The Faces and Places of Security Migration: A Multipart Blog Series

I’ve been living out of my suitcase for the past 10 months now researching the various people and sites that govern Nepali (and the broader global South) workforces into the private security industry. In fact, my academic work to date has focused largely on how labour is organised and managed in the production of global security and how we produce knowledge about security experts/professionalism and value,with specific focus on the private security industry and Gurkhas.  This research include location sites of Afghanistan, UAE, Qatar, UK and Nepal. It also comprises of interviews with security professionals/practitioners (defined by the security industry as highly skilled management and low skilled global South workforces), security company directors, global recruitment companies, local manpower providers (in Nepal), government officials, labour activists, academics and security migrant families.

a post interview photo with Hindi (pseudonym), a wife of a foreign security worker in Qatar. She has not seen her husband is 1.5 years and is looking forward to his 1 month off in 6 months time. They have one daughter who is 2 years old and she lives with her family in Jhapa district, Nepal.

Below is a brief (and developing) visual ethnography of the different people and places that make up global security migration. This particular post mainly focuses on recruitment processes and pathways young Nepali men (and sometimes women) venture through in becoming foreign security workers–be it Gurkhas or unarmed security contractors. In both cases, the motivations are largely centred around unequal economic geographies and the hopes and militarised fantasies of what foreign security work can offer them and their families.

a Gurkha training centre billboard in Kathmandu. Recruitment advertisements like these are littered throughout cities in Nepal.

This recruitment poster to the left is from a company who has only been operating for 2 years.  Training centres and recruitment images such as this one are scattered throughout the cities of Nepal. I managed to talk to some of the training centre recruits in Kathmandu, Pokhara and Dharan. Most of the recruits pay 30-40 thousand Nepali Rupees for their preparation training. This includes physical fitness, english and math skills and interview preparations.

Sameer, a recruit with a Kathmandu based training centre, comes from a village in Kathmandu Valley and knew nothing of Gurkhas until he moved to Kathmandu.  Captivated my the militarised masculine imaginings depicted in the training centre advertisement image, and the financial and social mobility becoming a Gurkha could bring, he asked his parents for the money needed to take the training course.

Gurkha training centre recruits finishing up their morning physical fitness. It starts with a 5am run and is followed by a series of static strength tests.

This image to the right is of young Nepali men from a Kathmandu based Gurkha training centre.  There are 50 of these young men registered now but as August approaches, and the annual recruitment for the British army begins to take place, more than 200 recruits will come to this particular training centre.

In total, there is an estimate of 12-14 thousand young men that try out for the British Army and Singaporean Police every year.  On average, only 600 men are accepted. When I presented these odds to the potential recruits I talked to, and asking them what makes a man successful at becoming a Gurkha, I was repeatedly told: hard work, dedication and luck. Most recruits had no back up plan if they were not successful.

Talking to young Nepali men in Dharan who registered with one of the local Gurkha recruitment training centres. They are in their English class and practicing their language skills as I ask them questions.

Becoming a Gurkha is rooted in a long tradition in Nepal of over 200 years of military service with the British (and Indian) armies.  If successful, these men have a chance to significantly uplift their families out of poverty and substantially increase the material possibilities for themselves and their local communities.  The stake are very high.

What I found striking when talking to these very young men is that their desire to be a Gurkha was not for general militarised imaginings of army life. In fact, most did not have any detailed understanding of what the day-to-day military life would be like. Instead, they repeated told me they wanted to be Gurkhas for the life opportunities being located in Britain (and Singapore) could offer them and their families. Recruitment into the British and Indian Armies and Singaporean Police as Gurkhas is still very much a man’s journey.

a photo of young Nepali women who successfully completed preparation training with a Gurkha training centre in Pokhara

In 2007 the British army did trial a pilot programme designed to encourage Nepali women to try out.  However this initiative was abandoned and, after talking to numerous stakeholders in Nepal, no official explanation was given. This was particularly disappointing to the many women who had trained for months in preparation for this opportunity that historically has only been open to men.

one manpower company out of the currently 841 registered companies who operate in Nepal. Not all provide opportunities to work in foreign security.

Of course foreign service with the British and Indian Armies and the Singaporean police are just one route out of poverty and increasingly material status. Nepali men (and now sometimes women) are venturing into foreign security work in the unarmed security industry. The pathway to this security work is through manpower providers. These providers act as the gatekeepers for foreign security companies accessing Nepali labour. To the left is an image of one such manpower company’s office, who recruits into Saudi and Qatar. Nepali unarmed security workforces generally travel to Malaysia, Qatar, UAE and Saudi for security work.

