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Anthropological literature on refugees and migrants

Individual Documents

Title: Anthropology, morality, and the Rohingya
Date of publication: 30 November 2017
Description/subject: "In August 2017, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army attacked police posts and an army base in western Rakhine state, Myanmar, claiming to fight for the rights of Rohingya, an ethnic Muslim minority living in western Myanmar. Within a few weeks, under the pretext of “clearance operations”, more than 600,000 Rohingya people fled across the border into neighbouring Bangladesh amidst reports of extrajudicial killings, sexual violence and arson by Myanmar’s state military, the Tatmadaw. The United Nations has declared this to be “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. This categorisation is only strengthened in private conversations with humanitarian actors working in Bangladesh, who describe the sheer scale of war crimes that have been committed against civilian populations since August. And yet the Tatmadaw’s campaign has been disturbingly popular within Myanmar. Many of my friends from fieldwork, including members of other long-oppressed ethnic minorities, have posted in support of what they consider to be a mission to rid the country of illegal immigrants and terrorists. In the midst of the horror, I have been left wondering what my role as a researcher is. Indeed, while the anthropologist in my head cautions me to maintain reflexivity and consider the events more critically, this perspective and my pedagogical training seem inadequate right now..."
Author/creator: Justine Chambers
Language: English
Source/publisher: "New Mandala"
Format/size: html
Date of entry/update: 22 December 2017

Title: Night-Time and Refugees: Evidence from the Thai-Myanmar Border
Date of publication: 03 December 2015
Description/subject: "The impact of night-time on the social life of refugees is under-researched. Drawing on long-term ethnographic fieldwork with refugees from Myanmar in Thailand, this article argues that researching refugees’ lives after dark is essential for a comprehensive understanding of refugees’ social relations, education and economic activities as well as health and safety concerns. Findings of this article provide food for thought for researchers and practitioners working with refugees and internally displaced persons around the world and are likely to entice more research on the subject of night-time in refugee settings...." Keywords: Karen refugees, camps, Thailand, night-time
Author/creator: Pia Jolliffe
Language: English
Source/publisher: "Journal of Refugee Studies" (10.1093/jrs/fev023)
Format/size: pdf (152K)
Date of entry/update: 06 December 2015

Title: Transnational “Myanmar”-Karenni Societies in United States: Experiences of Karenni Refugee Resettlement
Date of publication: 27 December 2014
Description/subject: "This paper examines the resettlement of refugees from Burma/Myanmar to the United States, by focusing on the refugee experience. The ethnographic description of the resettlement process reveals how refugees, by establishing a transnational “Myanmar” community in the United States, manifested a nationalism that was hitherto believed to be impossible. Building a nation-state in Burma/Myanmar has been a controversial issue since the nation’s independence from the British in 1948. Callahan argues that the process of state building in Burma has focused on warfare and violence by the state. After independence, the national army or Tatmadaw regarded citizens as potential enemies, and conducted various anti-insurgency campaigns. Her argument richly elucidates the state-building process in Burma/Myanmar. However, though the Nation and the State are inseparable, her arguments exclude the nation-building process. This paper explores one aspect of belonging to the nation of “Myanmar.” While state building is one of the most important tasks for a country following ethnic conflict, it is often analyzed only within the context of resistance movements, such as “Burmanization” by the government or resistance movements against it. Hence, the possibilities for actual nation building have not yet been explored. The experiences of refugees outside the country offer a new and useful perspective for such a discussion. Refugees may no longer legally belong to their country of origin, yet their existence expresses the core essence of the nation they come from. The case study dealt with in this paper focuses on Karenni refugees from the Kayah State, which is the smallest state in Burma. In the Kayah State, the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) has been resisting the Burmese ruling military junta for more than 60 years, seeking either autonomy or independence from the state. The KNPP strategically have used the word “Karenni” as an umbrella term that includes all ethnic groups in Kayah State, in order to resist the Burma-centric state. The ex-chairman of the KNPP, namely Khu Hte Bu Pe, invented a “Karenni” script for the sake of the core spirit of his nation. Two refugee camps in Thailand were centers of KNPP politics in order to construct the “Karenni”, and “Karenni” has been an anti-state term, with its use being prohibited inside Burma by the junta. The category of “Karenni” or “Karenni” identity was constructed as a refugee concept in Thailand. This paper discusses the further transnational spread of “Karenni” through the resettlement of refugees to a third country, while also considering the meaning of Burma and Myanmar for those resettled refugees..."
Author/creator: KUBO Tadayuki
Language: English
Source/publisher: The Journal of Sophia Asian Studies, No. 32, 2014... 上智アジア学 第32 号2014 å¹´ 目次 ...Burma Studies in Japan: History, Culture and Religion
Format/size: pdf (691K)
Date of entry/update: 23 September 2015

