Communication Tools and Community-Driven Initiatives to Improve Migrant Well-Being
On the 26 of June, the Scalabrini Institute for Human Mobility in Africa (SIHMA) started cooperating with the Spanish PhD Student Jose Olcina and his migration research project "Lessons from intra-African migration in South Africa to improve the well-being of the sub-Saharan migrant population in a vulnerable situation in Spain. An intersectional perspective¨
Jose Olcina is a journalist and anthropologist, and a part-time PhD student in Health Sciences at the University of Alicante (Spain). Jose´s ethnographic research has a multidisciplinary approach in which Health Sciences, Anthropology and Communication Sciences converge, and investigates the way to improve the well-being and sense of belonging of the migrant population through the identification and use of awareness tools and community-led actions through which migrants are empowered and their agency strengthen.
During his stay in Cape Town, Jose Olcina has collaborated with the University of Cape Town (UCT) Migration for Development and Equality (MIDEQ) Hub, directed by Dr Faisal Garba for three months, and participated in ongoing research focused on Ethiopian citizens living in South Africa, and the nexus between migration, inequality, and development. The HUB aims to translate its knowledge into concrete policies and practices which could improve the lives of migrants, their families and the communities in which they live. One of the three areas of work of the Hub is to address prejudice, discrimination and exclusion related to South-South migration, and in that sense, the researcher wanted to participate in the investigation and analyse the type of interventions that the Hub considered relevant to develop and strengthen the agency, voice, and participation of migrants and their families so that they could shape their environment and the decision-making processes that affect their well-being.
The researcher's main two objectives while at UCT were: first to identify the assets of the migrant population from the community perspective and examine and classify the tools used to confer and strengthen the agency of migrant citizens; and second to interview members of the migrant population about the use of these tools and understand the result of using these empowerment initiatives.
While participating in the MIDEQ program allowed to reach the first objective, favoured the researcher's understanding of intra-African and South-South migration patterns and offered considerable added value to identifying and responding to the challenges faced by the sub-Saharan migrant population, the researcher was not able to reach his second objective. Even though he was able to interview some undocumented citizens working as domestic workers in the safe environment of the homes in which they provided their services, the researcher experienced serious difficulties engaging with more undocumented citizens from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) living in Cape Town. In that sense, SIHMA proved to be the best partner to achieve his second objective, and it did not only become an important partner to engage with non-national citizens in a situation of vulnerability but as well offered a space in which these interviews could be carried out providing a safe and secure environment in which the interviewees could answer the questions without experiencing any fear of being exposed to any risk.
The collaboration project with SIHMA has been planned in two phases and will extend for a period of 3 to 4 months. The first phase of this project carried out in the last week of May and the first week of June, included in-depth individual interviews with undocumented citizens, without work or residence permits, as well as asylum seekers. These interviews aimed at understanding the personal situation of these citizens, their greatest challenges in South Africa at an economic, political, and social level, their relationship with the local population, as well as the identification of communication tools and community-driven activities used to participate in their communities and to improve their relationship with the local population and with African citizens of other nationalities.
The second phase of the investigation, starting in September, will include discussion groups with citizens of various nationalities of the SADC to define which tools are the most suitable to strengthen the identity of the migrant group and to change the prevailing negative narrative that hinders their sense of belonging, their well-being and their value recognition in the community.
While the data collected in the first phase of the investigation is being analysed, the researcher is in Spain preparing and conducting interviews with citizens of Sub-Saharan Africa living in the province of Alicante, one of the most migrant densely populated in the country. The aim is to find similarities and differences between the data collected in Cape Town and Alicante and identify communication tools and community-driven initiatives used in South Africa that could be utilised as well in Spain to improve the sense of belonging of migrant citizens and their well-being in the holistic sense.
This ethnographic research in Cape Town is a building block for the researcher's doctoral thesis and provides an opportunity to analyse and understand South-South migratory patterns, carry out cross-learning in subsequent phases of the research and compare the migration and interaction circumstances of Intra-African migrants with that of the sub-Saharan population migrating towards Europe.
The current legislative shift that South Africa is undergoing, with stricter controls on irregular migration, proved to be at the same time a challenging moment to engage with the migrant community who reacted with fear to the research, but as well a valuable circumstance to understand the effects of these changes paired with increasing xenophobic demonstrations. This information is very relevant in a moment in which the Spanish extreme right-wing party VOX is increasing its influence and arriving at political alliances with the moderate right-wing party governing in some regions of Spain. As in many other places, also in South Africa, migration is being used as a scapegoat to avoid recognising the lack of solutions to provide basic services to the most vulnerable population, and to gain political power.
The researcher believes that the identification of communication tools and community-driven initiatives utilized by migrants in the countries of origin, and its use at local level in the country of destination can benefit the sense of belonging, the relation with the community and the well-being of the migrant population.
University of Alicante Doctoral School, Spain.