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Migrants on the Margins

Researchers conducting community interviews in Colombo, Sri Lanka Researchers conducting community interviews in Colombo, Sri Lanka RGS-IBG
24 Feb
Migrants on the Margins, a three-year field research project led by the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) is attempting to improve our understanding of the experiences of migrants and their access to urban opportunities

By 2050, 5.2 billion people are expected to live in urban areas in Africa and Asia, almost double that of today. The movements of migrants, typically into informal settlements on the margins of rapidly growing cities, are some of the most important and least studied migration patterns worldwide.

It is not clear what impacts migrants have on the places they move too, nor is it clear how cities should respond. Very little is understood about the life chances of the migrants themselves and the issue will only worsen as populations grow and the impact of climate change is increasingly felt.

Following the successful October 2016 kick-off meeting of Migrants on the Margins, in partnership with a consortium of UK universities and international partners, field research is now underway in four study cities: Colombo (Sri Lanka), Dhaka (Bangladesh), Harare (Zimbabwe) and Hargeisa (Somaliland). Each city faces rapid urban development and significant ongoing migration from nearby rural areas.

Dr Chris Smith (University of Sussex) has spent two weeks in Colombo, Dhaka and Hargeisa. Working with the project’s partner organisations, he has trained survey enumerators, convened focus groups, and completed interviews with subjects.

The initial results of this work have been used to explore the attitudes of both migrants and non-migrants to integration into life in their cities, and to inform the questions used in the main field surveys and interviews conducted in each city.

The field surveys are collecting data from thousands of individuals in communities across the four study cities, and they will be repeated in January 2018 to provide longitudinal data. The results from the surveys will be used to answer a range of questions that are focused on the experience of migrants and identifying opportunities for urban transformation.


These include

• What determines if migration to a city is a pathway into poverty?

• Does ongoing mobility provide a way out of poverty?

• How can the arrival of migrants be supported in sustainable ways to reduce the chances of them becoming trapped in poverty?

Another element of the Migrants on the Margins project is community mapping in each of the cities. Led by new team member Dr Nishat Awan (University of Sheffield), the research will focus on how migrants use and move about their neighbourhoods and cities, the role of community or residents’ associations, and urban planning strategies.

The work will involve the direct mapping of communities and walks with migrants to see how spaces are used, interviews with community and city planning bodies, and oral histories of migrants.


Focus on project PhD students

Mohammed Mohideen Alikhan

Working with Professor Mike Collyer (University of Sussex), Ali’s research will focus on the experience of migrants from Sri Lanka’s plantations in Colombo. Ali has extensive experience of managing survey research in Colombo, as well as having personal experience of forced displacement within Sri Lanka.

Selina Pasirayi

Working with Professor JoAnn McGregor (University of Sussex), Selina’s research will focus on the relationship between livelihoods in informal settlements and urban governance. Selina has a wealth of policy experience in urban development and has led studies on urban resilience and service delivery in poor neighbourhoods in Harare, Zimbabwe.

You can keep up to date with Migrants on the Margins by reading the blog at www.rgs.org/migrantsmarginsblog

This was published in the March 2017 edition of Geographical magazine.

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