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Afghan cities offer few opportunities
for rising numbers of rural migrants
A report by the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit

2 May 2005: The number of young landless and homeless rural Afghans migrating to the country’s cities is rapidly increasing. Most migrants are young adults, with the majority being married. Once in the cities, rural migrants spend most any earning on basis living necessities such as food and housing with little chance of accumulating savings. Women earn less than half than men in the same job sectors.

A report by the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit shows that young adults were most likely to migrate, with the average age of the population being 31.19 years. The study, entitled ‘Rural to urban labour migration in Afghanistan’, aimed to provide a better understanding of the reasons for, and reality and patterns of, rural to urban labour migration in the country, as it relates to individual and household risk management.

The report is based on primary information collected through a survey on 997 individuals in three cities: Kabul, Herat and Jalalabad. The majority of the respondents were married (66.7%); half had brought their families with them to the cities. Most of the migrants also provided the main source of income for their households, and landlessness and homelessness were very high among respondents, 71 and 43 per cent respectively.

The majority of the respondents were married (66.7%); half had brought their families with them to the cities. Most of the migrants also provided the main source of income for their households, and landlessness and homelessness were very high among respondents, 71 and 43 percent respectively.

Migration flow towards the cities is rapidly increasing. Nearly half of the migrants interviewed had come to the cities within the last year. Not surprisingly, lack of work in the rural areas and the perception of better opportunities in town were the major causes of migration. A majority of the respondents (70.2%) also had experience of cross-border migration.

As might be expected, the costs associated with migration to the cities can be quite high. Savings constitute a major portion of the money used to migrate, though some migrants did note receipt of assistance from other sources (friends, family). Once in the city, migrants spend a significant portion of their earned income on basic necessities of living (housing, food) and therefore they accumulate little. Women, in particular, earn on average two and half times less than their male counterparts in the same job sectors.

What this study found that was surprising, however, relates to the ability to access labour markets in urban areas and the lack of seasonality of migrant flow.

Specifically, the research revealed:
- Lack of access to labour markets. It took an average of three weeks for the migrants to get any type of employment in the city. Despite possessing the skills for certain jobs, daily wage labour and unskilled work in the construction sites are the main sources of employment for the new migrants. Incidence of unemployment in cities remains high, and there are no formal opportunities for workers to gain skills that would help them to graduate to more secure employment.

Accessing the labour markets is also difficult for the migrants because they usually lack any vertical social relations, which can assist them in finding work. The majority of the respondents (66%) got their first job in the city without any help of others. However, those who can establish social connections are able to access more gainful and secure employment. For women, in particular, support from social connections is crucial to finding a job.

- Self employment. A small portion of the study population were able to start their own business venture, however, this task is also difficult, as it took on average two years’ time to start a business. Capital was required in almost all cases, and the average required was $170. In most cases, savings were the main source of accumulating capital for initiating a business. In a few cases, it as observed that social connections played a role that replaced the need for financial capital.

- Migration flow. In most of the cases, rural to urban migration seems to be unidirectional. More than half of the respondents had planned to settle permanently in the cities, while 13.4 percent had already settled in the cities. Perceived higher economic opportunities account for the most significant reason people planned to settle.

This study also revealed that the common assumption that people migrate to urban areas during the agricultural ‘off seasons’ and then return when on-farm labour opportunities increase is a false one. Seasonality and the cycles of rural employment seemed to have little effect on the timing of migration and return of migrants to their home villages.

- The perception of an urban advantage. Despite the problems faced by the migrants in finding a job or a place to live and the high cost of living in the cities, many of the respondents felt that they had managed to improve their economic situation through migration. The length of migration was found to correlate significantly with the improvement of economic situation of the migrants. Nevertheless, many migrants noted a constant struggle to afford city living, and the average savings migrants had in hand at the time of interview was only 100 Afs [US$2].

This research highlights how rural to urban migration is an outcome of prevailing rural poverty. While migrants may perceive an improvement in their economic situation, migration is also responsible for shifting rural poverty to urban settings. Likewise, urban labour markets are not expanding to accommodate the increasing flow of migrants to the cities, which is aggravating the complexity of poverty.

While this study does not make suggestions for migration policy per se, it does include recommendations for interventions that can be developed both at the source and at the destination of migration. These include: creation of programmes that promote employment in non-agricultural activities in rural areas; expansion of schemes to provide low-cost housing for the rural and urban poor; provision of skill enhancement opportunities in the urban areas; and increased facilities for on-the-job training in urban employment sectors, among others. A comprehensive poverty alleviation strategy, however, is urgently needed to supplement these interventions.

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