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Into the jungle of bureaucracy: negotiating access to camps at the Thai-Burma border

Category: Journal Articles

Vogler, P.M, (2007)  “Into the jungle of bureaucracy: negotiating access to camps at the Thai-Burma border”, Refugee Survey Quarterly , 26/3, 51-60.

Refugee camps around the world differ in regards to their accessibility. Some camps allow for relatively easy access and therefore often provide grounds for refugee related anthropological fieldwork. By contrast, other campsites are less accessible and remain comparatively under-researched. Based on ethnographic fieldwork with Karenni refugees in Mae Hong Son, Northern Thailand, this article examines how effects of administrative power may impact on ethnographic studies of “sensible” terrains. Refugee camps in Thailand are guarded by paramilitary forces and other security personnel. Movements of persons and goods inside and outside the sites are regulated through the imposition of curfews and the mandatory possession of a camp pass issued by governmental authorities. This paper discusses general, spatial and temporal control mechanisms encountered during fieldwork. This is followed by reflections on joining a local NGO in order to negotiate research access to the refugee camps and the practical and ethical issues raised by this strategy. The paper concludes by suggesting that those researching refugee situations should be more vocal about the diffuse forms of administrative power to which they are subjected during fieldwork.

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