COVID-19 and Migrant Workers in Southeast Asia: A Discussion with Emeritus Professor Philip Hirsch


COVID-19 has had such far-reaching impacts that it can be, and has been, studied from the perspective of almost any academic discipline. For geographers, the ways in which COVID-19 affects place, space and movement is particularly consequential. It is at once a global phenomenon, yet it also ties us to localities in a way not experienced for a very long time in our increasingly mobile and interconnected world.

In Southeast Asia, the impact of COVID-19 has been particularly severe for migrant workers, who have found themselves un- or under-employed and sometimes stranded as economic activity has shut down and borders have closed. Professor Hirsch is part of a wide-ranging review of the implications of COVID-19 for migrant workers across the Asia-Pacific region, bringing in four main dimensions: what does it mean in terms of governance/rights, gender, public health and the environment?

On the occasion of International Migrants Day on 18 December, Professor Philip Hirsch spoke to Dr Natali Pearson about the impact that the pandemic has had on migrant workers in mainland Southeast Asia, and how we can better protect this vulnerable community.

Philip Hirsch is Emeritus Professor of Human Geography at the University of Sydney, where he taught from 1987 to 2017. He has written extensively on environment, development, natural resource governance and agrarian change in the Mekong Region. He is now based in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Books published over the past 10 years include the (edited) “Handbook of the Environment in Southeast Asia” (Routledge 2017), (co-authored) “The Mekong: A socio-legal approach to river basin development” (Earthscan 2016), (co-authored) "Powers of Exclusion: Land dilemmas in Southeast Asia" (NUS Press and Hawaii University Press 2011) and (co-edited) "Tracks and Traces: Thailand and the work of Andrew Turton" (Amsterdam University Press 2010). In 2021, University of Washington Press will publish his co-edited, “Turning land into capital: development and dispossession in the Mekong Region”. Professor Hirsch is fluent in Thai and Lao, speaks intermediate Vietnamese and elementary Khmer.

For more information or to browse additional resources, visit the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre’s website here.

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Natali Pearson

Dr Natali Pearson is Curriculum Coordinator at the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre, a university-wide multidisciplinary center at the University of Sydney, Australia. Her research focuses on the protection, management and interpretation of underwater cultural heritage in Southeast Asia.

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