Achieving foreign security employment into the unarmed industry brings with it different challenges than armed security. Much of the discussion about labour violations, human rights violations, long work hours and poor working conditions of other global industries are certainly echoed in unarmed security.

Ganga (pseudonym) and his family in Itihari. Photo taken in front of their home. Ganga works in Afghanistan as a security contractor.

The pathways into foreign private security work are vastly different depending on whether you qualify for armed security or unarmed security. Armed security continues to privilege men who have former military and police service, generally as Gurkhas who have served in foreign militaries. However, the increased permanent migration of retired British Gurkhas to the UK, after their right to settle was granted, has opened up private security opportunities to Indian army retired Gurkhas and Nepal army retired soldiers.

Ganga is one such man who qualified for armed security work. I met with Ganga and his family in Eastern Nepal. Ganga has an extended family now that he has to look after since his brother passed away and there was no one else to take care of his brother’s children. As usual in the motivations to work in conflict zones, retired Gurkhas often feel compelled for financial motivations. When they retire from military service, their children are generally in higher education which costs a significant amount.  To maintain their lifestyle they transition into private security work.

Ganga works in Afghanistan as a security contractor. He is a retired Indian army Gurkha who has been working in private security for the past 6 years. His security income, along with his army pension, pays for his children’s education and household expenditures.  Because of the extended family, Ganga and his wife cannot afford to save much and their are still working though how they will afford retirement, when Ganga can no longer work in the private industry.

Ritesh (pseudonym) working as access control for a facility in Qatar

Ritesh (photo to the left), was recruited into the unarmed security industry while in Kathmandu undertaking a degree at the local university. He, like all of the other cohorts of his I interviewed in Qatar, paid a considerable amount of money to recruitment agents and a local broker in order to obtain security work in Qatar.

Migrants paying significant amounts for foreign work is common practice despite Nepali and Qatar laws the prohibit excessive amounts being charged to migrants. Ritesh’s parents helped finance the fees necessary for him to work overseas. Unlike Ganga, Ritesh only needed to speak English, be a minimum of 5 feet, 8 inches in height, and have a good level of physical fitness.

As far as accessing foreign work goes, Ritesh is rather lucky. While he and his family had to pay a hefty amount for foreign work, he managed to land a fairly good contract in Qatar. His salary, good working conditions and regular training are in part because of the client’s particular labour standards demanded as a contractual condition, and the ad hoc, and unpaid, regular training he receives by his direct manager. Because of this, Ritesh is content with his work. The finances he receives is able to help him save to build a house back home in Nepal and hopefully make him financially suitable for marriage.

I was fortunate enough to meet with his parents.  They were frustrated with the amount they had to pay to facilitate his overseas work but felt they could at least hold the local broker accountable should anything bad happen to Ritesh overseas. Knowing the terrible work experiences, which include bonded labour and visa confiscation amongst other issues, that plague many foreign workers, they are comforted to hear about Ritesh’s work conditions.  His mom expressed particular relief.  This does not mean that Ritesh has an easy job. it is hard work and he has little time for leisure.  He works 6 days a week and on his day off he mostly sleeps.  The labour camp he lives in, while very good in comparison to others, if far from the city centre and getting into the city to explore Doha is expensive.

advertisement for unarmed security contracting work In Qatar. While the one caption reads: free visa, free ticket, this rarely happens in practice.

This post is just a small glimpse into Nepali labour recruitment into the global security industry. In the next blog post I will explore more about the process from other key actors who shape the broader governing practices of foreign security labour management.

Everyday Political Economies in Global Private Security

security guard in Qatar

Cynthia Enloe begins her article Mundane Matters with the statement: the everyday, by definition, is banal, unimportant and inconsequential. She’s right. What does the everyday offer to politics and the study of global private security. How does paying attention to the families who cook and clean for the security leaders and business directors possibly improve our analytics on the industry? In what ways do the ritualised and tedious office tasks of emailing, the banter during coffee room breaks and pre-meetings actually matter? The everyday is pre-political, uninteresting and routine.

And yet, as Enloe goes onto convincing argue in this same article, the everyday is profoundly political. In fact, Enloe’s life work is all about connecting everyday in global politics. Other feminists and critical political economists take up Enloe’s politics. They remind us that states, militaries and markets all take vested interest in the everyday in order to sustain broader geopolitical/economic practices. Critical military scholars such as Joanna Tidy, Victoria Basham, Alex Hyde and Linda Ahall have highlighted how the everyday is an important space/temporal imagining where militarism, war and violence get practiced, normalised and seen as unfortunate but necessary. This involves both soldiers and civilians and occurs not only in the military ranks, but in the household, during protests and spaces of military remembrance.

