Sunday, June 12, 2016

Migrant labour brings enormous economic benefits, and wrenching heartache

EATING chips in a Singapore McDonald’s with his press clippings proudly spread in front of him, Mohammed Mukul Hossine is revelling in his status as a published poet. The 25-year-old Bangladeshi’s day job is working on the piling for a new block of luxury flats. With a father back home undertaking the haj this year, and one of his eight siblings still in school, he needs the money. His book of poems, “Me Migrant”, which he paid to have translated from Bengali to English, and which were then “transcreated” by Cyril Wong, a Singaporean poet, will not be a bestseller. But it has drawn some attention to a large, often overlooked slice of Singapore’s population: its 1m “work permit” holders—migrant workers on two-year contracts.

The poems suggest, unsurprisingly, that their lives are pretty miserable.

The International Labour Organisation estimates that the Asia-Pacific region was host in 2013 to 25.8m migrant workers. They have done wonders for both their home and destination countries. Rapidly ageing societies such as Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan are short of workers. Younger, poorer places such as Bangladesh, India, Nepal and the Philippines need the money their emigrants send home. So Cambodians work on South Korean farms; young Chinese men work in Tokyo’s convenience stores; and South Asians toil on Singapore’s building sites. The World Bank estimates that of the ten countries that receive the most in remittances from overseas workers, five are in Asia. In the Philippines, remittances are equal to 10% of GDP.

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