it was a bad impulse. However, I would also like to admit that, in writing this blog, and grappling with the ideas and arguments laid out before me – many of which were fairly new to me – I learned a whole lot.

As well, the whole reason I started this literary investigation in the first place was because I wanted to learn more about the people that my organization, RMMRU, is trying to protect. These are people who, often forced into hard (or nigh-impossible) economic circumstances by environmental volatility, have wound up in the middle of the Bay of Bengal, face-to-face with the ransom demands of human traffickers (See: What I learned in completing this blog piece is that, to put it simply, many migrants often don’t get all that much support, whether from the international legal regime, or from the states in which they live. But then again, as I will explore below, there’s always a danger to putting it simply. 

Who Is What Kind of Migrant? And Why That’s Important

Researchers have identified the absence of a clear consensus among the International community on the definition of different types of ‘non-refugee’ migration – namely “climate migrants” or “environmental migrants” – as a major obstacle that hinders protection for a growing number of migrants globally. This “definition gap” is part of a broader inability, within the International sphere, to settle basic questions on human movement, such as what constitutes forced migration and what doesn’t. The smaller ambiguities of definition lead to larger problems, such as impediments to the creation of policies and frameworks that protect migrants whose reasons for moving may make them unable to attain refugee status. Ultimately, the gaps in international legal frameworks regarding migration benefit developed states who would rather uphold the dominant “security discourse” on migration, than risk any change in narrative that might lead to them being held accountable for their disproportionate emission production.

As climate-change continues to provoke greater and greater environmental volatility, the gaps in the current treatment of mobile persons and populations will obviously increase exponentially in coming years. Given that climate-change-related disasters are both predictable and inevitable, what political obstacle(s) could prevent the international community from re-arranging their position on these definitions and protocols? In the following paragraphs, I draw on some of the relevant academic literature, in an attempt to summarize a few problematic misconceptions about migration, as well as identify a few scholarly responses to these.

Problems Definition in the Public Sphere

As I have read through different critical views on climate-change-induced and mixed migration, I have found myself constantly referring back to Chloe Anne Vlassopoulos’s discussion of the nature of “problem definition” in the public sphere:

            …problem definition is an issue of power, since it divides the social and public actors into   winners (who profit from the                     recognition of the problem) and losers (who will lose material or symbolic resources).[1]

To my (admittedly non-expert) eyes, this conception fits much of the current discussion surrounding international and governmental responses to mixed- and climate-induced migration. Somewhat ironically, in this model, the developed states are the “losers,” who see themselves as standing to lose “material or symbolic resources” if the narrative on migration is shifted from the status quo. As the greatest historical producers of carbon emissions, many developed nations might feel that they have a vested interest in ensuring that providing assistance to environmental migrants remains a voluntary, humanitarian action, rather than one dictated by accountability in the form of an international legal agreement.

The Migrant/Refugee Simplification

Referring to the last point above, a major benefit to states looking to avoid taking on accountability for climate migrants is the fact that there is no existing international agreement that addresses climate change-induced or, more broadly, environmental migration.[2] As such, the international legal regime’s existing, de-facto treatment of mobile populations usually involves the rendering of people into categories of “migrants” and “refugees.” It is, in effect, an arbitrary and dangerous binary that ignores the deeper, nuanced reasons that drive people to move. According to Susan Martin, this arbitrary distinction “does not reflect the reality of human mobility; rather, most migration decisions fall somewhere on a continuum between forced and voluntary.”[3] If powerful states and international actors take an overly simplistic view of human migration, as many currently do, this can have dangerous consequences for vulnerable populations on the move.

