Legitimizing Violence: The Impact of Public ‘Crackdowns’ on Migrant Workers and Refugees in Malaysia

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Publication details

JournalAustralian Journal of Human Rights
DatePublished - 2011
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)131-157
Original languageEnglish


This paper examines the vulnerability to violence and human rights abuses that migrant workers and refugees experience as a result of the use of amnesty exercises and public ‘crackdowns’ to curtail irregular migration in Malaysia. Crackdowns are a highly visible technique of control and discipline that involve the publicised arrest, detention, imprisonment, punishment (including whipping), and deportation of migrants. Malaysia’s laws, policies, and practices concerning irregular migrants have become increasingly punitive and restrictive over the past three decades. Discriminatory discourses concerning ‘illegal immigrants’ have been coupled with practices that objectify and punish migrants. Refugees suffer from these immigration operations because they are insufficiently differentiated from irregular migrants. Despite the spiralling cycle of violence, crackdowns continue to fail in their primary objective: to reduce the number of irregular migrants in Malaysia. This, I argue, stems from an over-emphasis on the ‘deviant migrant’ as the object of state surveillance and discipline, with insufficient attention to the faults in the immigration control regime that contribute to irregular migration.

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