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Survival and integration: Kachin social networks and refugee management regimes in Kuala Lumpur and Los Angeles


How do refugees establish social networks and mobilise social capital in different contexts throughout a multi-stage migration process? Migrant social network literature explains how migrants accumulate social capital and mobilise resources in and between origin and destination but provides limited answers regarding how these processes unfold during refugee migrations involvingprotracted stays in intermediate locations and direct interaction with state agents. Drawing from ethnographic fieldwork with Kachin refugees in Kuala Lumpur and Los Angeles, I address these gaps by comparing refugee social networks in two sites of a migration process. Distinguishingbetween networks of survival and networks of integration, I argue that differences in their form and functions stem from their interactions with local refugee management regimes, which are shaped by broader state regulatory contexts. In both locations, these networks and regimes feed off each other to manage the refugee migration process, with key roles played by hybrid institutions rooted in grassroots adaptation efforts yet linked to formal resettlement mechanisms. Considering the refugee migration process as a whole, I show that Kachin refugees demonstrate their possession of socialcapital gained during the informal social process of migration to advance through institutionalised political processes of resettlement in each context.

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