Safe migration, dilettante brokers and the appropriation of legality: Lao-Thai "trafficking" in the context of regulating labour migration

Sverre Molland*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    33 Citations (Scopus)


    This paper sets out to explore the interrelations between safeguarding migration flows between Laos and Thailand and dual models of migrant brokers' subjectivity. Within the anti-trafficking community in the Mekong region there is a tacit dual imagery of "insider" and "outsider" categories, where external brokers are associated with "risk," whereas friends and personal networks within village communities constitute possible avenues for "safe migration." The Thai and Lao governments have over the past years attempted to legalize migration flows. An important rationale for this-which is advocated by international organizations in the Mekong region and elsewhere-is the claim that legalization will "dry out" a market for dubious brokers, making labour migration safer. This paper suggests that what sustains this "legalization model" is an implicit utilitarian view of migration which projects idealtype depictions of traffickers and brokers. In light of ethnographic data from the commercial sex industry along the Thai-Lao border, this paper suggests that migration networks do not replace brokers, as brokering services are embedded within these very same networks where legality is appropriated as a resource with mixed results. Yet, although legality is being manufactured through the migration process, both consensual and deceptive recruitment (i.e., "trafficking") of young Lao women, is taking place within a context where sex workers themselves play a central role as dilettante-brokers within wider informal social networks. In other words, legality does not alter brokering services, but rather the reverse holds true. "Trafficking," then, is taking place in the very same contexts that are deemed "safe" by anti-trafficking programs.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)117-136
    Number of pages20
    JournalPacific Affairs
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Mar 2012


    Dive into the research topics of 'Safe migration, dilettante brokers and the appropriation of legality: Lao-Thai "trafficking" in the context of regulating labour migration'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this