However, it’s not just populations on the move that suffer from these ‘definition gaps.’ Lauren Nishimura states that “often, those individuals or groups who are unable to migrate are in greatest need of aid but lack the capacity or will to move, creating another obstacle to  protection.”[4] Susan Martin argues that “…research shows, moreover, that trapped populations are in danger just as much as those who move.”[5] Experts also predict that the majority of people displaced by climate change over the coming decades will not cross an international border, and, thus, will fail to receive protection under existing international refugee law.[6] Furthermore, those affected persons who do cross an international border face the prospect of being denied official “refugee” status, which, Judith Kumin notes, carries the risk of “delegitimizing” them, and “having a negative impact on how such persons are treated.” [7]

What all this information should make it clear, therefore, is that the distinctions made in current international frameworks – like the UN Refugee Convention – need serious updating in order to meet the challenges of the coming decades. The absence of an agreement on climate-induced migration is a particularly severe void in protection, but the fact that international law does not extend its protection to Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), or to any type of environmental migrants explicitly, seems equally deplorable. Given that many experts consider that climate change will create as many – or even more – internal migrants as it does refugees, it seems that any protective efforts on climate or environmental migrants should include IDPs.

Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and the Need for a Returned Strategy

Several authors quoted in this piece have also outlined the problems associated with many state-guided “return strategies” for IDPS. In many cases, the damages of climate-induced disasters have been exacerbated when IDPs were returned to their homes too quickly, or when the “return strategy” involved inadequate protection measures. In these types of instances, “returned” populations were then more likely to be displaced a second time.[8]

Lindsey Brickle and Alice Thomas, in their investigation of flood disasters in Pakistan (2010) and Colombia (2011), illustrate the potential harms that can arise when governments attempt to return populations in a hasty or unscrupulous manner. They argue that successful responses to climate-induced displacement require a Returned Strategy as well as a Return Strategy:

            [the] failure of the governments to adequately address the risk of recurrent displacement by allowing people to return to                     flood-prone areas increased vulnerabilities and eroded resilience [in flood-affected Pakistan and Colombia]. In Pakistan,                   flooding the following year displaced  many of the same people a second time.[9]

The key here is that, in both cases, governments failed to “adequately address the risk of recurrent displacement.” To me, this stands out as a critical idea for any framework on migration to be successful. Instead of just protecting those migrants who have been forced to cross an international border, and whose travails are “appropriate” to earn them the “refugee” label, perhaps the international legal community might be better off placing more impetus on addressing mobile populations’ “risk of recurrent displacement,” and seeking to offer protection according to that indicator.

The Security Discourse (Wherein Developed States Avoid Responsibility and Migrants Become Security Threats)

Another major obstacle to protection that has been outlined by scholars is the current preponderance of the “Security Discourse” among developed states, which allows politicians to absolve – or at least shift blame from – those states which have been historically the largest producers of carbon emissions, while at the same time transforming migrants, who need protection, into security threats.[10]

This issue, I would think, is closely related to the frequent lack of complexity and nuance with regards to migrants and drivers of migration observed in international relations. Just as with the too-simple delineations made between “migrants” and “refugees,” the over-simplifications associated with the “migrant-as-security-threat” idea effectively shift policy discussions away from practical measures that might benefit vulnerable people on the move. Even further, the security discourse often involves what Nishimura calls the “degradation narrative,” which actually blames migrants and potential migrants for environmental degradation, while making transnational corporations and international actors the bearers of solutions (development measures, investment, etc.)[11]

Suggestions for Ameliorating Protection Gaps

As most of the scholars quoted in this piece have noted, the causal complexity of climate change also gives a big boost to developed states looking to avoid responsibility, while complicating the efforts of NGOs and transnational advocacy groups who desire to enact greater protection for migrants.[12] Because it is difficult to assign responsibility for specific climate-change-related events to particular states, causal complexity is easily translated into an accountability problem among states, and protection measures for migrants thus continue to lag behind.

According to Alexander Betts, the remedy to this situation is not about “attributing causality to movement, which is both virtually impossible and also irrelevant, but rather identifying the sets of rights deprivations within a country of origin that entitle a person to seek substitute protection in another country.”[13] Betts’s solution is centred around creating protection not just for climate migrants, but for a broader definition of survival migrants, or “persons outside their country of origin because of an existential threat to which they have no access to a domestic remedy or resolution.” In addition, he posits a “soft law framework” as the most practical response to the institutional gaps facing survival migrants, opining that working within existing norms – and consolidating them “in a single nonbinding soft law document based on the IDP precedent” – represents the “most realistic and constructive option.”[14]

