Research and Orientation Workshop and International Conference
'The State of the Global Protection System for Refugees and Migrants'

Calcutta Research Group, (25-30 November 2018)

Module D


Module D. Refugee and Immigrant Economies: Privatisation of Care and Protection

Coordinators: Professor Ranabir Samaddar and Professor Samita Sen




Labour migration has been a feature of global capitalism since the beginning. This paper explores the historical background of labour migration in connection with the rise and development of capitalism and leads on to a discussion of labour migration under present conditions of neo-liberalisation and global market economy. In its discussion of historical forms of labour migration, the paper dwells on the themes of indentured labour and other forms of semi-coerced migration from colonies, semi-colonies, and other parts of the world. The second half of the nineteenth century was an age of labour mobility required for plantation, railway lines and telegraph, and mining. This demand of labour was met through a system of indentured labour migration. Indentured labour was sought as replacement for newly freed African slave labour. The planters preferred unsettled male indentured workers over locally settled labour, as the former seemed a better guarantee of servitude. There were also other forms of coercive labour export like forced migration of children, migration of single women, exportation of coolie labour etc.

If the earlier period of globalisation marked by industrial capitalism called for massive supply of labour forming its underbelly, the contemporary period of globalization is marked by unprecedented financialisation of capital and other resources (including land) and calls for similar supply of labour forming the underbelly of the beast today. In today’s global post-colonial setting, the place of the plantation and railway construction industries of the nineteenth century has been taken over by the ubiquitous care industry and construction industries. Thousands of migrant workers serving worldwide from the United States to the Middle East to South East Asia to the Far East as masons, plumbers, coolies, nurses, ayahs, sex workers, workers in entertainment and construction industry keep the machinery of neoliberal economy going. The discussion also emphasizes the parallel process of emergence of basic technologies of governing population flows and trying to achieve in each case the right composition of the population, the right mix, as it is termed now, leading to partitions and new boundary making exercises.

The paper highlights how gender was of central concern in recruitment operations as well as labour deployment in the indentured system and other forms of labour migration more generally and how long distance migration in turn unsettled gender hierarchies. The paper touches on the issue of sex labour which in today’s world is a migrant dominated field. It points to the inadequacy of the predominant discourse of trafficking which often views migration of sex workers as a form of ‘modern slavery’. It deliberates on how the boundaries between ‘free’ migration and trafficking are often fuzzy and patriarchal ‘protection’ against trafficking can further contribute to the immobilisation of women, especially in societies where regulation of women’s mobility is a key element of patriarchal control.

Finally, the discussion is also concerned with the nature of immigrant economy in global capitalism today. Literature on immigrant economies are concerned with processes of labour absorption within western state/society. In these writings, the organic link between the immigrant as an economic actor and the global capitalist economy escapes analysis. Even when considered as an economic actor, refugees are often not considered as labour. This paper emphasizes the need for seeing the refugee primarily as a labouring subject, who often work outside the pale of ‘formal’ economy and/or without political rights. While a large part of the existing literature on the subject deal with what can be called the internalities of the immigrant economy (thus their ethnic composition, hierarchies, location, survival techniques, etc.), here the emphasis is on the externalities. Externality in this context means the broader forces and dynamics that influence such internal configuration and shape labour markets. A consideration of the externalities suggests four interactive relations impacting on refugee economies: (a) The deeply close relation between refugees, other victims of forced migration, and the illegal immigrants; likewise the interface of classic refugees and the environmental migrants as the constituting elements of an informal labour market; (b) The similarly close relation between refugees, illegal immigrants, and the internally displaced as labouring subjects; (c) The connection between the refugee economy and the informal economy as a whole; and finally (d) the incredibly dense network between formal and informal economies, shaping certain types of economic activities as in care and entertainment industry, which feature the refugee and the immigrant as the labouring subject, and which borders on both formal and informal economies.

The question frequently asked in the existing literature is about the impact of refugees on the host economy, and not, about why economies cannot do without the so-called refugee economies that supply informal labour for the host economy. It also strikes us that migration analysts rarely consider together the lack of the migrants’ entry in formal political arena accompanied by entry in the informal and sometimes formal labour market. Immigrant labour’s autonomy, more known as ‘autonomy of migration’ allows the migrant to cope with this dichotomous world. For long, it was a case of political opportunity, but economic closure; now it is the case of economic opening (entry in the informal labour market), but political closure; yet the migrant as the footloose labouring subject copes with this upside-down world of politics/economics with his/her autonomy to move. The ‘autonomy of migration,’ which also means among others the willingness and the capability of the migrants to move on from one condition to another, one job to another, one economic situation to another, and one economy to another indicates the heterogeneity of labour forms. Such heterogeneous labour are rendered invisible to the public eye and function without the protection of welfare benefits, in the face of continuous threats of deportation.


