Refugees, Externalization of Violence and Interstate War in Indochina: A Humanitarian Dilemma

Clarence G. Simmons IV, The College of Wooster


Refugees are often at the heart of humanitarian and political crises. Popularizations of their plight justifiably address the suffering these individuals endure and the injustices that prompted their exodus but the effects refugees have on their hosts have, until recently, gone largely unaddressed. Refugee migrations have the capability to not only bring the conflict that prompted their exodus with them, but exacerbate violence by involving the state of asylum. This thesis examines this relationship, in particular the mechanisms by which refugeeism can instigate interstate conflict between the host state and the home state. Derived from available academic literature, I posit two hypotheses: 1.) That uncontested movement of persons across the border between the host and home-state permits refugee-guerilla assaults, raids, etc. on the home-state, escalating to direct, state-to-state military conflict. And 2.) Unchecked and indiscriminant humanitarian aid to refugees allows for independent militarization of refugees which escalates to interstate war between the host and home-states. Employing a comparative case study approach, I test my hypotheses through evaluation of Cambodian refugees stemming from the Cambodian Civil War, the ensuing genocide at the hands of the Khmer Rouge and the Cambodia-Vietnam War (1970-1991); comparing refugees who fled to Vietnam (Case 1) and those who fled to Thailand (Case 2). Results do not explicitly support my hypotheses but definitively demonstrate relationships between the spread of interstate conflict and the allocation of humanitarian aid and uncontested movement of persons across international borders. Results also reveal that the cause of refugeeism may influence refugee behavior, specifically the willingness of refugee populations to militarize. Although this thesis does not confirm the proposed hypotheses, it succeeds in highlighting connections between the spread of political violence and humanitarianism, ungoverned borders and the cause of refugeeism, warranting further study.


© Copyright 2014 Clarence G. Simmons IV