Working Paper

Constructing statelessness: Migration, indigeneity and citizenship law in Southeast Asia

Published 2 June 2020 / By Will Jernigan

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This paper examines how differential inclusion and statelessness are actively produced through clauses in the citizenship laws of Myanmar, while also highlighting broader trends in the Southeast Asian region. Myanmar was selected because of the extremely high rates of statelessness in the country and the dearth of literature on statelessness in the region. The paper examines who is excluded, how exclusion is carried out in law, and why such groups tend to be excluded. Using citizenship laws as primary evidence, the paper demonstrates that access to citizenship rights in these states is significantly premised on a group’s ability to claim ‘indigeneity’ to the territory of the contemporary nation-state. The paper explicates grander historical patterns of migration and governance in the region to reveal three groups often excluded by these ‘indigeneity’ clauses: pre-colonial migrant communities, people ‘moved’ by colonial-era labor policies and governance strategies, and ‘borderzone’ minority groups who, despite often being ‘indigenous’ to the territory, do not have the political capital to make good those claims. The paper also examines some of the many repercussions of differential inclusion and statelessness, including obstructions to mobility and a lack of access to rights and services, and calls for further research in these areas.


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