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Impossible children: illegality and excluded belonging among children of migrants in Sabah, East Malaysia

Allerton, Catherine ORCID: 0000-0002-1463-4157 (2018) Impossible children: illegality and excluded belonging among children of migrants in Sabah, East Malaysia. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 44 (7). 1081 - 1097. ISSN 1369-183X

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Identification Number: 10.1080/1369183X.2017.1357464


This article makes a case for attending to the specificities of child illegality in migrant contexts. This is not simply because children have been left out of previous accounts, but also because their status as minors makes both their citizenship and their illegality different to that of adults. The analysis is based on research with children born to migrants in the state of Sabah, East Malaysia. I argue that such children are configured as Sabah’s impossible children, and that this configuration influences their experiences of illegality and exclusion in distinctive ways. From a young age, children are aware of document ‘checking’ raids and, as ‘foreigners’, are unable to attend Malaysian schools. However, informal documents from learning centres, as well as age and contingent circumstances, may give them a temporary, ‘liminal’ legality. Finally, given that irregular migrants experience both exclusion and inclusion in a host nation, the article describes children’s urban forms of belonging. These forms of inclusion demonstrate children’s engagement with Sabah as a home, as against their political construction as an impossible problem.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2017 The Authors © CC BY 4.0
Divisions: Anthropology
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
J Political Science > JV Colonies and colonization. Emigration and immigration. International migration
Date Deposited: 19 Jul 2017 14:56
Last Modified: 15 May 2024 23:10
Projects: ES/J012262/1
Funders: Economic and Social Research Council

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