Refugee policy as border governance: Refugee return, peacebuilding, and Myanmar's politics of transition

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Refugees have been largely overlooked in analyses of Myanmar's transition, apparently considered peripheral to more prominent topics such as negotiation with armed groups, economic reform, and political elections. By analysing approaches to return and repatriation in three distinct contexts-refugees in camps in Thailand, Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, and Chin refugees in Malaysia and India-this article shows that proposals for the return and repatriation of refugees are a form of 'border governance' (that is, governance in, of, and through borders). This operates at three scales: (1) global border control by keeping refugees in their region of origin or returning them to their country of origin, (2) national border control by reinforcing boundaries between Myanmar and its surrounding states, and (3) the governance of political transition by reinforcing the Myanmar government's narrative of peacebuilding by recasting continuing conflict as conditions suitable for refugee return. Premature promotion of repatriation has a number of harmful outcomes for refugee communities: encouraging the withdrawal of international aid, escalating fear and uncertainty, and political bolstering of a Bamar-dominated government and military vis-a-vis ethnic minority groups. This analysis supports a broader understanding of repatriation and its consequences, recognising that the promotion of refugee return can have significant political implications that are apparent even before mass returns have been carried out and which may reverberate far into the future.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)661-690
Number of pages30
JournalModern Asian Studies
Issue numberSpecial Issue 2
Early online date8 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022

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