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Keynote address at workshop on forced migration in Asia in Singapore

Posted on 26 February 2016

Alice Nah, Lecturer at CAHR, delivered the keynote address at the Workshop on ‘South-South Migration, Refugees and Diasporic Communities’ organised by the National University of Singapore from 16-17 February 2016.

In her paper, Dr Nah sketched out the political, legal, and social contexts in which forced migration occurs in South and Southeast Asia, arguing that these contextual features create not only challenges for researchers, but also ethical obligations. Noting that the global production of knowledge about forced migration still has a Northern bias, she suggested that scholarship in Asia could reveal hidden assumptions, challenge taken-for-granted understandings, and throw up new and different research questions that may be overlooked by researchers and policy-makers in the North.

Drawing on her research on forced migrants in Malaysia, she put forward an explanation of why the inequalities that non-citizens experience are normalised. She suggested the existence of deeply held beliefs by citizens and non-citizens in modern societies that some groups deserve more than others, and that justice or fairness in society is achieved not by treating people equally but by giving each group ‘what they deserve’. These mental structures – which she calls ‘hierarchies of deservedness’ – result in calls for governments to first meet their obligations to citizens before attending to non-citizens on the rationale that this is ‘fair’.

She ended her paper by recalling the importance of researching, teaching and generating public discussion about forced migration in Asia so that this phenomenon is given greater visibility and is better understood by the broader public in this region.