Nishimura, however, disagrees with Betts, stating that Bett’s proposition of creating a broader framework around ‘survival migrants’ is too broad and “not tenable” given existing institutional and resource limitations.[15] Nishimura reasons that “a failure to provide protection for all is not a reason to deny protection to some,” and argues for increased support of “localized migration” (as opposed to long-distance, cross-border relocation), increased and improved information dissemination to vulnerable populations at both potential origin and destination locations, and – crucially – more concern on the part of policy-makers for attaining the consent of displaced populations.[16]

Vlassopoulos would appear to agree with Nishimura on the need to not go ‘too broad’ on remedying migration framework, though their argument is focused more on the conflation of the issues of environmental migration and the development-orientated, ‘climate-change-adaption’ framework that has emerged in the international political sphere over the last two decades. They argue that the “evolution towards development-oriented policies which put the emphasis on adaptation to deal with climate change slows down the efforts to define environmental migration as a new global public issue.”[17] For Vlassopoulos, the tendency to overwhelmingly focus on adaption efforts obscures the specific issues that need to be addressed regarding environmental migration. As well, the supremacy of the idea of “climate migrants,” according to Vlassopoulos, represents a restrictive redefinition, involving a “process of simplification that reduces the scope of the problem and makes it more manageable.”[18] In other words, placing all environmental migrants under the “climate change” banner effectively obscures other important migration issues that carry less public currency simply because they have not been expressly linked with the buzzwords of ‘climate change’ and ‘adaption.’


A Final Disclaimer

I suppose, following all that madness of quotation and ‘argument-plucking,’ that a few general disclaimers might be repeated here. I am, of course, no expert on any of these issues. For me, this piece represents an attempt to merge some of the research I am doing at work for RMMRU with my monthly duty of blog-making. In all honesty, this started out as a way to game the system – and then turned into probably the most labour-intensive blog yet for me. I guess I deserved it.

My attempt here was not to suggest the above points I have drawn upon represent the ‘best,’ or ‘greatest,’ or ‘most sensible,’ solutions to the challenges of environmental migration – I, of course, am not qualified to perform such things. Neither do I think that I have adequately addressed even a fraction of the relevant literature, and, even now, as I am writing this final paragraph of the blog, I am thinking of which things I should read next. It is possible that, by this time next week, I will have come to completely disagree with all the arguments made by the authors quoted above.




  • Vlassopoulos, Chloe Anne. 2010. Institutional barriers to the recognition and assistance of environmentally forced migrants. In , 17-27. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer Berlin Heidelberg.

Betts, Alexander. “Survival Migration: A New Protection Framework.” Global Governance 16, no. 3 (2010): 361-82. 

Nishimura, Lauren. 2015. ‘climate change migrants’: Impediments to a protection framework and the need to incorporate migration into climate change adaptation strategies. International Journal of Refugee Law 27 (1): 107.

Brickle, Lindsey, and Alice Thomas. 2014. Rising waters, displaced lives. Forced Migration Review(45): 34.

Martin, Susan. 2015. The state of the evidence. Forced Migration Review(49): 12.

Kumin, Judith. 2014. The challenge of mixed migration by sea. Forced Migration Review(45): 49.

[1] Vlassopoulos, 19.

[2] Nishimura, 108.

[3] Nishimura, 113

[4] Nishimura, 112

[5] Martin, 15

[6] Nishimura, 115.

[7] Kumin, 50-51.

[8] Brickle and Thomas, 36.

[9] Martin, 14

[10] Nishimura, 115.

[11] Nishimura, 121.

[12] Nishimura, 124-125.

[13] Betts, 378.

[14] Betts, 377.

[15] Nishimura, 130.

[16] Nishimura, 113.

[17] Vlassopoulos, 23.

[18] Vlassopoulos, 23.

Joel Toorenburgh – Blog 5: Expecting English

**Disclaimer: The following is personal blog based on my individual experience in Dhaka, Bangladesh.**


Questions motivating this blog… 

Why is this meeting in Bangla? Why am I working in a country where I don’t speak the language? Why won’t they speak English? Why should they speak English? Is it fair to expect them to speak English? Aren’t there so many good reasons why they speak Bangla? Shouldn’t I speak Bangla? Isn’t that impossible? 


