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Rohingya refugee labor and capitalist frontier-making in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Authors: Shae Frydenlund*, University of Colorado Boulder
Topics: Migration, Development, Economic Geography
Keywords: refugees, capitalism, labor, frontiers, cities
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In a combination of “serendipity and strategy,” (Moore 2015) Rohingyas’ expulsion from Myanmar and their securitization as “illegal” immigrants and “bogus refugees” (Mountz 2010) articulate with the imperatives of Malaysian capital to create conditions suitable for a cheap labor frontier, effectively forestalling several historically and geographically specific crises. This paper analyzes the relationship between refugee labor and city-making in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where refugees (re)produce the both a low-wage workforce as well as the conditions for capital accumulation. An estimated 4 million undocumented workers, including 100,000 Rohingya and Myanmar Muslim refugees, feed, build, and clean Kuala Lumpur as low-wage produce distribution, construction, and waste workers. Drawing on 18 months of fieldwork and data from a suite of qualitative feminist methods, I show how surveillance, discipline, and abandonment enables Malaysian capital to download rising costs of production and reproduction onto gendered refugee bodies.


Works cited

Moore, Jason W. 2015. Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital. Brooklyn: Verso.
Mountz, Alison. 2010. Seeking Asylum: Human Smuggling and Bureaucracy at the Border. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.



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