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Sea Gypsies in the Age of Hard Borders & Operations Against Illegal Immigrants

Sanen G. Marshall

Dr. Marshall will discuss a case study looking at his home state of Sabah, Malaysia, exploring security challenges posed by illegal immigrants in the aftermath of a 2013 armed intrusion by a vigilante group from neighboring Philippines, and its implications for stateless “Sea Gypsies” – individuals from a distinct ethnic group largely bereft of the legal right to belong in any country.

In this talk, Sanen Marshall looks at Sabah as a case study in how states prefer non-citizens over citizens. The historical and contemporary struggle of the Sulu nation against both countries is briefly discussed.

Caught in this political dichotomy of citizens and non-citizens, an ethnic group in Sabah known as the Bajau Laut (Sea Gypsies) attempt to surmount the political challenges when two modern countries collaborate to remove some of their members from the state. What does the future hold for stateless Bajau Laut and Sulu(k) children in Sabah?

Sanen Marshall, a political scientist and senior lecturer at University Malaysia Sabah, is a Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence at Marylhurst University. He is a (North) Borneo or Sabah specialist, having spent years studying the cultures and languages of the ethnic groups there. He has presented papers in a number of UNCHR meetings on the issue of the statelessness of the Sea Gypsies, including in the First Global Forum on Statelessness (2014). Sanen Marshall is also the convener of the 2015 Forum on Heritage Language Education for Early Childhood. He is primarily interested in researching how small communities are able to mobilize to secure their rights in contemporary society.

The Marylhurst Speaker Series is hosted by Marylhurst University’s Department of Interdisciplinary and Applied Liberal Arts.