ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Immigrants: Corroding the Sovereign State's Authority?

history of the non-Russian nationalities was viewed in the Soviet era, in view of the fact that this addresses the sensitive and contentious question of valorisation of Russian nationalism vis-




Immigrants: Corroding the Sovereign State’s Authority?




the humanity, security and safety of the individual, whether he or she be a genuine national or an illegal foreigner. U nder i nternational humanitarian law, even illegal immigrants have the basic rights to security of life and liberty.

These rights are often contravened by overbearing states and their biased agencies, especially by police and security forces. Like the author, this reviewer has also done some research work in the M alaysian state of Sabah, the province most affected by immigration. It was found that in some cases, highly prejudiced police officers and judicial personages in Sabah falsely implicated young Filipino immigrants by planting narcotics on them and then used the stringent antidrug trafficking law to hang them. In Delhi, miserably poor Bengali Muslim slums are routinely raided by the police to extract cash or give a sound thrashing on the excuse of finding Bangladeshi i mmigrants. Such known incidents seem to be deliberately ignored by Sadiq.

The economic compulsions of Bangladeshi and other immigrants desperately seeking a slightly better existence through hard work and enterprise do not merit any attention in this work. Other key factors which have forced millions of people to flee from their home countries are underplayed. The intensely violent wars which have afflicted Afghanistan for the past 30 years are given only a passing mention in the sections on Afghan migration. In this context, it would have been more appropriate to refer to Afghan and B angladeshi immigrants as “political/ economic refugees” rather than constantly lump them as “illegal immigrants”. The tone of this study makes it sound like a s ophisticated official paper which would be appreciated by several governments and communal parties.

t is a truism that while the barriers to international trade and finance have been lowered over the past decades, the walls against international movement of people have been strongly fortified. Grave international disparities between rich and poor segments of the globe have been a prime factor in pushing desperate people to migrate to lands which ferociously protect their affluence and their racial/ethnic composition. By its very nature, international migration raises a web of complex and contentious issues that r equire sensitive handling. Kamal Sadiq’s study has chosen to concentrate on a s ingular aspect of migration.

Sadiq’s work is an exposition of the ploys and networks that enable illegal immigrants to acquire genuine or fake documents to gain the citizenship of the countries they have entered. It focuses mostly on Bangladeshi immigrants in I ndia, Afghans in Pakistan and Filipinos in Malaysia. Much of the literature on i nternational migration is of people m oving from poverty-stricken regions of the world to the affluent west. This book is unusual as it concentrates on m igration from very poor states to countries that are only marginally better off. It meticulously details the paths taken by illegal immigrants to acquire what the author calls “documentary citizenship”. Ethnic, clan and other social and political connections are used by migrants to obtain the documents which certify them as citizens. These o bvious connections used by individuals all over the world are repeatedly dubbed as “networks of

Paper Citizens: How Illegal Immigrants Acquire Citizenship in Developing Countries by Kamal Sadiq (New York: Oxford University Press), 2009; pp xv + 275, price not mentioned.

complicity”, suggesting an air of sinister conspiracy.

A ‘Statist’ Perspective

Sadiq has set himself up as the defender of the frontiers of the sovereign state. It f ollows that his description and analysis of migration has a clearly “statist” p erspective. He claims that the inflow of migrants and their acquisition of d ocumentary citizenship have undermined the sovereign state’s ability to exercise a uthority and control over its population. Illegal immigrants use “the seeping web of n etworks which are increasingly corroding the state”. “Blurred membership” is another term repeatedly used by the a uthor to denote the ease with which i mmigrants gain citizenship rights, in cluding the right to vote, while many g enuine c itizens do not have those rights as they have not managed to obtain the r equired documents.

Two chapters are almost entirely devoted to enumerating all the subterfuges used by immigrants in India, Pakistan and M alaysia to get hold of genuine and forged birth, marriage and matriculation certificates, ration cards, national identity cards, voter registration cards and passports. This is usually done with the connivance of corrupt local officials.

The theme which runs through the book is the security and safety of the state. The result is that the author largely ignores


Economic & Political Weekly

may 16, 2009 vol xliv no 20

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