Myth and Reality in Irregular Migration from Myanmar
Migration studies is an interdisciplinary study within a broader field of development studies due to its association with debates about development and underdevelopment. Irregular migration is one of the most significant topics in migration studies and its complex nature has attracted many scholars from around the world. Most literature on irregular migration has focused on its illegality and the situation of irregular migrants in the destination country and therefore, much of the previous literature on irregular migration only presents the process as a dangerous and abusive phenomenon for irregular migrants, and depicts brokers and agents as evil and exploitative. Public perception and policy discussions are dominated by myths, rather than facts, about debts and danger. These established myths often overshadow the reality about the impacts of irregular migration as experienced by actual migrants and their local communities. These confused interpretations of irregular migration highlight a need for further research. This thesis examines a case of cross-border irregular migration from Myanmar to Thailand in order to explore the impacts of irregular migration in a wider field. Its main purpose is to investigate the processes and impacts of irregular migration on families left behind in sending areas. This is achieved by employing a qualitative case study approach to gain deeper understanding of the topic in the local context, using two data collection methods: participant observation and semi-structured interviews. The study hypothesizes that irregular migration in the Myanmar context conforms less to the “evil” image, than to the patterns of conventional labour migration described by the “New Economics of Labour Migration” theory. The main research questions posed to achieve these aims were: What are the processes of irregular migration? What are its impacts on families left behind? How are these impacts different from the impacts resulting from legal migration? The study draws two main conclusions. First, human smuggling operations in this study’s context are based on the personal contacts, and therefore irregular migration is often accomplished with the help of friends, relatives or siblings of the migrants themselves and not by hostile, exploitative smugglers. Secondly, departing from the traditional notion that irregular migration is harmful, the findings from this study suggest that the social and economic impacts resulting from irregular migration are surprisingly similar to the impacts of conventional international migration in many respects.