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Examining how local, community-level governance can help refugees cope with the threats and dangers encountered in displacement

An infant IDP with his two siblings in Palinpyin village, near the coastal city of Sittwe in Rakhine state UNHCR / P Behan
An infant IDP with his two siblings in Palinpyin village, near the coastal city of Sittwe in Rakhine state

This research examined how local, community-level governance can help refugees cope with the threats and dangers encountered in displacement, focusing on the experiences of refugees from Burma/Myanmar. During several decades of military repression and civil insurgency in Burma, hundreds of thousands of people were forced to flee to neighbouring countries.

Pathways of displacement are broadly differentiated by ethnicity. The majority of refugees in camps in Thailand are of Karen and Karenni ethnicity, while Shan, Kachin and Burman are more likely to be living as undocumented migrants. Ethnic Chin primarily fled to India (and, increasingly, Malaysia). Rohingya in Bangladesh primarily live in camps, while in Malaysia they have become urban refugees. These ethnic groups nominally share a nationality but they have different languages, political representation and live in different conditions of displacement. They also have different levels and forms of community organisation.

Focusing on the experiences of Karen, Chin and Rohingya refugees, this research studied (i) institutional structures of organisation within the refugee communities (ii) the wider cultural, policy and political climate that has shaped refugees’ space for self-governance and (iii) the impact of political liberalisation inside Burma on refugees outside the country. Within the overall sphere of community organization there is a particular focus on questions of crime, justice and dispute resolution.

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Selected publications