From the 4th to the 19th of May, our IRP Committee travelled to Aruba to conduct field research for the International Research Project. This year’s focus is the labor market perspectives of Venezuelan refugees on the island. In this article, we will tell you a bit more about what the field trip entailed and some insights the team got from their research!
The International Research Project 2021
The International Research Project is one of AEclipse’s flagship events. For 25 consecutive years, the project’s underlying goal has been to give a chance to students to apply the knowledge they learn in class by investigating an issue in a developing country, and make an impact towards the greater social good. This year’s edition is no exception.
The Venezuelan exodus constitutes the largest mass migration of people that Latin America has ever seen. More than five million Venezuelans have fled economic, social and political instability, straining the resources and patience of neighboring countries.
Hence, the IRP team partnered with HIAS in an attempt to help solving the crisis. HIAS is an NGO that provides a variety of programs to assist displaced people in their integration in a new homeland. The AEclipse research team works specifically with the NGO’s office in Aruba. The main goal of the study is to provide a thorough analysis of the island so that HIAS, in partnership with the UNHCR and ILO can adequately serve the estimated 16,000-17,000 Venezuelan refugees.
The International Research Project team consists of 15 motivated master students in the fields of economics, law, migration studies, and political science. The multidisciplinary aspect of the team is key for this research. In fact, the team’s recommendations for the inclusion of Venezuelans in Aruba will be grounded on the opportunities found in labor market analyses, by considering the legal barriers they face and accounting for the island’s economic and political environment.
The IRP’s field research trip
In the beginning of May, 6 members of the Research team travelled to Aruba to conduct a field research trip directly on site. The main goals of the trip were to get a better understanding of the situation on the island, gather data and meet with various stakeholders. Among others, the team conducted interviews with both the private and the public sector, talked to locals, visited the island and conducted surveys. This was a great opportunity to directly experience the situation on the island and gather information straight from the source!
During the trip, the team was happily met with general positivity from most interviewees after presenting their research topic. In fact, not every important stakeholder in Aruba is enthusiast about the inclusion of Venezuelans but very positive opinions were expressed from the majority of the people they encountered. Hearing this from leaders in the private sector, but also from some leaders in the governmental institutions was an immense motivator for the team!
‘’The research you are conducting is extremely important to this island. The Aruban people should all see with their own eyes what results your study might bring.’’
While visiting the island, the team discovered early on that pretty much everything in Aruba is located on its East coast, mostly for climate reasons. The East coast is also where the gigantic tourism industry, which is the most important sector on the island, is located. In contrast, the West coast and the inland areas are mostly inhabited. Besides, the situation of Venezuelan refugees is not directly observable in Aruba, as they are scattered on the island rather than concentrated in a particular area. It also so happens that the general elections for the government of Aruba will be held on the 25th June. Hence, the team got to witness the campaign dynamics and observe how big of a deal these elections are for the population. From this, they also gathered some relevant insights on the political situation in Aruba.
Data for the research was collected in multiple ways. First, the team held over a dozen interviews with experts on the Venezuelan refugee crisis and other stakeholders. Among others, these included representatives of the Dutch government and Aruban officials, members of the private sector, research agencies and representatives of branch organizations. Throughout the interviews, the team was able to collect a lot of information on the situation of Venezuelan refugees in Aruba, what opportunities that exist for them and the challenges for their integration.
Besides the interviews, the team also conducted a large-scale skills survey. With the help of HIAS, this survey was distributed to over 500 respondents. Its goal was to get a better understanding of the skills of the Venezuelans in the island. In addition, in order to gather data on employment opportunities for these refugees, the team also created a short business survey, asking companies about the employment they would need and what skills they would require from potential employees.
Social media ad for the skills survey
To understand the perspectives of the local population on the integration of Venezuelan refugees, the team conducted a Q-study. This entailed preparing 40 statements with different topics on the situation of the Venezuelans, which people living in Aruba had to sort from strongly agree to disagree. The survey took about 40 minutes for each participant, so the team had to find 20 respondents willing to give 40 minutes of their time. Hence, they searched for participants in cafés and directly on people’s doorsteps, to eventually manage to get enough respondents.
Lastly, the team conducted two “Focus group” sessions, one with a group of Venezuelan women, and another with Venezuelan men. Focus groups are a research tool used for qualitative research, and in a carefully planned setting, they was able to open discussions with the members of the group where participants were able to share personal experiences. This practice provided insights for topics relevant to the legal inclusion of Venezuelans in Aruba.
Of course, besides all the work, the team was able to enjoy some free time and enjoy the many things Aruba has to offer. During their time off, they went on day trips to discover the island or simply enjoyed sunsets at the beach.