Appointed As

Global Southeast Asia Postdoctoral Fellow


ACLS Emerging Voices Fellowships program


University of California, Irvine

PhD Field of Study

PhD, Anthropology, Southern Methodist University

Dissertation Abstract

"Rethinking Repatriation: Karen Refugees on the Thai-Myanmar Border"

In this dissertation, I explore the experience of Karen refugees living inside a refugee camp along the Thai-Myanmar border in one of the world’s most protracted refugee situations. This research situates displacement within theories of time, (im)mobility and resistance while also drawing on literature in forced migration concerning repatriation, exile, protracted refugee situations and policy development. A key component of this work focuses on analyzing the relationship between resistance and waiting by applying these concepts to the experience of Karen refugees who have spent decades waiting in camps while currently being faced with a voluntary repatriation program. I frame voluntary repatriation as a globally accepted durable solution to protracted refugee situations and as such, the preferred outcome of protracted displacement by the international refugee regime. Building on conceptualizations of waiting as an active strategy, I add both strategy and resistance to this concept in the context of protracted refugee situations, showing how I will further develop this theoretical framework through my own ethnographic work. Since my contribution to this theoretical trajectory is to make ‘waiting as resistance’ and ‘waiting as strategy’ central to an analysis of the repatriation framework, I will explain how holistic frameworks of return can guide effective policy implementation.
This dissertation also traces the specific histories and geo-political situations that gave rise to the current state of a protracted refugee crisis along the Thailand-Myanmar border. With special consideration paid to the emergence of a voluntary repatriation program being implemented by the UNHCR in the region, I explore how Karen refugees respond to the notion of return to Myanmar. In the concluding chapters I offer an applied contribution in the form of a policy recommendation for Thailand that I have termed Protracted Sanctuary Status. Within this framework I offer a suggestion that is modeled after the U.S. immigration category of Temporary Protected Status with a few key changes that address both the need for legal employment in Thailand as well as the precariousness refugees from Myanmar currently face.