Governing Migration: Refugee-led Justice Systems and Community Manamagent on the Thai-Burma Border

Governance in refugee situations is often considered synonymous with national and supranational policy. This paper discusses a neglected aspect of ‘governing migration’, the internal management of a refugee camp by members of the refugee population. The paper draws on doctoral research conducted with Karen refuges on the Thai-Burma border and describes the active role of the refugee population in camp governance, with a particular focus on policing and justice issues. There are nine refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border. Camp populations are subjected to extensive restrictions imposed by the Royal Thai Government, and the denial of freedom of movement and income generation has left camp populations dependent on humanitarian assistance agencies for food, housing materials and other resources. However, day to day camp management is largely handled by a refugee-led camp administration which, among other functions, has responsibility for justice delivery. The impressive level of internal autonomy within the Thai-Burma border camps has attracted international recognition but no comprehensive analysis. This paper discusses the work of the camp justice system and its relationship with other authorities (particularly international humanitarian organizations) to detail some of the many ways in which the refugee population themselves “govern migration”.

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