Bordering and Ordering among Refugees from Burma/Myanmar | Annual Elizabeth Colson Lecture 2022

The impact of borders on refugees’ lives has been extensively analysed in relation to border control, border policing and border violence. However, borders can also be generative, shaping non-state political and social orders at multiple levels. This lecture examines the relationship between border regimes and the social orders created in displacement, drawing on empirical work with refugees from Burma living in Thailand, Malaysia and India. Tracing changing configurations of governance across these different contexts shows how refugee-led organisations are constituted by bordering processes from their country of origin, countries of asylum, and the global regime of refugee protection. However, refugee community organisations do not merely replicate existing border struggles but also present alternative social orders. Refugee leaders and community organisations are governing from below to provide social care and local protection, and to instil hope and courage in the face of hopelessness and insecurity. In this work of shared risks and resources there is a rejection of bordered hierarchies and an assertion of an alternative political community or commons.

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