Intermediaries navigating the il/legal trajectories of gendered labour migration control between Nepal and the United Arab Emirate


This paper sets out to explore how the formal and informal intermediaries in the infrastructure of the migration industry (Lindquist 2012, Lindquist, Xiang, Yeoh 2012, Nyberg- Sörensson, Gammeltoft- Hansen 2013) understand, handle and challenge the state’s restrictive gendered labour migration control while navigating the labour recruitment process mainly in sending but also in receiving country, here Nepal and the United Arab Emirate. It focuses on the dynamic interplay between the state’s gendered labour migration control and the intermediaries navigating strategies during the recruitment process and what consequences they have for women’s and men’s labour migration. In public discourses the intermediaries are demonized as ”criminal others”, and immoral profit driven frauds, smugglers and traffickers. This is particularly true when it comes to women’s labour migration where such discourses together with fear of abuse and sexual exploitation in the destination country have become part of a re/production of a moral panic in regard to a gendered vulnerability and human and sex trafficking. This legitimates the states humanitarian governance and it’s moral politics (Bornstein and Redfield 2010, Fassin 2010, Fassin 2015) with restrictions in women’s labour migration. Despite the absolutely necessary role of the intermediaries in assisting migrants in the labour recruitments process no research has been conducted regarding the intermediaries navigating strategies in their encounter with the state’s gendered labour migration control. This paper discusses these navigating strategies and problematize the discourse of these actors as merely profit driven facilitators and points to other aspects that are more important to them when it comes to how they navigate this process, such as gender. It shows that there is a continuum of navigating strategies among the intermediaries, from strategies where they adjust to but also are more strict in their control and regulatory function than the state apparatus, with a refusal to ”send women”, as they express it, also when there are no restrictions and it is legal to do so from the perspective of the state. From the actors with such strategies there are intermediaries who feel an ambivalence to facilitate women’s labor migration and consequently only ”send” a few or are refraining from ”sending women”. At the other end there are intermediaries who facilitate women’s labour migration also when it is illegal from the perspective of the state. In stark contrast to the intermediaries perceived as merely facilitators of labour migration, the majority, motivated by reasons and strategies discussed in the paper, felt forced to take a restrictive stand while navigating the recruitment process and came to take a significant part in controlling women’s foreign employment even when they were strong proponents for women’s rights to migration and foreign employment. No matter where in this continuum of strategies we could find the intermediaries, if they were controlling or were facilitating women’s labour migration, the paradox was that their strategies all had the same consequences for the women. They were reproducing the idea of a gendered vulnerability and were creating a situation for women in labour migration where they became susceptible to different kinds of problems, the opposite of what these actors all tried to avoid both for the sake of the migrants but also for the sake of their own safety and security.

Susanne Åsman is postdoctoral researcher in the School of Global Studies at Gothenburg University and a visiting guest researcher in the Department of Anthropology at Cornell University. She is also affiliated with the Department of International Relations at Tribhuwan University. She has been involved in several research projects in the South Asian context, mainly in Nepal and India. Besides the project related to intermediaries in the infrastructure of the migration industry in Nepal and the United Arab Emirate in focus for this paper, she has been involved in projects related to migration for sex work, sex trafficking and anti- trafficking interventions, but also in a project related to masculinities and love, sex and intimacy. Another research area of interest for her has been honour related discrimination, youth culture and integration in the Swedish suburbia. Her recent book publication is “Bombay Going: Nepali Migrant Sex Workers in an Anti- Trafficking Era” (2018).

The seminar is co-arranged by the Centre for Research in International Migration and Ethnic Relations and the Forum for Asian Studies (www.asianstudies.su.se), Stockholm University.