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  • Writer's pictureDhyan

Perspectives and experiences of migrants and their families on moving from villages to cities

One of Empatika’s first studies was a project for the World Bank looking at rural-to-urban migration. The most common reason we heard from all types of migrants across all study areas to move to urban areas was economic. People often told us that there was nothing for them in the village or that farming did not provide them with enough income, even when they owned their land. Cash flow in the village could be more consistent and seasonal. Strong family ties are key in people's migration decisions, providing role models and a trusted support network. For example, families who have already migrated extend invitations and support to others to migrate from the village.

minibus driver
A migrant minibus driver in Makassar

One of the many interesting things about this study was seeing some of the different perspectives on migration, particularly between different age groups or people at different life stages. Here are three stories shared by study participants, including perspectives and experiences from two parents, a young migrant, and an adult migrant.


How rural parents feel about their children migrating

Even if a community is very accustomed to migration, migration still means being separated from your loved ones. Parents in West Java shared with us how they are anxious about their children going away. A mother food seller in Makassar has a 20-year-old daughter who is about to finish the midwifery training and has received a job offer on a different island. She told us that she is worried for her daughter even though they have extended family there. She would prefer that her daughter stays close, but simultaneously, she realizes it is a great opportunity.


"I'm okay that all my sons are in the city rather than in the village where they would not be working. I feel a bit lonely, but I'm okay."

- Mother, food seller, Makassar.





Similarly, a mother kiosk owner in West Java shared that she is not looking forward to her 16-year-old daughter going away after graduating from senior high school. "She will go someday... to get a better job like in a factory." She compared this to the boys in the village whom she felt sad for as they are ‘just hanging around, out of school with no work’.


We found that there were many reasons for young people to migrate to bigger cities. Migration is expected to widen young people's horizons and give them richer life and work experiences. For example, young people we met valued the opportunity of meeting people from various places. The pursuit of higher education and a lack of work opportunities in the village were significant drivers for young people to migrate while having problems with one's family was a reason to migrate for others. Sometimes, a certain role model, an older successful migrant, inspires young people to migrate.


Running Away

This is the story of a young migrant, a young women who migrated from her village to the city of Makassar.

A woman street vendor in Makassar told us that as a young girl, she had never imagined she would leave her village. But then her parents arranged a marriage for her. "I was not ready to get married then, and not to that man. He was too old for me." She said she was pressured to accept as he had money to support her family. "The only way to avoid this was to run away, so without knowing what will I do or how I would live, I came to Makassar." She stayed with a friend until she could afford her place. That time was very difficult for her. Luckily one of her relatives who owns a boutique asked her to work for her, and looking for better opportunities is easier for her. She feels she has a good life in Makassar, able to send money to her family in the village and save some money herself. "I had to do well in Makassar, so people in my village could see that I did not have to marry that rich man to have a good life."


"If I do not go (to town), I do not grow." Rubbish collector, 23, Medan

Some adult migrants live alone in the city, and fathers often leave their wives and children in the village. Many who have tried living separately from their migrant spouse told us that they find this emotionally difficult. In some cases, though, such as this family, after the husband had migrated on his own for many years, in the end, the family decided to all move to the city and lived together.


The need for cash and the reality of, or people's frustration with, farming means that more people will move to cities in search of a steady, secure income. However, many of the migrant workers we met were low-skilled and consequently low-paid, and it was rare for people to share their ambitions to radically change the nature of the work they were engaged with. More frequently, the only option for better income envisaged was setting up their own business.

Working in the village is too hard

This is the story of two adult migrants, a father who migrated to Jakarta and his wife who eventually joined him.

The husband of a couple we met used to be a security guard in a factory in Jakarta but left after five tears because he wanted to stay with his wife and their firstborn in the village. He resumed his former job cutting and hauling timber but shared, "The work was so hard, I had to bring timber from the hill by hand." He had not expected that after five years in Jakarta, he would have a different energy to work. His wife added, "Back in the village, he went to work for two days but then needed to rest for seven days," so they decided to return to Jakarta. They learned how to make ketoprak (a rice cake dish with tofu, bean sprouts and peanut sauce) from an uncle. The father enjoys working as a ketoprak seller, and the money is easier. His wife said she would have her ketoprak stall after the baby was big enough to take care of himself.


"If you want a job, you need to have connections." various people, Medan.


Fieldwork for this study was conducted in ten locations; five urban and five rural. The urban locations included Jakarta, Medan, Tangerang, and Makassar, while the rural locations included villages in Cirebon, Pemalang, Samosir, Jeneponto, and Manggarai Timur districts. As part of this study we also collaborated with Pulse Lab Jakarta, who provided insights on mobility from the analysis of mobile phone network usage.





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