Borders and Border Politics in a Globalizing World (The World Beat Series)
The argument runs that this migration of uprooted humanity to the Western world represents an existential threat to "our way of life", and similar empty phrases. Well, it certainly does from one point of view. If, as an international capitalist, your livelihood depends upon exploiting the people "out there" and doing the minimum to appease the people "in here", while trying to lower corporate taxes and send money offshore, then you might have cause to be very worried.
Immigration threatens to bring people together and show them that common cause can be made in the face of suffering. This undermines the building of a scared and divided voter base who will readily assent to corporate tax cuts and longer working hours. This is where we, the Western workers, come in. The fragile political gains of earlier struggles, such as universal healthcare and social welfare, have been used by bosses to distract us and keep us happy enough with the current system that we do not ask difficult questions about inequality and profit.
Conservatives are fond of arguing that our overburdened public infrastructure will not be able to keep up with an increased migrant population, and that our social system as it exists will be overwhelmed by new cultures and traditions. This is because our public infrastructure has been largely sold off for private profit and run into the ground.
Taxes on corporate income have been progressively lowered in Australia and around the world, and the Australian Tax Office is pursuing back taxes with the enthusiasm of a sedated snail. Meanwhile, our social system is not all it is cracked up to be for the mass of working people.
But if we look at our rich history of combined labour struggle, another option emerges. Many of the miners at the Eureka Stockade were refugees, economic or political, from dozens of different nations. They came here seeking a better life in Australia. Many had different religions from the mainstream of the day — the Irish were attacked for being Catholic foreigners — but the miners knew they had to forget their differences if they were to win.
In opening the world's borders, we would only be making people as free as money currently is.
Capitalism puts money in tax havens to be forgotten, just as the Australian government puts people in Manus Island and Nauru. If we end this politics of difference and division, and recognise that all of our borders are purely imaginary, and that they serve neither the Western worker nor the developing world worker, we will take a step into a fairer future.
Like the article? Subscribe to Green Left now! You can also like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Green Left aims to make all content available online, without paywalls. We rely on regular support and donations from readers like you. Many are deported to Libya, without even being informed of their fate.
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Hundreds of people are deported in this way without any recognition of their existence as human beings with personal names. Similar detention camps for foreigners are beginning to emerge in Australia, Malaysia, and Thailand, where people escaping from violence, poverty, or both are confined outside the realm of basic human rights Rajaram and Grundy-Warr The governments of Thailand and Malaysia are not interested in the migrant as a human being; they limit themselves to confinement of the migrant body.
While much of the work on borderlands has focused on the shifting of human identities, the question of the refugee concerns the elimination of basic human rights as the key effect of the border on people who have to cross it to survive. Border zones are regarded by the state in a negative light, as zones of political instability and subversion. This insecurity justifies large military budgets, and the rise of drug addiction along the trade routes provides the pretext for government intervention.
In just one year, more than people were killed by police death squads. Governors and police forces were pressured to come up with black lists: People on the black list were summoned to the district office to confirm their identity before being murdered the next day; the killers operated from motorcycles, wearing plain clothes and masks to avoid identification. Being wholly outside Thai law, these aliens had little chance of mercy.
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Borderlands are therefore a realm outside the order of the state, yet integral to it and its economy, of which a large share is illegal. Like Batam in the Singapore-Indonesia borderland, many border-zones are the Wild West of their respective regions, providing vacuums in which illegal multi-million dollar businesses boom. Drug rings on the Thai-Myanmar border involving hill minorities, border guards, and corrupt officials have flooded Thailand with amphetamines.
Governments may tolerate these operations, they may profit from some of the rackets, or they may be actively involved to the extent that it is impossible to distinguish between legal and illegal domains. In another example, night-clubs may be closed by the Islamic ruling party in Kelantan and Malaysian Muslims tried for violations of sharia law, but crossing the border to Thailand brings the sex-tourist into another world, one in which tour groups arrive daily to visit massage parlours or engage in gambling and other practices that are forbidden, risky, or expensive at home.
Towns like Sungai Golok on the Thai-Malaysian border would be sleepy places without the cross-border smuggling and markets, the drug trade, the hotels and prostitution. Well into the 20 th century, people moved in many directions through the borderlands of Southeast Asia. As non-citizens, the Rohingya in the Burmese-Bangladeshi borderland can be expelled from Burmese territory. Although many people in Malaysia have Philippine or Indonesian ancestors, present-day Filipinos and Indonesians are regularly deported or forced to leave to avoid arrest.
In cross-border migration, unequal gender relations and border regimes overlap in the hierarchy of value. The case of Muslim women from Thailand working in Malaysia is exemplary. Instead of accentuating their identity along kin or religious lines as sisters or Muslims, Thai-speaking Muslims hold themselves apart from Malays, who perceive them to be influenced by the Thai Buddhist cosmology.
Still, many women from Thailand are drawn to work in Malaysia to improve their lives, and many find spouses there. The entrenchment of borders with their attendent hierarchies of value constitute border regimes. Regular police raids among migrant populations protract this regime: If workers of alien origin dare to protest low wages, the police may arrive to beat them up and change their status from laborers with work-permits to illegal and deportable aliens.
A World to Win: Open Borders for people not just money | Green Left Weekly
Sexual abuse and beatings are rampant in prisons and detention camps. And yet, despite these pressing problems, migrants and refugees will continue to come in large numbers. Much research needs to be done on the specific political ecology of individuals and states in Southeast Asian borderlands.
Exciting research is already emerging, showing how loopholes and vacuums in the largely invisible borderlands create specific border regimes characterized by hierarchies of values. Brokers emerge who use the border regime to their advantage. Human trafficking and smuggling result from the huge wealth disparities between nations and the protracted conflicts that force people to cross borders. The contributors to this issue, besides reviewing their fields, show that there are parties who have an interest in the perpetuation of conflict, the illegal border trade in all manner of goods, and the exploitation of illegal labor.
Borderlands are by no means marginal to the world or to anthropology. Studying them may create opportunities to move away from state-driven methodologies and terminologies. Borderlands provide a privileged situation for anthropologists to study the strategies used by governments to discipline and survey their populations, and also the practices used by people to resist them, including flexibility in affiliation and border-crossing supported by networks in two or more countries.
Anthropologists might use their research on states, peoples, and borders to refute much of the received wisdom of cultural anthropology. No space is more in flux than these border landscapes. Alexander Horstmann.
A World to Win: Open Borders for people not just money
Kyoto Review of Southeast Asia. Issue 7. States, People, and Borders in Southeast Asia. September Benjamin, Geoffrey, and Cynthia Chou. Davis, Sara. Agency and Narrative in Southeast Asian Borderlands , ed. Alexander Horstmann and Reed L. Oxford: Berghahn Books. Heyman, Josiah. States and Illegal Practices.