Title: Searching for home: Explorations in new media and the Burmese diaspora in New Zealand
Date of publication: 20 May 2011
Description/subject: ABSTRACT: "This study examines the place of new media in the maintance of Burmese diasporic identities. Political oppression in Burma, the experience of exile and the importance of opposition movements in the borderlands make the Burmese diaspora a unique and complex group. This study uses tapoetetha-kot, an indigenous Karen research methodology, to explore aspects of new media use and identity among a group of Burmese refugees in Auckland, New Zealand. Common among all participants was a twin desire to share stories of suffering and to have that pain recognised. Participants in this project try to maintain their language and cultural practices, with the intent of returning to a democratic Burma in the future. New media supports this, by providing participants with access to opposition news reports of human rights abuses and suffering; through making cultural and linguistic artifacts accessible, and through providing an easy means of communication with friends and family in Burma and the borderlands."... Keywords: Burma, Karen, refugee, diaspora, indigenous, political activism, new media, tapotaethakot VIOLET CHO
Author/creator: Violet Cho
Language: English
Source/publisher: PACIFIC JOURNALISM REVIEW 17 (1) 2011
Format/size: pdf (85K)
Date of entry/update: 16 September 2011

Title: DISPLACED AND MISPLACED OR JUST DISPLACED: Christian Displaced Karen Identity after Sixty Years of War in Burma
Date of publication: March 2010
Description/subject: "...The thesis sought to explore the impact of organized violence, displacement and resettlement has had on the identity of a micro-section of the displaced Karen people – those professing to be Christian and either living in a displaced persons’ camp on the Thai side of the Thai-Burma border or having migrated to a third country under the UNHCR Resettlement Scheme with a special emphasis on Australia. The reason for choosing this particular micro-section of the Karen people is that, though not the predominant faith practiced by the Karen, the Christian Karen are a synecdoche for the Karen internationally. The thesis was informed by theories of organized violence, displacement and resettlement and explored their relationship to the central construct of identity. A transitional ecosystems model was used to explore the interrelationship of these theories and concepts for Christian Karen, displaced from their homeland by organized violence perpetrated by the ruling power of their country..."
Author/creator: Shirley Lorraine Worland
Language: English
Source/publisher: School of Social Work and Human Services, Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences, University of Queensland
Format/size: pdf (1.3MB)
Date of entry/update: 20 November 2010

Title: Confinement and Mobility: Transnational Ties and Religious Networking among Baptist Karen at the Thailand-Burma Border
Date of publication: 2010
Description/subject: Abstract: "As the refugee crisis unfolds, tens of thousands Karen refugees roam in the jungle, make their way to the refugee camps on the Thai-Burmese border or self-settle in the border town or in the countryside. In this paper, I explore the nexus of the Karen becoming stateless and empowered in Christian networks. I engage with Castells’ social theory of network society to show the reliance of refugees on support networks. I argue that Christians are able to counter their confinement to the refugee camp by claiming spaces in the borderland. Far from being passive recipients of humanitarian aid, Karen refugees emerge as senior evangelists who use cross-border church networks to proselytize in the borderland. I show that the Karen use these dense support networks for reconstruction in the Thai borderland and for re-entering the war-zone in eastern Burma as part of a collective project and spiritual passage. I argue that the development of an indigenous Karen Christian tradition is intertwined and developed in tandem with the nationalist project of a Karen state. The Karen “struggle” is thus interpreted in religious language of Christian prophecy. This discourse is also reinforced by the identification of Western humanitarian aid agencies with the fate of the Karen."
Author/creator: Alexander Horstmann
Language: English
Source/publisher: Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity
Format/size: pdf (1.6MB - OBL versioin; 3.94MB - original)
Alternate URLs: http://www.mmg.mpg.de/fileadmin/user_upload/documents/wp/WP_10-16_Horstmann_Confinement-and-Mobilit...
Date of entry/update: 03 December 2010

Title: New media and Burmese diaspora identities in New Zealand
Date of publication: November 2009
Description/subject: Abstract: "This study examines ways in which Burmese diasporic identities are formed and maintained, and the importance of new media in this process. Political oppression in Burma, the experience of exile and the importance of opposition movements in the borderlands make the Burmese diaspora a unique and complex group. This study used tapoetethakot, an indigenous Karen research methodology, to interact with fourteen participants in Auckland, exploring aspects of new media use and identity maintenance. Common among all participants was a twin desire to share stories of suffering and to have that pain recognised. This suffering is an important part of refugee identity and is also linked with resistance against assimilation in New Zealand. Instead, participants try and maintain their language and cultural practices, with the intent of returning to a democratic Burma in the future. New media supports these processes, by providing participants with access to opposition media reports of human rights abuses and suffering, through making cultural and linguistic artifacts accessible and through providing an easy means of communication with friends and family in Burma and the borderlands."
Author/creator: Naw Violet Cho
Language: English (main text); Interviews (English, Karen, Burmese)
Source/publisher: School of Communication Studies Auckland University of Technology
Format/size: pdf (582K)
Date of entry/update: 24 January 2011

