Refugees And Migrants Can Be Used Better To Build Our Cities
When Gurgaon-based media professional Namita Sinha recently hired a domestic help to do the daily chores and cook for her household, she was quite pleased with her pick. Neelam took charge of the place in no time at all, and soon Sinha was completely reliant on her. As their daily friendly chats progressed, Sinha discovered that the real name of her maid servant was Shabana, and she was actually a refugee from Bangladesh.
Shabana’s employment with Sinha continued because Sinha wanted the maid for her work, and not for her ethnicity. If Shabana had been settled in some remote area of rural India, it is more likely that her services would have been terminated on the discovery that she was a Bangladeshi refugee working in India with a fake identity.
It is in this context that we should examine the merits of matching skills against employability as a policy to re-settle refugees across the globe. The roadblocks in the way to achieve it are so many that the Union Nations (UN) has already cut down on its earlier target of hundred per cent re-settling. In September, the UN held its first summit on refugees and migrants, and tasked member countries with settling as many as 21.3 million refugees across the world.
Quoting United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a Bloomberg report says that every year since 2009 the resettlement opportunities are being wasted because the "resettlement process is riddled with inefficiency". "Just one refugee in need of resettlement out of every 10 is offered a resettlement place, but even that paltry capacity is not being used up," says the report.
The issue is of great global significance and the debate over this can go on. However, let's focus here on how India can greatly benefit from acknowledging migrants and utilising this workforce in an efficient manner for building its towns and cities.
The Bloomberg report suggests that nations' failure to consult refugees as well as local communities are the root causes of the failure to efficiently settle migrants and refugees. Since these people are a reality and must be settled, it makes a lot of sense to recognise their skills and areas of strength and employ them in relevant sectors to build an efficient workforce, to the advantage of the country’s progress.
A solution to frequent mismatches is a comprehensive, algorithm-based system to match skills and places of work – in a more organised way. Most households in Delhi, for instance, avail of the services of Bangladeshi migrants who do not figure anywhere in the official records. In the busy urban life, there is a great demand for domestic helps and these refugees seem to be an easy supply. We usually do not have the time for background checks on domestic workers. Properly maintained official records would change the way these workers are perceived. Local people, for one, would feel safer hiring them.
Meanwhile, the government could channelise them better by making efforts to put them on record and doing some work on matching their skills with available employment opportunities in the country. A textile worker from Bangladesh, for example, would do a better job in textile mills of, say, Surat than as a domestic help in, say, an apartment in Gurgaon or Noida. Sinha would later find out that Shabana is even better with her needle work than she is with the ladle.