Investigating migration through a household survey

Fifty locations in the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna delta were selected for implementation of the cross-sectional household survey. Sampling was undertaken in two stages. The first stage divided the study areas into five hazard zones (very low, low, medium, high, very high). Each cluster of households in the study area was assigned one of five hazard categories based on the risk category with the greatest percentage coverage in the cluster. In each stratum (multi-hazard zone), a number of clusters were selected proportional to the number of clusters in each stratum. Once clusters had been selected, a household listing took place based on demographic and migration characteristics. This approach resulted in 1356 valid sex- disaggregated questionnaires across 14 districts: Bagerhat, Barguna, Bhola, Chandpur, Chattogram, Cox’s Bazar, Gopalganj, Jessore, Khulna, Laxmi- pur, Noakhali, Pirojpur, Potuakhali and Satkhira. The survey captures voluntary and planned migration more than forced displacement, and thus the results presented are biased towards these migration types, with supplementary information on displacement where available.

Migration patterns in Bangladesh

Who migrates, where, why and for how long?

The migration patterns highlight who migrates where and our survey data provides insights into the reasons for, and duration of, the migration. The vast majority of migrants are men. Survey findings reinforce earlier studies that found that 75 per cent and 83 per cent of internal migrants are male (Hossain et al. 2013; Sharma and Zaman 2009). They migrate internally, typically from rural areas to urban areas, which confirms findings from earlier panel surveys (e.g., Rahman et al. 1996) (Figure 8.1). Dhaka, which represents nearly 40 per cent of the urban population of Bangladesh, had net annual migration arrivals during the 2000-10 period of 300,000-400,000 (teLintelo et al. 2018). Approximately 58 per cent of all internal migrants in Bangladesh head to Dhaka (Siddiqui and Mahmud 2014). Chattogram grew by 3.6 per cent per year across the period 1990-2011 and had an aggregate population of four million in 2011 compared to 3.3 million in 2001 (Mia et al. 2015). Analysis of the household survey data revealed that Dhaka and Chattogram together accounted for almost 43 per cent of all

Gendered migration patterns from the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna delta in Bangladesh

Figure 8.1 Gendered migration patterns from the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna delta in Bangladesh.

Source: Shouvik Das using DECCMA survey data, 2016-17.

internal migration. Only 8 per cent of internal migrants in the survey were women, and over half of them moved to Dhaka, with smaller numbers migrating to Chattogram and Khulna. Government data also suggest that both male and female migration is increasing over time (BBS 2008).

Although the majority of migrants in our survey were internal, moving within Bangladesh’s borders, a significant number also migrated internationally. Trends for international migration from Bangladesh have existed since independence in 1971 and patterns reflect colonial history.

A considerable number of Bangladeshis have been living abroad for some rime, relocating primarily ro the United Kingdom (Hadi 2001). In 2004, the size of the Bangladeshi diaspora in selected developed countries was around 1.5 million (Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment and IOM 2004). The findings of the household survey revealed that 37 per cent of migrants have relocated to international destinations. Oman (26 per cent), United Arab Emirates (24 per cent) and Saudi Arabia (16 per cent) were the most prevalent destinations among Bangladeshi migrants. Malaysia (7.5 per cent), Bahrain (5.8 per cent), Qatar (5.2 per cent) and Kuwait (4.0 per cent) were also cited by survey respondents.

The vast majority of international migrants are male. In our survey less than 3 per cent of the 173 reported international migrants were females. However, like female internal migration, female international migration is increasing. In 2006 the Bangladesh government lifted a restriction on female workers and since then the number of women migrating abroad has increased significantly. However, numbers are still small compared to men due to gender roles and relations creating an expectations that women should stay in the home.

For both internal and international migration, economic opportunities are the major reason for migration. Within Bangladesh, urban areas provide opportunities in both formal and informal sectors of the economy associated with the rapid industrialization and urban growth of the country. The majority of internal migrants captured in the household survey are waged workers (36 per cent) or own a small, mostly informal, business (9 per cent). The same is true for international migration, which has grown as a result of the ongoing fragile socio-economic conditions in Bangladesh that have driven people to seek employment opportunities elsewhere. The Middle East and Asia provide many opportunities for unskilled and semi-skilled labour, for example in the construction industry.

Figure 8.2 shows that, among the 156 households with a migrant, economic reasons for migration are by far the most prevalent, cited by nearly two-thirds of migrant families. This category includes pull factors, such as employment, and push factors, such as debt or loss of income in one or more seasons. The second most common motivation for migration is family reasons, for example a woman moving either to join her husband or for marriage. Nevertheless, these account for less than one-fifth of migrant households. Environmental stresses, such as environmental degradation and extreme events, account for 13 per cent of migration. This is consistent with an earlier study where 10 per cent of respondents attributed the primary reason for their migration to climatic stresses, although many of them had experienced different types of climate stresses and reported challenges of food security (Martin et al. 2013). Instead over a third said that their motivation for leaving was to earn a better income and have a better life. Housing problems, social/political problems and education each account for less than 5 per cent. The reason for migration is linked with gendered patterns. The gender roles and expectations are that men should engage in

Reason for migration in migrant households (n = 463). Source

Figure 8.2 Reason for migration in migrant households (n = 463). Source: DECCMA survey data, 2016-17.

productive labour to support their families, so when there is a need to move for economic reasons, it is more likely that the man will be the one to leave.

The duration of migration varies. Overall in Bangladesh, there is an increasing trend for temporary and circular migration, with short-term durations dominating over long-term ones (Hossain et al. 2013). The overwhelming majority (84 per cent) of international migrants are employed under a temporary contract that usually lasts three years.


The migration outlined above is voluntary, in that people made the choice to leave. Forced migration, or displacement, whereby people have to move from their homes, is also common (Begum 2017). Situated on a delta, with the majority of the land less than 10m above mean sea level, Bangladesh is exposed to cyclones, flooding and erosion. Annually approximately 60,000 people are made landless as a result of the normal reshaping of the chars due to erosion (Hutton and Haque 2003). On top of this, an estimated 50 million people are exposed to, or affected by, disasters every five years, with the coasts facing a severe cyclone every three years on average, and a quarter of the country getting inundated during the annual monsoon rains (Shamsuddoha et al. 2013). Loss of houses and/or land can lead to forced migration or displacement.

Forced migration as a result of displacement does not exhibit the same gender differences as voluntary migration, nor the same patterns. Postdisaster movement typically involves short distances, but large numbers of people, with whole families moving together. For example, the 1998 floods inundated 61 per cent of the country, rendering 45 million people homeless. There were 26 major cyclones from 1970 to 2009, with the largest, Sidr, in

2007, displacing 650,000 people. Cyclone Sidr left US$1.7 billion of damage, approximately half of which was attributed to houses lost in the storm (World Bank 2010).

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