Remittances as a Currency of Care: A Focus on 'Twice Migrants' among the Indian Diaspora in Australia

Article excerpt


Remittances to developing countries have become the focus of increasing attention as they are the largest international flow of money, larger than foreign direct investment and more than double the size of foreign aid (Development Prospects Group, 2007). Policy makers and economists have focused overwhelmingly on remittances from North-South because of their greater total value. South-South remittances have not received the same attention, though they impact nearly the same number of families. This lack of attention to South-South remittances is important for as Ratha et al. (2008) note South-South migration is nearly as large as South-North migration (Ratha, Mohapatra and Xu, 2008).

Developing countries in 2008 received an estimated USD 328 billion. India received the largest amount, estimated at USD 52 billion. Remittances comprise different kinds of monies that flow from migrants to their home country. These include regular and occasional amounts of money sent to the family for housekeeping, investment, re-payment of debts or gift money for special occasions. Migrants also send money home for community development, like the building of a mosque or school. In addition, there is money sent for investment such as the purchase of land or the building of a house. Though remittances in 2009 are expected to fall by 7.3 percent, remittances are more stable and resilient than private flows and official aid to developing countries (Ratha, Mohapatra and Silwal, 2009).

We follow the World Bank in defining the South as low and middle-income countries, excluding the high-income countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council.12 percent of the remittances come from countries of the South (see Figure 1). This may be an underestimate for it does not count irregular migrants (Ratha and Shaw, 2007). Developing countries like India, Malaysia, Russia and South Africa both receive migrants and are the source of migrants (Ratha et al., 2008). Similarly, they receive and are the source of remittances. In 2006, Malaysia for instance remitted USD 5.5 billion while receiving USD 1.3 billion (Asian Development Bank, 2006).


Inadequate data collection is one of the reasons for the lack of attention to South--South migration and remittances (Ratha and Shaw, 2007). We would also like to suggest that in the creative imagination of the South, migration is identified only with current migration to the North. This is despite the fact that migrants to both the South and the North have long sent money home. Chinese migrants to Malaysia sent money home via Chinese banks in the 1930s and 1940s (Singh, 1984). Indians who migrated to California in the early years of the 20th century sent money home using postal foreign money orders (Leonard, 1992). This money was not as frequent or large in value as the money being sent from the United States by Indian professionals in recent years.

Recently, media and literature have engaged more attentively with new diasporas that have formed since the 1960s than those with an older history. Concerning the old Indian diaspora, the literature on Indians in Malaysia, Kenya, and Mauritius is only just appearing (see Ghosh, 2008; Samarasan, 2008; Vassanji, 2003). Few films come to mind that deal with migrants of the old diaspora. Mississippi Masala (1991, directed by Mira Nair) is an exception, dealing with an Indian family expelled from Uganda in the time of Idi Amin and their move to Mississippi.

Mira Nair's film is also an exception in that it deals with "twice migrants" (Bhachu, 1999). The term "twice migrants" denotes people whose family histories include more than one migration, including those who have migrated from an old diaspora to (and themselves forming) a new diaspora. Popular accounts usually neglect this earlier South-South migration and the subsequent multiple migrations. This neglect of twice migrants also ignores the mobility of migrant families today. …