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      Poverty and precarious employment: the case of Rohingya refugee construction workers in Peninsular Malaysia

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          Abstract

          How do refugees economically cope in host countries where they have no legal right to work? Most Southeast Asian countries have not ratified the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention. This implies that many refugees in this region do not enjoy any protection from the law, do not possess the legal right to work, and often resort to participation in dirty, dangerous, and demeaning jobs in order to make ends meet. In this paper, we study Rohingya refugees working as construction workers in the informal economy in Peninsular Malaysia by employing a mixed methods methodology. Specifically, we utilize micro-level survey data collected from a representative population of 314 Rohingya refugee workers in the construction industry, as well as in-depth interviews conducted with a subset of 77 of the survey respondents. Using the survey data, we first provide an overview of the social and economic lives of our respondents by summarizing key variables such as demographics, integration measures, and healthcare access. We then utilize regression analysis to understand the relationships between these variables. The key quantitative finding is that Rohingya refugees in the construction industry earn significantly above minimum wage in Malaysia (albeit less than their legal counterparts), and significantly more than their earnings prior to arriving in Malaysia. This is true even after adjusting for purchasing power. We then conduct a thematic analysis on the qualitative data obtained through the interviews to understand the dimensions of employment for the respondents. We find that although the construction industry in Peninsular Malaysia has provided Rohingya refugees with the means to escape poverty, they still face a tremendous amount of precarity and uncertainty in their lives.

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          Using thematic analysis in psychology

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            Theories of International Migration: A Review and Appraisal

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              Migration and Development: A Theoretical Perspective 1

               Hein De Haas (2010)
              The debate on migration and development has swung back and forth like a pendulum, from developmentalist optimism in the 1950s and 1960s, to neo‐Marxist pessimism over the 1970s and 1980s, towards more optimistic views in the 1990s and 2000s. This paper argues how such discursive shifts in the migration and development debate should be primarily seen as part of more general paradigm shifts in social and development theory. However, the classical opposition between pessimistic and optimistic views is challenged by empirical evidence pointing to the heterogeneity of migration impacts. By integrating and amending insights from the new economics of labor migration, livelihood perspectives in development studies and transnational perspectives in migration studies – which share several though as yet unobserved conceptual parallels – this paper elaborates the contours of a conceptual framework that simultaneously integrates agency and structure perspectives and is therefore able to account for the heterogeneous nature of migration‐development interactions. The resulting perspective reveals the naivety of recent views celebrating migration as self‐help development “from below”. These views are largely ideologically driven and shift the attention away from structural constraints and the vital role of states in shaping favorable conditions for positive development impacts of migration to occur.
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                Author and article information

                Contributors
                (View ORCID Profile)
                Journal
                Humanities and Social Sciences Communications
                Humanit Soc Sci Commun
                Springer Science and Business Media LLC
                2662-9992
                December 2020
                October 08 2020
                December 2020
                : 7
                : 1
                Article
                10.1057/s41599-020-00606-8
                © 2020

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