When Bare Life is Bearable: The Life Projects of Rohingya and Hazara Refugees Living in Malaysia

Ramesh Sunam*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


With anti-migrant populism and strict border regimes in many receiving countries, hundreds of thousands of refugees have been entangled in transit situations and face critically vulnerable conditions. While recent research on transit migration has explored “life projects,” including work, studies, and volunteering undertaken by refugees to make their lives more bearable in a context of protracted uncertainty, how refugees describe the country in which they are living and what facilitates their life projects there have remained less understood in a Southeast Asian context and in the Global South more generally. This article addresses this lacuna, drawing on interviews with Rohingya and Hazara refugees living in Malaysia. Rohingya and Hazara refugees described Malaysia as a safer place than their home countries, where they had endured violence and persecution. Examining key conditions underpinning the life projects of Hazara and Rohingya refugees, this article demonstrates that refugee lives are not completely on hold in transit situations, despite what dominant understandings of refugee lives often suggest. As it shows, while Rohingya and Hazara refugees are excluded from legal rights in Malaysia, the Malaysian state has not made them fully subject to laws and, instead, at times, has tacitly supported refugees. This situation has enabled refugees to pursue informal life projects, leading to a bearable bare life.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Migration Review
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2022


  • bare life
  • life projects
  • Malaysia
  • mobility regime
  • refugees
  • transit migration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Demography
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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