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  • Migration and Violent Conflicts in Some Southeast Asian Regions
  • Aris Ananta, Ph.D.

Changing Ethnic and Religious Composition

As is well known in all demographic text books, population dynamics is attributed to changes in fertility, mortality, and migration. The change in fertility will immediately change the number of the young population, particularly those below five years old. Change in mortality can affect any age group of the population. In developing countries, change in mortality usually affects the young population more than the old population; while in developed countries change in mortality affects the number of old population more than the young one. In both fertility and mortality changes, there is almost no change in the "culture" of the population.

However, it is very different with migration. As described by Tirtosudarmo in this volume, the impact of changes in fertility and mortality will be seen in the long run, but the impact of changes in migration can be seen in a relatively short time.

Migrants are most likely to be young and productive. They may affect the working age group more than the non-working age group. Furthermore, migrants may come from very different cultures, and they are usually the winners in the economic and political fields. Social and economic jealousies appear and are often accompanied by a perception among the locals that the migrants will eventually wipe them out. Therefore, not only do migrants change the number and age-composition of the population, they may also alter the social, economic and political composition of the population. A society may not be necessarily prepared to face a fast change in population composition.

In particular, in this volume, Tirtosudarmo argues that change in ethnic composition is more likely to become an important issue with the rising flow of migration, especially during the current era of globalisation when people from various cultural backgrounds move around the world. Ethnicity and religion become very crucial factors in determining cultural markers among people. Ideological tension will appear in the more subtle politics of identity.

Sen (2006) argues that rising identity may have two opposing sides, one positive and the other negative. On the positive side, rising identity may be an asset for a society by increasing the sense of belonging in a community. On the negative side, rising identity may be detrimental to the society because a strong identity might mean that other people are excluded. A well-integrated community, with strong internal solidarity, might suddenly show its ugly side when migrants (strangers) enter the community. The adversity of exclusion might occur at the same time as the gifts of inclusion. Violence resulting from identity conflicts has occurred all around the world. Al Qaeda is a recent example of a group that has heavily cultivated and exploited a militant Islamic identity, with Westerners as its specific target.

Ananta, in this volume, asserts that economic distribution may be related to the ethnic composition of the society. An ethnic group with a very large number of people may have much greater power in determining the economic distribution through its powerful political [End Page 1] manipulation.

Also, in this volume, Tirtosudarmo shows that scholars did not become interested in the relation between migration and security threat until after violent conflict had erupted in Bosnia and Kosovo in early 1990s. People in north-rich countries began to perceive that migration to Western European and Nordic countries would pose a security threat to them.

White and Sassler (1995) showed how every wave of migration to the US raised the level of social tension among migrants and locals. The very large flow of migrants from southern, eastern, and central Europe at the beginning of 20th century was perceived as a threat that would weaken American character, as the migrants were seen as "inferior" to local Americans. In the modern time, the US has also seen a large flow of migrants from "non-traditional" countries. Concerns then emerged on the use of language other than English, familiarity with urban industrial life, and competition in the labour market. Would the migrants assimilate or compete with the locals?

Southeast Asia is not immune to migration-related social tensions and violent conflicts. As described in...