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(Un)wanted people in Hong Kong: how global cities force migrants to cope with illegality
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posted on 06.02.2017by Vecchio, Francesco
This study draws on extensive ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Hong Kong with a large sample of ethnically diverse asylum seekers to advance understanding of the nature of their experiences in the global city and the extent to which these experiences are impacted by both structural and individual agency factors. The aim is to tackle the lack of detailed knowledge that affects asylum debates in Hong Kong, by providing well-documented, unbiased accounts of the circumstances surrounding asylum seekers’ decision-making, the factors that at various levels enable or constrain their livelihoods and the contribution they make in contexts of increasing border securitisation and social inequality between legal and illegal populations in Hong Kong.
This study is framed around the notion of social polarisation and growing informalisation of labour markets in the ‘global city’ (Sassen, 2001). On one level, findings pertain to policy-oriented research in the field of forced migration and urban studies, while developing conceptual and theoretical ground from a criminological perspective. The current body of knowledge is advanced in relation to the changing geographies of arrival for increasing numbers of travellers whose movement is constrained by border controls in countries of the Global North. In this regard, it is argued that ‘global’ Hong Kong provides a core alternative destination to coveted Western countries; and in doing so, the social networks of asylum seeking are changed, impacting travellers’ vulnerability.
On another level, processes of illegalisation of some migrant flows are revealed as being advantageous for specific economic sectors. An argument is made that the legal exclusion of certain categories of traveller relates to the agency that these people exert within the spaces that confine them. As asylum seekers are denied legal and economic rights by government authorities that use asylum as a tool of migration control, asylum seekers are consequently limited to procuring capital in specific areas of the host society, and in so doing they plausibly turn into instruments to benefit specific strata of the local resident population.