Title: A sense of home in exile
Date of publication: 22 April 2008
Description/subject: Material objects and the physical actions of making and using them are a fundamental part of how forced migrants, far from being passive victims of circumstance, seek to make the best of – and make a home in – their displacement.
Author/creator: Sandra Dudley
Language: English, Burmese
Source/publisher: "Forced Migration Review" No. 30
Format/size: pdf (Burmese, 240K, English, 400K)
Alternate URLs: http://www.fmreview.org/FMRpdfs/FMR30Burmese/23-24.pdf
Date of entry/update: 30 November 2008

Title: In the absence of the humanitarian gaze: refugee camps after dark
Date of publication: December 2006
Description/subject: Introduction: "Night-time is scarcely discussed when it comes to the analysis of life in refugee camps. Around the world, humanitarian aid agencies´ access to camp sites is often limited to traditional office hours. Aid officials’ presence may be limited by offical curfews. Aid workers may retreat from camps for socializing and rest. At night-time, refugee settlements – almost terra incognita - elicit ambiguous sentiments among those who eschew them. Aid workers often see refugees’ nocturnal activities as merely physical (e.g. sleep and sexual relationships). They also point to increased dangers at night-time, and may use these to justify personal withdrawal. Against this backdrop, this paper1 makes a first attempt to shed light on nocturnal life in and around refugee camps. Most of the data used here stems from anthropological fieldwork with Karenni refugee and forced migrant youth in and around a refugee camp close to Mae Hong Son (Northern Thailand). I conducted this fieldwork during January and February 2006 as a preliminary study for my doctoral dissertation project. During the course of this research, I had only one opportunity to participate in a nocturnal event within the camp and thus relied largely on the accounts of my interlocutors (some of whom I regularly met during the hours of darkness outside the camp) to form a picture of the time from dusk until dawn in and around refugee camps. While the majority of research participants consisted of refugee and forced migrant youth roughly between the ages of 17 and 25, the information presented in this paper is also based on the testimonies and accounts of adults working and/or living with these young people. Besides the data originating from this case study, this text draws together findings on forced migrants´ nocturnal lives in different geographical settings. Since this research is a work-in-progress, this paper does not purport to offer an authoritative picture of nocturnal camp life, but rather hopes to instigate discussion that might shape further research directions. The paper begins by stressing the importance of scrutinizing night-time, whether in relation to forced migration or in social research, more generally. This is followed by a presentation of preliminary research findings with regard to the impact of nightfall on the lives of refugees and forced migrants, in particular, social relations; physical security; mental well-being; and livelihood provision after dark. The paper concludes by suggesting that exploring nocturnal aspects of refugee camps and settlements might not only reveal new insights into refugees´ livelihood strategies and coping mechanisms during the night, but also improve our general understanding of social life in refugee camps and settlements."
Author/creator: Pia Vogler
Language: English
Source/publisher: UNHCR - New Issues in Refugee REsearch
Format/size: pdf (120K)
Date of entry/update: 18 November 2010

Title: Celebration, Affirmation and Transformation: a "Traditional" Festival in a Refugee Camp in Thailand
Date of publication: 31 October 2000
Description/subject: "In 1996, approximately 1500 people lived in Camp 5, a refugee camp located in the jungle on the Thai-Burmese border. The camp was open and self-administered, with refugee-run schools, two churches, and one Buddhist monastery. Though unavoidably and significantly influenced by displacement, cultural life in Camp 5 was vibrant. Refugees were able to celebrate annual festivals in the camps; for many internally displaced persons inside Burma, such celebrations have been impossible for some years. One such festival is diy-kuw. The people living in Camp 5 call themselves Karenni and have fled from Kayah State (referred to by the Karenni as "Karenni State"). Kayah is Burma's smallest state, bordering Thailand's northwestern province of Mae Hong Son..."
Author/creator: Sandra Dudley
Language: English
Source/publisher: "Cultural Survival Quarterly" Issue 24.3
Format/size: html
Date of entry/update: 03 June 2003

Title: "Traditional" culture and refugee welfare in north-west Thailand
Date of publication: December 1999
Description/subject: "The effects of displacement on culture can have significant impacts on the psychological and physical welfare of individual refugees and on the social dynamics within a refugee population. Yet, refugees and relief agencies alike often underestimate or feel too overworked to incorporate the importance of cultural factors in assistance programmes. Potential cultural conflicts between refugee communities, host communities and relief agencies are of course important. Less often recognised, however, is the importance of cultural variation and tension within the refugee community. This article argues that if relief agencies develop a greater awareness of cultural patterns and potential cultural conflict within as well as between communities, their assistance programmes may be more effectively and appropriately designed and implemented...This article is based on anthropological field research, conducted by the author at the request of the NGO concerned during the course of wider field research conducted in 1996-7 and 1998, with Karenni refugees living in camps on the Burmese border, in Thailand's northwestern province of Mae Hong Son. Karenni people have been fleeing from Karenni (Kayah) State in eastern Burma and seeking refuge on the Thai side of the border for some years, the first significant numbers arriving in 1989..."
Author/creator: Sandra Dudley
Language: English
Source/publisher: "Forced Migration Review" No. 6
Date of entry/update: 03 June 2003