CPRI 16: Contested Peace and Flexible Return

Agency and Political Inclusion in the Continuous Movement of Karen IDPs in Myanmar

When funding for Internal Displaced Persons (IDPs) on the Thai-Karen borderlands ended in 2017, external actors assumed that ‘return home’ would happen. Instead, a new kind of space emerged—typified by dynamic agency, mobility and willful transgression of restrictions—to forge new livelihoods. In the eyes of many, the temporary ‘camp’ began to morph into a more permanent ‘village’.

Mythical imaginings of ‘home’ were seldom in line with the reality of ‘return.’ By framing ‘repatriation’ as the most desired of three solutions to displacement, the global framework allows only limited movement of refugees back to the locality they fled. It makes unrealistic assumptions of conditions for return, rarely met in reality. The experiences of people in Ee Tu Hta in Karen State, Myanmar, are a vivid representation of how this system fails to understand, let alone engage, with common experiences of displacement, as people attempt to sustain alternative livelihoods for themselves and their families.
Based on first-hand accounts with Karen people living in the Ee Tu Hta IDP ‘camp’, this work situates their local experiences, perspectives and responses to funding cuts within the context of dominant doctrines and discourses of repatriation and return. These local experiences contribute to the growing argument for the need to reimagine protracted displacement beyond broad-based ‘durable solutions’ and the assumptions that underpin them, and move toward localized solutions and arrangements that re-center the power of agency and community.

Publication date: July 2020

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