Migrant Agency in the Global South: The Movements of Rohingya in Myanmar, Bangladesh and Malaysia

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Embargoed until 2024-05-02
Copyright: Azad, Ashraful
Rohingya are the largest stateless group in the world. Most Rohingya, originally from Myanmar, are stateless in their home country and in various states where they live as refugees and migrants. They are denied citizenship papers in Myanmar, and their movement is restricted there as well as in their main host country, Bangladesh. Despite these restrictions, many Rohingya have travelled overseas, including to Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and India. This thesis examines the agency of stateless people in unauthorised movements and access to documents amidst restrictions by the states, focusing on Rohingya in Myanmar, Bangladesh and Malaysia. To understand the scope and extent of the movement of Rohingya throughout the region, it is essential to understand the manner in which they exercise agency. The central research questions this thesis considers are (a) how do we best understand the phenomenon of stateless Rohingya migrants exercising agency to move across borders (domestic and international) in the Global South, despite the strategies adopted by states to restrict their movements? and (b) what does this phenomenon tell us about how we understand migration more broadly? Based on extensive empirical research through a grounded theory methodology, I identify several factors that are central to understanding how Rohingya exercise agency. Firstly, the scale and nature of their movements is determined by the states’ border regimes, geographic proximity to borders, and certain modes of transport. Secondly, they exercise agency by drawing on migration capital which comes from their identity—primarily the similarity and fluidity of their ethnic and religious identity with the host society, and shared community knowledge and culture of migration. Thirdly, the opportunity they have to draw on migration capital or exercise agency is dependent on actors who function in the middle space between states and migrants. I identify two key actors in the middle space of migration—corrupt government officials and migration brokers—who facilitate unauthorised movements and access to documents. This thesis contributes original empirical findings on migration and integration processes and the interdisciplinary theorisation of migration through a Global South perspective. It offers a critique of the border control measures under anti-trafficking efforts and biometric registration of refugees and highlights the protection capacity of unauthorised and informal practices.
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PhD Doctorate
UNSW Faculty