I’ve noticed when people answer the phones. Or when they give their phone numbers “zero one eight two three four three zero four eight eight”… On billboards too. One reads “Fried Chicken.” In fact, it’s almost everywhere: signs, websites, meetings, articles – you name it. It’s there. 


A few years ago, I started questioning why English was my native language. The best answer I could really come up with had to do with Wolfe outmanoeuvring Montcalm on a field in Quebec way back when. New France fell and years on, the English became hegemonic in Canada.

It was once said that “The sun never sets on the British Empire.” Today, the sun never seems to set on the English language. If the British started it, the Americans kept it going. It’s necessary for travel and business in many parts of the world. And it can connect people in tremendous ways… 

But, on the other hand, it’s also a massive privilege to be a native anglophone. Most native English-speakers do not speak another language and they don’t really have to, but shouldn’t they anyway? In the United States, only 1 in 5 can converse in a second-language. This despite the fact that by 2050, the US will have more Spanish-speakers than Mexico.

When I finished high school, I wasn’t really aware of language politics or any of the problems associated with English. I lived in Victoria and as its name implies, English dominated and language politics were notably absent. After high school, I started college and decided to take French as an elective. I figured that since I had spent most of my schooling life learning French, it would seem pretty foolish to just abandon it half-way through. After all, I hadn’t sung about pizza or le petit poisson for nothing. Though many – if not most kids – do abandon French in Canada after finishing high school. 

In college, I was lucky enough to have a teacher who really engaged me in learning. We studied Camus’ L’étranger and Voltaire’s Candide. And the enjoyment I got from these books pushed me to keep going. Eventually, I became more and more comfortable, and I started to feel a sort of ownership over French. As a student of political science, it gave me a new perspective on Canadian politics. But mostly, it made me realize how privileged native anglophones are and how arrogant they can sometimes be – not just in Canada, but around the world. 

Today, I consider myself as a bit of a lingophile. I love learning languages because, in my view, it isthe gateway to culture and understanding. My interest in language has allowed me to explore things from a different perspective. It allows connection, colour. 

❝You can never understand one language until you understand at least two.❞

‒Geoffrey Willans

But that doesn’t mean that there are no problems with the way I use and expect English. When I was accepted to intern in Bangladesh, I knew from the beginning that it would be important to learn the language. I bought some books and tried to study as much as I could before leaving. But on arriving, I found myself ill-prepared. The Bangla language contains numerous characters and I had dedicated most of my study time to this script. Even though I can read just a bit, I regret learning the script because it has necessarily diverted my attention from more practical, everyday expressions. 

Now, more than three months in, I am getting more and comfortable with many aspects of the language: bartering, greeting, giving directions etc. Colleagues at work often comment on how well our Bangla is coming along and are generally impressed with what we have learned. 

Though there is still an expectation that our conversations will be in English, that they will speak my language. 

And I forget that this expectation is rooted in my privilege. I write this blog as an exercise for myself. I have benefitted from a number of privileges in life and it’s important to be reminded as to what that means. So for example, I have found myself frustrated at hour-long meetings that fully transpire in Bangla. I nod along or grasp at words even though I don’t understand most of it. Since we arrived in Bangladesh, these things have come up more than once. When we lost our laptops in June, we had to explain to the police over and over againwhat had happened. These communication failures are abundant.

❝ I know all those words, but that sentence makes no sense to me.❞

– Matt Groening 

Of course, it’s always easier to blame someone else than to actually examine the problem meaningfully.  

Bangladeshis speak Bangla in Bangladesh because it’s Bangladesh, not Engladesh. It should seem pretty obvious, right? 

And we, the privileged anglophones, often choose not to speak a second language, whereas in many cases those who cannot speak English are without choice. We should greatly appreciate the level of English that is spoken because it regularly makes our lives easier. I recently spoke with a colleague at RMMRU who already has an excellent mastery of English. He tells me that it is not possible to get C1- or C2-level English training in Dhaka. The British Council and other institutions do not offer English courses at this level. At the same time, if he wants a job at anykind of international institution, he must know English. For us, it’s a simple default, a box already ticked. For him, it’s an on-going struggle, especially at the higher levels of learning. 