Political economy feminists like Marsha Henry, Genevieve Le Baron, Juanita Elias and Adrienne Roberts, Amanda Chisholm and Saskia Stachowitsch, Matt Davies and Anna Agathangelou have pointed to how the everyday is a space continually acted upon in global gender and capital relations. They have shown how neoliberal market relations and state restructuring of social services has significantly impacted the household—and the woman who continue to face a double (sometimes triple) burden of managing care/reproductive work in the home, caring for elderly/ageing parents, and seeking often precarious, flexible work outside the home. These feminists have demonstrated the diverse ways in which everyday continues to shape and make possible exiting gendered capital social relations. They have also convincingly highlighted how gender, class, and colonial relations underpin these global/everyday divides.

Taking the everyday seriously in global private security, I argue, improves our analytics of where we locate security operations and how we track its movements. It broadens who we understand as security actors and accounts for the profound ways the industry is shaping our lives. The current scholarship on private security is preoccupied with the global. Private Security is between states and market actors. It is where agreements on transparency, regulations and accountability measures get drawn up. It is the laws that condition the market engagements. The people we locate in these global practices are the privileged, often white, and mostly men. They are the company directors and state leaders. It is a space/time where the tough decisions are made—where ingenuity and the big deals occur.

Post interview with a wife of a Gurkha security contractor

Alternatively, the everyday is where the banal and the residual occur. It is the negation of global politics. It is a space were mostly women (as mothers, wives, nannies, sex workers, cleaners) reside. It is their mundane rituals of housecleaning, child rearing, sexual pleasuring and food shopping occur. Similarly, the everyday it is also about the ritualised encounters between the directors and their colleagues, the elevator conversations pre/post meetings and the coffee/pub chats. It is a space/time that must be constantly flexible, to endure the changes and movements of the global security market.

This divide, as feminists remind us, is by political design. It is neither natural nor inevitable. Feminism has trained us to ask: who benefits from this divide? In the security industry the divide between global and everyday allows us to de-politise the very households/family architectures, which render the global extraction of labour possible. Hyde describes how similar divides allow the female spouses of British soldiers to become the reserve-reserve force of the British army with their household labour-silenced yet indispensable to how the UK military functions. How are the households expected to shape their lives around the global security market?

In my own research, the everyday begins to render visible the men (and sometimes women), particularly from the global south, who are signing up to 1-2 year long rotations with 1 month leave and for the significantly lower pay grade than their westerners counterparts. It highlights how martial race, particularly of Gurkhas, renders them more amenable to foreign armed security work because of their associated histories with the British military. It accounts for the household emotional/reproductive/life sustaining work in running the family of a migrant worker. How foreign work has improved but also had a social cost to how families are organised and the material conditions of possibilities afforded to them. It also brings to light the localised poverty/lack of development, which renders the security migrant amenable to foreign work in the first place—which conditions their employment conditions and makes them compliant/resilient to market demands.

Taking the everyday as a space/time and a feminist critique seriously accounts for the men and women who actually produce security markets. It sees the market not as a benign space where actors must continually respond, but as a space that is shaped by the social relations between people. It is a space that is productive of the very gendered and raced relations we are conditioned by. It can also be a space of resistance. The everyday allows us to consider the people that shape these politics—those that fix the rules and benefit from them and those that are expected to endure adapt and cope.

These politics manifest in different ways. My co-authored work with my colleague Saskia Stachowitsch’s shows who benefits from the political segregation between the everyday and the global. It argues that such a separation allows the security industry to extract security labour without properly accounting for the unpaid necessary labour of the home—and how militarization of the home, in particular the Gurkha home, has made recruitment much easier.

Accounting for the everyday broadens our understanding of who is shaping and shaped by the security industry and the structures that continue to underpin the industry’s operations. It enables us able to consider how neoliberalism, militarism, race and poverty continue to inform the extraction of a global reserve security labour force. We can ask what work must the family do in sustaining a healthy security worker? How is resilience, in the ability for families to endure, to adapt, to perpetually adjust to migrant work demands, an integral feature of labour extraction in global security? I what ways does depletion and disposability, inform how we come to understand some men and women as disposable and replaceable and others as high value and irreplaceable?

Security Labour Company Clothing and Supply Store

The everyday is not pre-political or inconsequent. It is fundamental to how global economies and politics are sustained. Accounting for the everyday sharpens our analysis and allows us to be mindful of the broader politics that continue to quarantine the everyday as a location of unimportance. Politics of militarism, capitalism and colonialism that (re)produce divides of private/public, local/global, good/bad/disposable labourer. These divides are always political and it is through a feminist curiosity that we are encouraged to continue to question, to make queer, the politics of everyday/global divides. It is these questions that must continue to frame our analysis of the security industry.