‘Stranded in the Sea': The 'boat People' of South and South East Asia

Monday, 11 July 2016: 09:00
Location: Hörsaal 21 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Arnab ROY CHOWDHURY, Indian Institute of Management Calcutta (IIMC), India
In May 2015, a large group of about eight thousand people travelling in fishing boats and trawlers, tried to enter Malaysia illegally (via Thailand) through sea-faring routes. The Malaysian government refused them entry into the country and virtually left them floating in the sea. As a result of this, many children, women and older people died. Later, with aid from Qatar government, Malaysia agreed to give these people asylum and the status of political refugees.

Each year, huge numbers of poor Muslim labourers from Bangladesh and Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar try to migrate to countries like Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines, and Indonesia, illegally on ‘boats’ through sea-routes mediated by human traffickers in search of good life and bright future. They are hapless people fleeing from poverty or persecution, and in search of livelihood in distant lands. Hailing from Chittagong, Cox Bazar and Sylhet, some of the poorest districts of Bangladesh and the Arakan (now East Rakhine province) of Myanmar, they are often duped by human traffickers. They pay a proportionate sum of money to human trafficking agents just to find work in the ‘host’ countries, and instead end up being slaves, or even worse face gruesome death. If they remain alive, these traffickers take ransom and extortion money from the impoverished families of these people before releasing them.

This paper is the result of the author’s ‘ethnographic’ involvement with a two year long project among these ‘boat people’ in Bangladesh and Thailand. The paper discusses what leads these poor people to embark on such insecure and dangerous journeys. It talks about the precariousness and liminality of their lives. It engages with issues of ‘forced migration’, and migration due to ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors, and certain scenarios in which these factors might get ‘intermeshed’ and ‘inseparable’ from each other.