Giuseppe do you remember when, in the middle of the night, I was holding you by your hand, squeezing it so tightly that you would burst into tears because of the pain? You were only six years old then and I was terrified that I would lose you in the midst of the human river flooding the “Stazione Centrale di Milano”. Pouring out of the trains thousands of Italian migrants like ourselves, were returning home, travelling towards il Meridione (the South) from all over Europe to spend the annual July/August construction sector’s seasonal break with their families.

Stazione Centrale di Milano 1960 (Milan Central Station Italian migrants boarding trains)

My parents migrated to Luxembourg easily thanks to the European Coal and Steel Community rules about migrant workers (coming from the Benelux, France, Italy and Germany).   As far as the movement of skilled workers was concerned, the ECSC countries had to remove restrictions on employment based on nationality. For the other categories of workers, and in the event of shortages of that type of labor, the countries were called upon to make the necessary adjustments to immigration rules to enable workers from other countries to be employed. This allowed our family to migrate together.

By sheer luck, I did my schooling at the Ecole Européenne de Luxembourg, a private school that was meant for the children of the civil servants working for the ECSC. My parents could not afford the tuition fee, but the latter was paid by the Italian government to fill in the Italian section of the school; you see, there weren’t enough Italian civil servants in Luxembourg then, so they allowed the sons and daughters of Italian migrants to attend.

The rest is history, what were the odds that the son of an illiterate migrant from south Italy would learn to speak 5 languages and 2 dialects, go to university and study economics and later political science and become an investment banker?

But what are the lessons that I have learned from my family’ experience? My parents’ migration was just but one example out of millions proving that migration worked for both the sending and hosting countries, that unskilled migrants if given a chance, would make sure that their children receive a proper education and have a better life than theirs, that social mobility in a foreign country and at home was possible if migrants were offered a regulated environment wherein to thrive. That if more attention had been given to the migration process in Italy, many Italians would have been spared abuse, denigration, belittlement. How similar are the stories of migrants from South Asia to the Italians of not even a century ago! Time had come to put migrants at the center of the migration narrative, shift the focus from the remittances to the migration process failures present in the countries of origin.

But I was still a banker and the moment wasn’t ripe to start my new career as a Labor migration Consultant and create Migration Protocol.

In 2014 I decided to take a break from my banking career and join my family who had recently settled in Nepal. In April and May 2015, I was in Kathmandu when the country was hit by two devastating earthquakes that claimed the life of more than nine thousand people and caused the collapse of more than 600,000 houses.

Considering one in two households in Nepal had at least one family member in migration, half of those who had lost their house were probably migrants households. The International Organization of Migration (IOM) Nepal, given my financial background, asked my support in trying to  link the remittance flow, then representing 28% of Nepal’s GDP, with the reconstruction grants  so to  secure sufficient financial support to migrants’ households reconstruction effort. I accepted the request on a pro-bono basis.

I represented the IOM Nepal in all the meetings involving the financial aspects of the reconstruction efforts and  joined the work group led by the World Bank to assess the consequences of the earthquake on Nepal’s financial sector, its possible disruption and impairments in dispatching financial aid and other vital services. Eventually the work group, together with other International Agencies and Donor countries contributed to Nepal’s Planning Commission Earthquake Post Disaster Needs Assessment.

During these months I learned about the market failures that were affecting negatively the migration process and the Nepali migrants. They ranged from unjustified and excessive fees paid to unscrupulous recruitment agents, usury rates charged by moneylenders, corruption in various departments, human trafficking, gender discriminations that were putting migrants’ wellbeing and life at risk.

And while most of the issues were domestic, migration stakeholders in a disproportionate manner were prioritizing the cost of remitting money and the productive ways migrants should be using their hard earned revenues.

To bring things in perspective the excessive fees charged by the recruitment agencies combined with the cost of borrowing money to pay for them represents at least  to 70% of the expected revenue of an unskilled migrant for a contract of two years, while remittances costs would represent only 4.4% of the same revenue. In 2015 the migration business in Nepal before deployment abroad represented 4% of the country’s GDP (a conservative estimate). I felt that the migration stakeholders were looking the wrong way. Too little was done to resolve market failures affecting the migration progress during the pre-departure phase back home.

So I decided to start my own consultancy firm and in a rather immodest way I called it Migration Protocol, and the motto  “fair, safe, and regular migration begins at home” summarizes well enough its mission statement.

Since then I’ve been working with the IOM and supported the creation of a migration database in Nepal now called the Foreign Employment Information Management System (FEIMS). As I write, a risk -mitigation solutions that I’ve suggested, will make loans for migration available at affordable rates to migrants without the need of mortgaging property.

Through UKaid Nepal (DFID) Skills for Employment Programme (SEP), and in cooperation with the ILO,  as a labour migration consultant I am contributing to the implementation of a fair migration process and bringing financial solutions tailored to the migrants’ need  particularly to the poorest women and disadvantaged groups.  Under SEP, other services for migrants such as pre-skilling, work permits release and medical checks will be decentralized and brought to the migrant place of residence, while support will be given to the Government of Nepal in developing a national migration management policy for the country.

Hopefully Migration Protocol will continue in its ambition to bring the migrant’s voice to the table of the various actors involved with migration for many more years and that reminds of another question that was put to me recently by my friend;

“Giuseppe, do you believe in Karma?”

“I can’t answer you now dear Saurab, I’m not done with this lifecycle yet, let’s wait a little longer before drawing the sum of my actions.”

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