English can serve to connect people and make life much easier: on my trip to Singapore, we saw how this can function. Singaporeans speak Mandarin, Tamil, and Malay. I see the merits of a cross-cultural language, but I also cringe at the imperialistic nature of English which nowadays I see as so entangled in American hegemony. It’s one reason I’ve always admired South Africa’s linguistic policy where the country’s eleven languages all have equal status. English can help to bridge the gaps between the different communities, but it doesn’t mean we should give up trying to speak to another person’s tongue.

❝If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.❞

‒Nelson Mandela

Language isn’t just about communication. Language is identity and it is culture. It deeply influences the way we operate and how we see the world around us. It helps us make sense of where and who we are. So, to impose English is essentially to impose a way of thinking and being.

That Dhaka does not surrender to this…

That meetings are held in Bangla…

And that I struggle in conversations and communication… 

Well that’s just the way it should be. And despite my personal frustrations, I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Kimberly Copeland – Blog 5: University Opportunities (?) for Refugees in Malaysia

About a month ago, I had the amazing opportunity to participate in a forum discussing the university education opportunities with Open Universities for Refugees, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and several other refugee-based community schools. I came out of the three day conference with more questions than answers.

This area of refugee education in Malaysia is multi-layered in it’s difficulty to implement between the Malaysian universities, the government, the primary and secondary community schools, and the potential students themselves.

Attached is my blog on the background information surrounding refugee primary and secondary education’s problems in the context of Malaysia and the current opportunities for those refugees who wish to study at university in Malaysia. 

Katherine Gust – Blog 2: Intersection of Gender and Migration Issues in Nepal (GE)

A month and a half in, and I am starting to grasp some of the complexities of what it means to be a woman here in this country. As an outsider and observer, the reality I grasp is a shallow reflection of the lived and felt experience of subjugation that many women felt on a daily basis before entering the shelter.

To say, “a woman is simply treated differently than a man in Nepal” doesn’t quite capture the full reality of the experiences that I’ve heard recounted to me in POURAKHI Nepal’s emergency shelter home for returnee women migrant workers. Through case file after case file, stories of physical and psychological torture riddle my screen. I can’t help but wonder how these women could get up each morning with enough strength to continue to live, work, and nurture their children, after experiencing such atrocities. I am baffled.

I recognize that to generalize extreme cases onto all Nepali women is both wrong and dangerous. Of course, the challenges of each woman is nuanced by their social location and access to resources, power, and control, but still some commonalities seem to be shared across a variety of experiences.

This past week I sat down and interviewed a staff member from POURAKHI Nepal, and discussed Gender Equality within Nepal. POURAKHI Nepal is a collection of people (many of which themselves are returnee migrant workers), that focus their energy on empowering women migrant workers so they can enjoy and experience their rights throughout the entire phase of Foreign Labor Migration (if unaware of these phases see Figure 1. for a diagram on the migration cycle). It’s a lofty vision but one we need to run after. With this heart, they are in tune with the various barriers and issues that continue to subjugate many women, leaving them vulnerable, stigmatized, and exploited.  I asked this staff member what gender equality looks like in her opinion, what the current situation is like in Nepal for women, and where various opinions regarding gender roles stem from.

The link of our short discussion is attached below and I hope it serves to spark your curiosity and provokes you to deeper examination of some of these complex issues.


Figure 1.

Infographic Credit: The Overseas Development Institute (ODI),

Nathan Jost – Blog 2: “Hail the Maintainers” (GOV)


“Hail the Maintainers”

“Capitalism excels at innovation but is failing at maintenance, and for most lives it is maintenance that matters more”

Don’t worry: this article has nothing to say about economics, but bear with me for a moment.

