Human trafficking or voluntary migration?

Lessons learned from across Asia

Authored by: Pardis Mahdavi

Routledge Handbook of Asian Migrations

Print publication date:  December  2017
Online publication date:  January  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138959859
eBook ISBN: 9781315660493
Adobe ISBN:


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The paradigm of human trafficking, as it exists today, and the legal ambiguity and popular specificity with which trafficking has been defined, offer insight into the complex ways that gender and race permeate understandings of both victimhood, vulnerability, and power. Most problematically, discourses and policies pertaining to migration in the Asian context have created falsely dichotomised categories of those who enjoy voluntary migration versus those who have been trafficked. This false binary does not recognise that many migrants increasingly move and live in the in-between grey spaces of irregular migration and/or employment. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork with migrants moving across Asia, I argue that misguided, racialised panic about gendered and raced bodies moving across the continent has produced two levels of disconnection between policy and lived experience, and that these disconnections have the result of producing irregular migrations.

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