Building Sustainable & Scalable Migration Practises: Why We Invested in Safe & Responsible Migration Initiative

Building Sustainable & Scalable Migration Practises: Why We Invested in Safe & Responsible Migration Initiative

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resultant humanitarian crisis brought migration to the fore in the Indian policy and development discourse. It made visible the significant role of migrant workers in our cities and economy and also made visible the multiple vulnerabilities they experienced. It became obvious that a robust society and economy would need significant focus on improving the safety nets and living conditions of low-income migrants, especially those crossing state borders.

Given the complexity of the task, it meant collaboration between source and destination states was crucial and would need the support of multi-stakeholder coalitions involving the government, researchers, CSOs’ and the private sector. This was our primary motivation as part of our ReSolve Migration initiative to support multi-stakeholder collaborations, comprising of initiatives led by innovative and dynamic state government entrepreneurs — with the support of well-established partners including CSOs’, social enterprises, and academic institutions.

In early 2021, we had articulated this need in a blog that can be found here.

“Recognising the critical role that state governments’ have in shaping an improved livelihood contract for migrant workers and better living conditions in their place of work, ON India is keen to identify and support meaningful state government led collaborations along with CSOs/development sector players. We believe that innovative lighthouse projects championed by enterprising state governments with strong potential for scale and impact can enable a paradigm shift in the lives of the migrant workforce.”

With the support of NITI Aayog in championing such migration focussed coalitions, we are supporting the first such initiative in the state of Jharkhand, which has nearly 27% tribal population and low human development indicators. This state also experiences one of the highest outflows of working-age population in the country. Between March-July 2020, nearly a million migrant workers returned to the state, laying bare the complex policy challenges around social welfare, food security, livelihoods, and health management. During the nationwide lockdown, Policy and Development Advisory Group (PDAG),  the Chief Minister’s Office – Government of Jharkhand, and PHIA Foundation worked closely with the Department of Labour, Employment, Training & Skill Development to develop a collective action approach for:

  1. Ensuring safe return of migrant workers to the state through state funded trains, special flights, and buses,
  2. Provisioning of welfare interventions and designing livelihood interventions for returning workers.
Migrant Workers in Leh

The lived challenges and hardships of migrant workers lay at the foundation of this work. Omidyar Network India is excited to support the Safe and Responsible Migration Initiative (SRMI) to build on this work and to enable a scalable and sustainable approach that can serve as a lighthouse project for migrant workers in India.

A first of its kind policy initiative in India, SRMI is being anchored by the Department of Labour, Employment, Training and Skill Development, Government of Jharkhand, and is implemented through a consortium led by Policy and Development Advisory Group (PDAG) along with Partnering Hope Into Action Foundation (PHIA), Centre for Migration and Inclusive Development (CMID) and Bharti Institute of Public Policy (BIPP) at Indian School of Business (ISB).

Over the next 18-months, The Safe & Responsible Migration Initiative will aim to establish an evidence-based robust policy framework to secure and safeguard the interests of migrant workers in Jharkhand.  

We believe that our support to this Gov. of Jharkhand led initiative will help:

  1. Develop a first of its kind evidence-based migration policy framework on the unique socio-economic factors influencing migration trends in Jharkhand,
  2. Strengthen last-mile service delivery to migrant workers and their families through innovative and iterative digital and offline processes,
  3. Create a workable inter-state coordination framework to enable migrant workers access to social welfare benefits and entitlements

We believe that the success of this initiative is anchored in a combination of deep policy change and a framework for proactive and efficient implementation.  Across multiple platforms, the Chief Minister of Jharkhand has expressed a strong commitment towards creating a robust policy framework to strengthen safe and responsible migration reducing vulnerabilities, distress, and exploitation of migrant workers of the state. This may require many different kinds of skill sets and expertise and a coalition of stakeholders who support the vision and commitment of the state government.  

Role of Consortium Partners:

  • PDAG will operationalise the Technical Support Unit within the Department of Labour. PDAG will also draft the Jharkhand Migration Report with support from the consortium partners as well as document best practices. It will also lead the state migration survey and the state advisory work.
  • PHIA would work towards strengthening the existing Migrant Control Room to develop a Single Window Registration System. A key aspect of the project is formalised partnerships with community-based organisations and local community leaders in the state to enable last-mile delivery of social entitlements. PHIA would assist in piloting the Safe & Responsible Migration Centres (SRMC) in three high burden districts. PHIA would also provide operational and capacity-building assistance.
  • CMID would be responsible for setting up and operationalising the SRMC in the destination state of Kerala and strengthening coordination with local stakeholders including government functionaries. The organisation is led by Dr. Benoy Peter, one of the most influential and rooted actors in the migration ecosystem who has extensive experience with governments at both source and destination.
  • ISB will provide technical expertise to strengthen existing portals and integrate the process of registration of migrant workers with the State Migrant Control Room. They will also collaborate with the consortium in creating research and knowledge outputs. ISB’s technical inputs will also be critical for designing the migration survey and the drafting of the White Paper on migration.

In the long run, this initiative has great lighthouse potential in enabling ecosystem change towards mainstreaming the vulnerabilities and aspirations of migrants into India’s development journey. Our hope is that through these interventions, the Safe & Responsible Migration Initiative will establish itself as a model for collaborative action to build sustainable and scalable safe migration practices throughout the country. Most importantly, it will also provide valuable learnings, knowledge and further inform urgent policy debates and change.