Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

Forced Migration: Typology and Local Agency in Southeast Myanmar

Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

Forced Migration: Typology and Local Agency in Southeast Myanmar

Article excerpt

This article describes and analyses the decision-making processes and approaches to return, resettlement and rehabilitation of forced migrants--Internally Displaced People (IDPs) and refugees--in the context of armed conflict and an emerging peace process in southeast Myanmar. Drawing on literatures on agency and "protection", we argue that forced migrants in and from Myanmar demonstrate great resilience and significant social capital, and that external support should be geared towards aiding their own ongoing struggles to achieve dignity and "durable solutions" to their plight.

The article describes eight main types of conflict-induced forced migration in southeast Myanmar, determined largely by forced migrants' coping mechanisms in the context of hardship and abuse. Five main factors are further identified which influence these different types of forced migrants in their current decisions around return or resettlement and thus help us to understand the role of local agency in the changing context.

Forced migration in southeast Myanmar has been driven to a large extent by the counter-insurgency strategy of the Myanmar Armed Forces (Tatmadaw), raising questions of the potential role of the state as a legitimate protection actor. Meanwhile, international assistance has been limited due to a lack of access to conflict-affected areas, meaning that external actors have also failed to provide adequate protection. Many displaced communities continue to rely on Ethnic Armed Groups (EAGs) and their associated networks for humanitarian support and social services. But these actors too can be compromised in their effectiveness as protectors by their lack of capacity, and their conflicting political, personal, economic or other agendas. Furthermore, civilians living under their influence are often saddled with increased attacks and harassment by the state.

This lack of institutionalized protection demonstrates clearly the importance of understanding how communities protect themselves and relate to external actors. This is of particular significance at present in southeast Myanmar, where ceasefires between the government and seven local EAGs were signed in 2011 and 2012. These deals have created a degree of stability in the region, despite a wide range of ongoing security issues related to continued militarization. Additionally, decreases in violent conflict have allowed greater space for economic development actors, including the government, to expand agribusiness and extractive resources developments and to construct multiple roads, leading to significant land confiscation and damage to local livelihoods. (1) In this context, thousands of forced migrants have begun tentative moves either to return to previous locations (particularly where they still have claims to farmland) and/ or move to new in-country resettlement sites.

Globally, the literature and policy discourse on protection of forced migrants and other victims of conflict and humanitarian disasters has focused on the role of external actors and their responsibility to intervene. However, there is a growing body of work exploring the importance of such forced migrants' own protection strategies, which we discuss below. This article aims to add to this body of literature. We demonstrate how "peace processes" and the rehabilitation of civilian victims of armed conflict are far more complex than simple transitions back to a pre-war status quo, and involve long and complex (and often contested) processes of deliberation.

Background: Conflict, Peace and Humanitarian Impacts in Southeast Myanmar (2)

Myanmar is home to more than 100 ethno-linguistic groups, and according to the 2014 census, has a population of over 51 million. Non-Burman communities make up at least 30 per cent of the population. Ethnic armed conflict has plagued southeast Myanmar--which borders Thailand, and encompasses Tanintharyi Region, Mon State, Kayin State, eastern Bago Region, Kayah State and southern Shan State--for over sixty-five years. …

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