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This paper puts forward the argument that substantive attention to the phenomenon of ‘trust’ constitutes a surprising missing chapter in contemporary repatriation policy and theory. In particular, the paper highlights the need for repatriation theorists and policy-makers to foreground trust relations between refugees and their states of origin in dominant frameworks. It argues that emphasis on these refugee-state trust relations presents a logical development, both of contemporary theory on the political content of repatriation and of due consideration of the formidable barrier to repatriation posed by refugees’ distrust of their state of origin. The paper puts forward a trust-based lens, suggesting that we recognise repatriation as, at least in part, a process of trust-building between refugee-citizens and their state of origin. This lens is then applied to the possible future repatriation of Karen refugees in the Thai-Burma border camps, drawing directly on the broad framework developed, and also on historical and cultural dimensions of trust specific to this case. The paper concludes that in this context dominant strategies currently undermine prospects for successful refugee-state trust-building, emphasising the need for fundamental political reform of the Burmese state in terms of its ethnic minority political representation if refugee-state trust is to be won.

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Working paper


Refugee Studies Centre

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