Humanitarian struggle: the evolving politics of “cross-border aid” to Myanmar, Dr Anne Decobert

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Date(s) - 23/03/2017
1:00 pm - 2:00 pm

N302, 3rd Floor, Menzies Building


“Cross-border aid” to Myanmar developed in the 1990s as an alternative mechanism for channelling assistance to conflict-affected areas where the military state restricted humanitarian access. Yet in the lead up to and years following Myanmar’s 2010 elections, socio-political changes had significant impacts on an aid debate with important political and ethical ramifications. These changes highlighted ways in which aid systems can be defined as legitimate or illegitimate, humanitarian or “un-humanitarian”, in an international context that has witnessed the multiplication of often-conflicting humanitarian systems and models. At the same time, the “humanitarian struggle” of local aid workers illustrated how actors differentially situated in an international system of humanitarian government can be involved in contests over the attribution of value not only to human lives per se, but also to the systems and practices that govern these lives.

Through an ethnographic study of a cross-border aid organisation, the Back Pack Health Worker Team, this paper explores some of the ongoing political and ethical dilemmas of humanitarian government, as well as possibilities and contraints that are faced by actors who are brought together in unequal humanitarian encounters