The above quote is from an essay I came across a few months ago titled “Hail the Maintainers”. In it, co-authors Andrew Russell and Lee Vinsel (on behalf of a group self-named “The Maintainers”) seek to downplay the role of innovation and elevate the importance of maintenance in the future of technological development. The gist of it is that innovation is disproportionately emphasized through capitalist structures, even though the majority of innovations are enjoyed only by elites. In reality, the majority of the world would benefit much more from the maintenance of past innovations, and making these more accessible to a wider population.

The article came out around the same time that U.S. productivity scores dropped for what I’m told are a significant period of time (the longest decline since 1979, apparently). Commenting on these productivity trends, Robert Gordon’s book The Rise and Fall of American Growth makes the argument that much of the technological innovations that we think would have made our work more productive, have been reserved for our personal lives. Here, Adam Chandler of The Atlantic quotes Gordon: “Most of it [the U.S. economy] is operating by the same business methods and procedures that have been in place for at least 10 years” (“Why Are Americans Workers Getting Less Productive”). In Gordon’s opinion, it seems as though technological innovation has failed to bring about the productivity growth that was hoped for.

Whether or not Gordon’s commentary on the statistical fall is correct or not (and I am certainly not qualified to speak on such matters), the principle is an interesting one: It seems that innovation is not bringing about the kinds of changes hoped for. Like the argument made by The Maintainers, could it be that we have prioritized innovation over maintenance, and neglected to take seriously the slow and tedious job of making past innovations more accessible and widespread?

More on this later.

When I first arrived to begin my internship with Asian Forum, I quickly found the need to immerse myself in the major policy touchstones that give context to the advocacy work that Asian Forum and other Nepali organizations in the field of labour migration are engaged in.

I found it interesting that while Nepal has not signed or ratified the three key international documents that directly and most comprehensively address labour migration (The International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (ICMW), ILO C97 Migration for Employment Convention, and ILO C143 Migrant Workers (Supplementary Provisions)), stakeholders are still able to draw on earlier and less specific conventions and declarations as they advocate for the rights of migrant workers. And in appealing to these earlier statements, the hope is that the very components present in the three key documents listed above will be brought about indirectly. This is only true because the earlier documents possess the blueprints that the newer documents are using in order to construct.

And so, my fundamental question here is whether we should spend more time developing and revising the original blueprints, or set them aside as we create new ones. Should we focus on maintaining the old, or innovating something new?

While this is a hugely oversimplified binary, I think it introduces a perspective into the conversation that is essential to consider. A perspective that is taught to us by The Maintainers.

Maintaining is not sexy, like innovation – which “Hail the Maintainers” shows has become a buzzword that some CEOs are banning from their workers’ vocabulary. We love the new. We like to launch out into the unknown and restate things unconstrained by formalities and traditions. We want to give it a new title. We don’t want to review old documents; we want to write new ones. And we want to be the ones who say it in our own way.

The problem however is that in the proliferation of new conventions and statements, we risk elevating innovation over maintaining: newer documents do not sufficiently learn from or consider the older ones, and we risk saying the same thing so many ways that our fight for change becomes less effective.

Articulating your stance on a certain issue is one thing, but articulating your stance in relation to another stance is quite another. Context challenges us. Similarly, past conventions and declarations confront us with the disparity between what we said 10 years ago, and where we are today. They force us to recognize our failure, and challenge us to be more honest about what we can really commit to this time around. They also cause us to address our blind spots, as we look back on specifics that we felt so passionately about last committee meeting, but no longer give the same attention to.

If we want to learn what is working and what isn’t, we need to take the work of maintenance seriously by revising old declarations, and situating ourselves in relation to them. When we situate our statements, we show respect to history. And when we show respect to history, we show respect to the present, because we affirm that our present efforts will be reviewed and used to inform the future.

Situating our learning is also a step of humility, by recognizing that your thoughts were not developed in a vacuum, but in dependence upon the conversations you have had. We are far less original than we can possibly understand.

I should be clear. Nowhere would I ever want to discourage writing and articulating anew. The process of learning that happens through collaborative approaches to documents and declarations is invaluable. The result of a cohesive piece of writing that can be signed off by a group of people is encouraging and essential in building a movement to catalyze change.

