Rural- Urban Inequalities and Migration in Timor-Leste

Andrew McWilliam
Australian National University
Timor-Leste update 28-29 November 2013
Demographic Snapshot of Inequalities.
Population: 1,154,625 (2012)
Population Urban = 29.6%, Rural =
Poverty - 50% less than $2/day – High
levels of vulnerability in rural areas.
Safe Drinking Water: Urban = 91%
Rural = 57%
High child mortality 136/1000 by 5 years
Children in urban areas are almost four
times more likely to be enrolled at
secondary school than their peers in rural
Material Benefits over the last few years
1. Expansion of new schools and
health clinics – much greater access
2. Social payments from the state –
Pensioners, Veterans, village
3. Electricity rollout to much of the rural
4. Expansion of Mobile telephony –
much improved communications
5. Gradual improvements in road
infrastructure and agricultural
Key drivers
• Poor economic prospects in home communities – few employment
• Young people more educated, resistant to taking up semi-subsistence
farming and the confines of aldeia sociality.
• Youthful desire to engage and consume modernity – bright lights and
buzz of the city.
Post 1999 and continuing
• Mobility, migration and urban drift – esp. among young people.
[from village to district towns, and towns to the city]
• Dili population increased by 33 per cent or 58,296 residents
[ represents 40.7% of increased population since 2004]
• Youthful aspirations are constrained by high youth unemployment and
strong competition for limited jobs.
• High levels of disaffection – boredom – gang behaviour – with
unemployment and underemployment a key challenge for the future.
Trans-national Migration: one response
• Since 2000 a sustained international labour migration of young East
Timorese to the United Kingdom seeking low skilled and shift work
opportunities – thousands involved.
• Origins of migration in Student Activism and resistance 1990s –Political
Asylum [Suaka politiku] 1993-4 led to a core group of activists in Portugal
and UK.
2 Key enabling Elements
Post 1999: East Timorese recognised as Portuguese citizens - eligible
for passports and access to EU employment.
Sponsorship in Portugal important to facilitate bureaucratic
processing of passport requirements and help fund costs.
Pathways to work through chain migration of kin (siblings/cousins)
800 young Timorese leaving for overseas work per annum (Shuaib 2008).
2002-2008 boom times – now slowed due to GFC but large numbers still
aspire to make the journey and secure work in UK.
Migration Experiences
Shared living/ access community services/ limited
outside mixing/ poor English/ Low wage, shift work
as source of capital, generating savings from
meagre wages.
[ Renaldo: Oxford 2002-2007, worked as cleaner, night
porter and as shelf stacker at Tesco’s, ₤800/m, saving ₤400/m
to send to wife and children for living expenses and to build
a house]
Dungannon & Portadown (Nth Ireland/Belfast)
• popular – low English requirements
• During boom times >1000 young Timorese
(Male & Female) took up meat packing work.
[Moy Park Chicken – UK market & Euro exports]
• Since 2008 dispersal of migrants to other
cities for work and shifting employment –
Crewe, Peterborough, Bristol, Gloucester…
Social and Economic Dynamics of Remittance landscapes
Western Union (2008) remitting some $370,000 per month into Timor Leste.
Predominantly from UK (Shuaib 2008).
Remittances as monetarised expressions of
care and obligations to family (McKay 2007).
1. Regular financial support for parents,
siblings , spouses and children
• Consumables / daily needs
• Contributions to family life cycle
events – marriage / funerals
2 Savings to build or renovate housing
Financial stake for economic enterprise
Kios/ trading capital /micro-enterprise
Funding for further training in higher
education and to support education of
Ira Ara, Old and New: 2013
Building boom,
95% funded from UK work
New housing as an index of migration success.
[$5000 = rendered cinder block house & metal
roof and tiled floor after one year in the UK ]
Negatives impacts
Long absences strongly felt.
Lack of young people to provide social
labour for ceremonies and farming.
Social jealousies and resentments
Weakening of cultural bonds – few people
return to settle for good.
Sense that UK work does not build career skills
Changing Livelihoods and opportunities
Shuaib (2008) – ‘Households with members working
UK employment contributes up to $8million per
annum to Timor Leste economy – with large local
Value of inward remittances to Timor Leste makes
labour the country’s second largest export after
Government supported scheme: South Korea 2000,
Malaysia and Indonesia. Seasonal Workers Program
in Australia - horticulture and hospitality – 50
participants but unattractive costs for employers.
Role for greater government policy support for
labour migration and remittances
overseas and sending remittances are better off financially
by many multiples than households pursuing local
• International migration (for labour and education) has
become a livelihood choice– given continuing poor
employment prospects in Timor Leste – a growing trend
• Near neighbour Australia has a long term demand for
labour and the capacity to provide training in occupational
skills. Timor-Leste has a growing generation of young
people seeking employment opportunities--- an opportunity
waiting to be fulfilled.