Identity Formation and Armed Conflict A Case Study of Young Karen Long-term Refugees in Mae La Refugee Camp

Over six million people currently live in protracted refugee situations, many due to armed conflict. However, linkages between protracted refugee situations, armed conflict, and the identity formation process of young refugees have not been analysed heretofore. For this study I interviewed 14 refugee youth aged 12 to 21 who were members of the Karen ethnic group of Burma (Myanmar) living in Mae La refugee camp in Thailand. The interviews were carried out and analysed within a framework combining Urie Bronfenbrenner's Ecological Systems model with James Marcia's Ego Identity Status theory. A high rate of foreclosure was found for most identity status domains. Results were consistent with the hypothesis that spending formative years in a conflict-related protracted refugee situation, with or without the active influence of belligerents, is linked with willingness to take up arms.