What I have been saying, then, does not discourage new policy – it simply seeks to situate it. The only question is the context in which the articulating, writing, and discussing happens. Does it start a new conversation, and abandon the past ones? Or does it situate itself in such a way that gives momentum to the old conversation, correcting and clarifying where necessary, adding momentum to an already living organism.

In Nepal’s Foreign Employment Act 2007 and Rules 2008 there is repetition of several of the aspects that come up in the CEDAW, and various ILO Conventions on discrimination, trafficking, and minimum wage and age, that have already been signed and ratified. What’s the point in saying these again? The documents that Nepal produces itself will always carry more weight than an International Treaty, at least in practice. And so articulating something in a specific context is crucial. (Importantly, the Foreign Employment Act is currently being reviewed and revised, which is precisely in line for what I would advocate for. Creating policy that engages that which has come before.)

(Aside: This leads me to question whether it is important to adopt foreign and international standards, or rather to develop the policy that is already in place. For example, is it more effective and/or efficient to reform the Foreign Employment Act to look more like the ICMW, ILO C97 and C143, or is it best practice to simply ratify these conventions themselves? It seems that the scale tips in favour of the former, since using International Treaties come with significantly more responsibility in terms of periodic reporting on implementation, and much more importantly they are harder to adopt since national laws already in place need to be brought to align with them – in short, choosing something context sensitive will be more realistic, even if it is not as idealistic as international standards. Of course, this is certainly not mutually exclusive to using the International Treaties as conversation partners, and even best practices, but the importance becomes writing something sensitive and realistic to country-specific realities.)

Last week, the 2nd National Conference on Migration took place, organized by a number of NGOs and INGOs working across Nepal, and bringing various kinds of government voices, returnee migrants, researchers, and practitioners together for two days to engage one another on current issues in Nepal concerning labour migration. The 1st Conference in 2013 produced a series of 38 recommendations that were signed by all parties, and the plan for he 2nd Conference was to similarly produce another set of recommendations. Some questions that arise from this post are: what was done with the 1st Conference’s recommendations, what will be done with the 2nd Conference’s recommendations, and what is the relationship between the two?

I’m encouraged that the recommendations that came out of the Conference last week will inform the advocacy of the National Network for Safe Migration (NNSM), a joint body that brings together several NGOs working in labour migration in Nepal. This means that there will be a common document that can bolster the work of all these organizations doing great work to make migration safer and more productive for Nepali migrant workers. This is a great success. As we spend the coming weeks debriefing the 2nd Conference, we will need to work to make sure these recommendations and declarations mean something and are followed through on. We need to work hard so that we are not desensitized to declarations.

The work of maintaining is difficult. It is tedious.

As we continue our work, and look for more effective ways to advocate for necessary change to make labour migration more safe and productive, I close with this: Perhaps ourdeclarations need to look more like Talmud, which has commentary written around commentary written around commentary to explain and elucidate that which was written before in order to understand the Torah. The document without such appendages and annotations is safe. It gathers dust, at least in terms of its political and social capital. Let’s have less new declarations and conventions, but cause the older ones to come alive. Amidst innovation that is praised, let us reserve an ever more special place for maintenance. 

Danae Zachari – Blog 4 (Part 3/3): Interview with Jeanne Makinadjian – Legal Advisor at MSRI

In this final section of my interview with Jeanne Makinadjian, I ask Jeanne how UNHCR supports UNHCR appointment cardholders and UNHCR asylum seeker and refugee cardholders who are in detention. Jeanne explains the important role UNHCR plays in releasing individuals from detention and how the new UNHCR card offers higher protection.   

Danae Zachari – Blog 4 (Part 2/3): Interview with Jeanne Makinadjian – Legal Advisor at MSRI

In this second section, Jeanne Makinadjian explains the resettlement process and how resettlement countries, such as USA, implement their own refugee status determination, security and medical checks. We discuss the long process of being granted refugee status and that only a small proportion of the refugee population is resettled. The process of seeking asylum and the resettlement process often take a few years and individuals go through rigorous screening. Furthermore, Jeanne explains how important the referral system is in speeding up cases and identifying vulnerabilities.  


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