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  • The State and the Transnational Politics of Migrants: A Study of the Chins and the Acehnese in Malaysia by Sheila Murugasu
  • Su-Ann Oh
The State and the Transnational Politics of Migrants: A Study of the Chins and the Acehnese in Malaysia, by Sheila Murugasu. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017. Pp. 228.

This book is a welcome addition to the literature on transnational migrant politics, refugee and migrant life in Malaysia and on two migrant communities—the Chin and the Acehnese. With the exception of a handful of studies, there have been few scholarly works on these two groups in the country. [End Page 275]

The objectives of the book are to identify the ways in which these transnational migrants interact with the Malaysian state, how they engage in transnational politics and how these state-migrant interactions may be conceptualized. The author succeeds in fulfilling these goals and provides us with a nuanced study of how these two migrant groups have been able to carve out space to mobilize politically in the harsh and challenging environment that the Malaysian state has created for undocumented migrants. In addition, the comparative nature of the work sheds light on the ways in which these two groups differ in their transnational political activity and the way in which the Malaysian state treats them. At a broader level, this book helps us to better understand the transnational politics of migrants in non-OECD countries, adding subtlety to the ways in which migrant transnationalism is conceptualized. In these respects, the book goes a long way to plugging gaps in the current literature.

The book is roughly divided into two parts. The first, consisting of Chapters 2, 3 and 4, sets out the context in which the Chin and Acehnese live and mobilize in Malaysia. Chapter 2 provides an overview of migration policy in Malaysia, showing that a variety of factors—religious affinity, ethnicity, labour needs, state relations with neighbours and neoliberalism—have shaped the Malaysian state's policy on migrants. The Malaysian state has its own logic for dealing with immigration and deploys a fragmented strategy so as to maximize the flexibility of its workforce in the context of a global economy. This sets the context for the author to delve deeper into the micro-level interactions between the two groups of migrants and the state in the chapters in the second part of the book.

The nature of political transnationalism carried out by the Chin and the Acehnese in Malaysia is set out in Chapters 3 and 4. These chapters flesh out the way the two communities carry out political activities, providing some points of comparison between them in the context of domestic and external Malaysian concerns.

Chapters 5, 6 and 7, on the other hand, highlight the ways in which these two communities interact with the Malaysian state. Chapter 5 describes the nuances in the Malaysian government's handling of these communities' political activities, showing that these have changed in accordance with economic exigencies, and the relationship between the Indonesian and Burmese states. Malaysia's deliberately ambiguous position towards the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) has been shaped by various periods of tension with Indonesia. With regard to the Burmese state, Malaysia has used an "official/unofficial position" (p. 140) to advance foreign policy goals. Thus, the interests of migrant political actors intersect with those of the Malaysian state during different time periods. Consequently, the author points out that the conclusion that states are at odds with the political activity of transnational actors is too sweeping in nature.

The next chapter focuses on the everyday survival of these two communities, and argues that the Malaysian state is a disaggregated one with differing institutional agendas. Through a study of state agents and transnational actors' quotidian interactions, she asserts that the state officials' actions often conflict with official policies. These contradictions provide space for migrant actors to survive and mobilize politically in circumstances where the threat of arrest and deportation is pervasive. In addition, strategies such as negotiation, gift-giving, and mimicking the state help mitigate some of the state's depredations.

Following from this, Chapter 7 looks at the way that identities and political belonging...


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