Burma in Diaspora: A Preliminary Research Note on the Politics of Burmese Diasporic Communities in Asia

Renaud Egreteau

Abstract


This research note focuses on the far-flung Burmese overseas communities, situating them into the wider diaspora literature. Drawing on extant scholarship on refugees, migrants and exiled dissidents of Burmese origin, it presents an original cartography of Burmese diasporic groups dispersed throughout Asia. It explores their migration patterns and tentatively maps out their transnational networks. It seeks to comparatively examine the relationships these polymorphous exiled groups have developed with the homeland. Two research questions have been identified and need further exploration in the context of the post-junta opening that has been observed since 2011: First, what comprises the contribution of the Burmese diaspora to political change and homeland democratization? This has been widely debated over the years. Despite a dynamic transnational activism, there is still little evidence that overseas Burmese have influenced recent domestic political developments. Second and subsequently, how can the Burmese diaspora effectively generate social and economic change back home: by “remitting” or by “returning”? This note argues that Burmese migrant social and financial remittances might prove a more viable instrument to foster development and democratization inside Myanmar in the short term than a mere homecoming of exiles and skilled migrants. This is a preliminary analysis that hopes to encourage further research on Burmese diasporic politics and their potential leverage as “agents of change”.

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