Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

Well-founded fears that ‘refugee warriors’ will use refugee camps as a base for military operations, exploit a wider refugee population, or misuse international aid have led to the development of policies intended to ensure the separation of combatants and civilian refugee populations. However, a dogmatic approach to that policy goal may miss the true complexity of both refugee protection and the relationships between a refugee population and a military group. This article examines an alternative possibility, that a non-state armed group may be a potential partner in refugee protection and welfare promotion. It draws on the experiences of refugees from Burma living in camps in Thailand, where there has been a long-standing connection between camp governance structures and a political/military organization movement, the Karen National Union/Karen National Liberation Army. While camp governance activities have been flawed, they have also displayed a high level of integrity. It is argued that in such a situation, where there is a proven record of working to improve civilian welfare, international organizations might usefully explore possibilities of engagement with non-state armed groups as partners in refugee protection, with the specific goal of encouraging a more representative, accountable, and democratic approach to governance.

More information


Journal article


Oxford University Press

Publication Date



4 (1)


30 - 56