Seb Rumsby is an interdisciplinary scholar interested in the lived experiences and everyday politics of international development, state governance attempts, migration and religious transformation. Having given a fascinating account of ethno-religious politics in upland Vietnam for his PhD, Seb is now turning his attentions to the plight of undocumented Vietnamese migrants in the UK. On his current ISRF research fellowship, Seb is exploring the complex relationships of support, solidarity and/or exploitation and conflict between more established Vietnamese employers and their co-ethnic migrant workers.
Large-scale population movements has been a defining feature of Southeast Asia since historic times, a trend which continues to this day. There are an estimated 23.6 million migrants from the region, the majority of which find work in other Asian countries (especially East Asia and the Middle East) while others find their way to USA and Europe, by licit or illicit means. While many migrants are vulnerable to exploitation and human trafficking, labour migration is in fact an important poverty reduction/development strategy for Southeast Asian states, who are dependent on remittances to greater or lesser extents. In this EASG session, I will introduce the case study of Vietnamese labour migration to other East Asian countries, highlighting how problems of cheap labour exploitation and migrant rights abuses intersect with international relations and the Covid pandemic. From here, we can open up to a wider discussion of the role of migrant labour in the political economy of East Asia and beyond.