Future Beyond Migration

By Kensuke Matsueda

“What are your feelings about youth migration?”

My colleague and I asked this quick question randomly to some Nepalese people who joined the celebration event for the International Youth Day 2013, which was held under the theme of ‘Youth Migration and Development’ in Kathmandu, Nepal in August. For this stab, I prepared the flip cards with twenty key words such as ‘empowerment’ ‘change’ and ‘choice,’ which could probably reflect one’s idea and feeling about youth migration. The sample size was very small so that I cannot over generalize the result, but there seemed to be an interesting trend. Then what was the word that the majority chose? The most popular word of the day was ‘future.’

Why do people move from one place to another? This sounds like a very tough question for me, but the shortest answer could be ‘it depends.’ As far as I understand, the movement of people, what you call ‘migration’ in a broader sense, is one of the most complex phenomena in this globalized world, and it is too multifaceted to simplify. That said, if we take a particular angle, it becomes somehow understandable. For example, ‘youth migration’ is one of many angles and it can be a good starting point to think about a possible answer to such a big question.

Then why do Nepalese youth migrate? In Nepal, an estimated 400,000 young people enter the labour market each year. Nevertheless, according to the Department of Foreign Employment, the Government of Nepal, around 1,500 young people leave for foreign employment to countries other than India every day, due to the absence of decent employment opportunities within the country, particularly in rural areas. For many Nepalese youth, therefore, migration to India and overseas has become an attractive option as well as last resort. Therein lies the word ‘future’ for Nepalese youth.

“Avoid foreign employment, work for the nation.” In the national IYD celebration week, one of the Nepalese youth groups drew the media’s attention through performing an intriguing street drama. It depicted various hardships that migrant workers abroad undergo and conveyed the message of avoiding such adversities, promoting domestic job creation instead and building a better country. Considering the risk of being involved in exploitation and trafficking through illegal migration channels as the worst-case scenario, it is also the case that migration does not always bring us good consequences.

Some youth see the future in labour migration, while others see the risk of slowing down the national development in it. This is, nevertheless, not a matter of black and white, nor right and wrong. Promoting safe labour migration could not be constructive enough, while just criticizing brain drain could not bring any solution either. The important thing is to keep thinking and discussing over the nexus between migration and development on the whole, and to find a way to go ahead.

In Kathmandu, there is a small, cozy and well-hidden café which serves really good coffee. This café is unique among others. A number of returnee labour migrants from Korea have come up with an idea of running small business and established the café named ‘mitini’ (means ‘best friend’ in Nepali) with a small shop space selling adorable hand-made products by Nepalese women. The knowledge, skills, experiences and passions that they had gained in places thousands of miles away from home have just started to bud in their home land, albeit slowly. Herein must lie the true sense of the word ‘future’ for Nepalese youth, and also the significance of migration for development.


Ken Matsueda is a communication officer in IOM Nepal