Opening Remarks by Dr. Edward Lahiff – Principal Investigator of the project
Upholding the rights of rural-to-urban migrants, and ensuring their social and economic inclusion, are significant policy challenges across the developing world, particularly in countries such as Vietnam that are undergoing rapid industrialisation and urbanisation. Rural-to-urban migrants, many of them low-skilled, poorly educated and relatively poor, constitute a marginalised and vulnerable group within urban spaces, and struggle to access housing, employment and social services such as health and education for themselves and their families. Within this, women are often doubly disadvantaged in terms of employment, exploitation, violence and the added burden of domestic responsibilities towards spouses, children and parents in unfamiliar environments and across great physical distance. Social services in Vietnam’s cities, including housing, education, health and welfare, are generally stressed and may not meet the needs of new arrivals. Employment can be divided between the formal and informal sectors, and further between those who have formal contracts and those who do not, creating further vulnerability. As a result, many migrants must take recourse to poor quality, informal housing, often without any tenure security, in overcrowded and unsanitary settlements, where they may be subject to various forms of exploitation by landlords and others. Lack of education, appropriate skills or access to formal employment opportunities means that many migrants end up working in informally in areas such as petty trading, construction, rubbish collection, domestic work, with inferior terms and conditions compared to more established urban workers.
Official policy in Vietnam, in areas such as housing, health, education and employment, acknowledges the challenges presented by rural-urban migration, but state agencies at national, provincial and city level may lack the capacity to respond to the needs of migrants in a meaningful way. Social protection policies have been extended to many groups in society, but do not as yet not provide adequate coverage for migrants operating in the informal economy. As a result, the social and economic integration of migrants has been slow. Against this background, a range of civil society organisations are working with migrants, and the state agencies, to address the needs of migrants and their families.
While there is widespread awareness of the vulnerability and marginalisation of migrants in Vietnam’s urban areas, not enough is known about the lived experience of migrants as they seek to integrate into urban life, participate in the urban economy and maintain relationships with their rural homes. Official reports and statistics give a broad outline of the challenge, but we know little about how migrants construct their livelihoods, their own perceptions of the workings of officialdom or the effectiveness of civil society organisations in meeting their multiple needs. Scholarly research in this important field has concentrated on the motivations of people leaving their rural homes, and the economic effects of migration. There has been relatively little research into the process of social inclusion, migrants’ perceptions of this process, and the role played by state and non-state agencies.
High-quality applied research has the potential to provide valuable insight into the livelihoods and experience of migrants, and the operation of the social services that affect them, and thereby contribute directly to policy making and wider awareness of these issues. This is of direct relevance to local and national government agencies, to civil society organisations working in the field, and to donors and other international bodies seeking to advance the rights and the social inclusion of vulnerable groups. It can also contribute to the growing international debates about urbanisation and inclusion that are of great relevance to developing countries, as well as higher-income countries faced with their own challenges posed by migration and social inclusion.
The challenge of social integration in Vietnam’s urban areas calls for an engaged and interdisciplinary approach that integrates elements from the fields of social policy, economics, migration studies and gender studies that, together, can provide new insights into the world of migrants and the policy environment in which they seek to make a living. Close collaboration between academics, state agencies and non-governmental organisations is essential to such an approach.