Draft of Full Paper: CLICK HERE



Sl.No. Name & Details of the Participants Country Photo Research Articles Comments by Coordinator

Apala Kundu, Calcutta Research Group || Email:
Bionote: Apala Kundu is Research and Programme Assistant at Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group. She completed her B.A. and M.A. in English from Presidency University. In her post-graduation dissertation, Apala attempted a comparative analysis of Western and Eastern religious systems through a study of Kieślowski’s Decalogue and Peter Brook’s Mahabharata, drawing on Levinasian understanding of ethics as the lens of her study. Her areas of interest are varied and include postcolonialism, migration and diaspora studies, gender and sexuality studies (including queer studies) and graphic narratives. She has presented research done on these areas at various national, international and UGC-sponsored conferences and seminars in the country. Apala has previously worked as Conference Assistant at CRG on the project ‘Capital in the East: A Conference on Marx’s Capital after 150 Years of Its Publication’.


Immigrant Economies and ‘Economic War’: Literary Reflections on the Expulsion of Asians from East Africa




Irene Peano, Institute Of Social Sciences, University Of Lisbon                

Bionote: Irene Peano trained as a social anthropologist at the University of Cambridge, where she received her PhD. She is currently a post-doctoral fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences, University of Lisbon, working in the ERC project 'The Colour of Labour: The racialised lives of migrants'. She has previously held post-doctoral positions at the University of Bologna and at the University of Bucharest. For more than ten years, she has been engaged in research on the exploitation of migrants, with a specific focus on sex work and agricultural labour, and on forms of resistance, to which she is actively committed. She has done field research in Nigeria, Italy and Romania.

Italy Refugeeisation of the agricultural labour force? Humanitarian spectacles in and around Italian agro-industrial enclaves

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3. Janaina Galvao , Independent Researcher || Email:
Bionote: Janaina Galvao has 10 years of progressively responsible professional experience for organizations such as UNHCR, ILO, UNICEF and ICRC, both in Latin America and West Africa. She is a transdisciplinary humanitarian worker who has performed in the fields of Protection, External Relations, Programme and Livelihoods but who is also passionate about the political economy of migration and protection systems. In 2008 she attended the IV Winter Course on Forced Migration promoted by MCRG in Kolkata and afterwards she held other relevant trainings on labor migration, needs assessments in emergencies, protection of LGBTI refugees and community-based protection. She is married and has two children.
Brazil Bias towards skilled migration in Brazil during the Lula Era: Influence of the Knowledge-Based Economy Paradigm

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4. Jhumpa Bose , P. N. Das College 
Jhumpa Bose has done her master’s in History from West Bengal State University. Her research interests lie in Migration Studies and labour history. She has presented a paper on migration in a conference at Paschim Bango Itihas Samsad in Kolkata. ... continue
India Migration of Labour in Late Colonial Bengal: Urbanization and Socio-Economic Condition in Barrackpore Industrial Zone

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Shatabdi Das, Calcutta Research Group || Email:
Bionote: Shatabdi Das is Research and Programme Assistant at Calcutta Research Group. She did her Graduation (with Honours) in Geography, from Banaras Hindu University and then went on to complete her Masters in Geography (with specialisation in Environmental Geography) from University of Calcutta. Having also studied the discipline of Urban Management and Planning, from the university, her research interests lie in the dynamics of urbanisation and their impacts on the urban environment. In her post-graduation dissertation, she has worked on the hazards of coal mining in the Raniganj Coalfields and continues with her research focussed on the very many implications of developmental changes on physical and social environment of urban locales. She was Junior Research Fellow at the Centre for Urban Economic Studies under University of Calcutta from August 2013 to October 2014. Besides participating in workshops along with paper presentations at national and international conferences, she has published research papers on urban and environmental issues in international journal and seminar proceedings volume. Shatabdi is also currently pursuing her Doctoral research in Geography from University of Calcutta on the impacts of industrial and urban development in Asansol-Durgapur region. She has post-graduation teaching experience in Geography and is drawn to the study of the varied genres of music, culture, art and architecture through travel and photography.

India Migrants, Work and Sustenance in the Coalfields of Raniganj  

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