Repatriation, Peacebuilding and State-building in Burma/Myanmar

Repatriation, Peacebuilding and State-building in Burma/Myanmar
20 February 2019, 6.00pm - 8.00pm
IALS Council Chamber, Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, 17 Russell Square, London WC1B 5DR

The International Refugee Law Seminar Series, sponsored by the Refugee Law Initiative at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, provides a public space for discussion, promotion and dissemination of research between academics, practitioners, students and others with an interest in the refugee and forced migration field.

9th International Refugee Law Seminar Series

The 9th International Refugee Law Seminar Series is an open theme covering a range of topics related to refugee law and protection, and presented by experts from a number of professions.

Repatriation, Peacebuilding and State-building in Burma/Myanmar


This talk will explore the relationship between repatriation and political agendas, using the case study of Burma/Myanmar. In 2018, UNHCR was widely criticised for signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the Governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar to cooperate in repatriation of Rohingya refugees.  This agreement was criticised as premature (as conditions in Myanmar were not conducive to safe returns) and likely to violate the principle of voluntary returns (as Rohingya refugees were overwhelmingly unwilling to return).  However, while the proposed repatriation of Rohingya has received considerable international attention, this is not the only effort by UNHCR to facilitate repatriation of refugees to Myanmar. Repatriation planning for refugees in camps in Thailand has been underway for several years, and in June 2018, UNHCR declared cessation for Chin refugees in Malaysia and India. This presentation will examine the various initiatives for return of refugees to Myanmar and consider how a language of “peacebuilding” can be used to leverage premature returns, even where there are serious doubts about the sincerity of political reforms and the long-term security of returnees. In such a process, refugees risk being used as political pawns, while UNHCR and other agencies promoting repatriation risk becoming agents of state-building, legitimising the state as an ‘honest broker’ and reinforcing the state’s objectives over the interests of refugees. 


Dr Kirsten McConnachie joined UEA as a Senior Lecturer in Law in April 2018, having previously held posts at the University of Warwick (Assistant Professor, 2015- 2018), University of Oxford’s Refugee Studies Centre (Junior Research Fellow, 2012-2015), and the University of Edinburgh (Research Fellow 2011-2012). She studied at Queen's University Belfast (PhD in Law), University of Nottingham (LLM in the Law of Armed Conflict) and the University of Glasgow (LLB in Scots Law).

Kirsten is a socio-legal researcher working on governance and justice in refugee situations. She has a particular regional interest in southeast Asia, having worked first with Karen refugees living in camps in Thailand and more recently with ethnic Chin refugees in Malaysia and India. Her book, Governing Refugees (Routledge 2014), analysed governance and justice in refugee camps in Thailand and was awarded the Socio-Legal Studies Association early career book prize for 2015.  She have also published on topics including governance by armed groups; the history and management of refugee camps; legal pluralism and non-state justice systems; forced migration in southeast Asia; the role of victims in transitional justice; and constitutional reform. A common thread in this work is a focus on pluralistic governance and on the role of non-state actors in governance.


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