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Unsettling Experiences: Internal Resettlement and International Aid Agencies in Laos


  • Ian G. Baird,

    1. PhD Candidate in Geography at the University of British Columbia, 1984 West Mall, Vancouver, BC, Canada, V6T 1Z2
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  • Bruce Shoemaker

    1. Mekong region development and natural resource issues. He has spent more than eight years in Laos working with international NGOs and is now based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
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  • The authors are grateful to the four anonymous referees whose comments substantially contributed to improving the quality of the paper.


A number of programmes and policies in Laos are promoting the internal resettlement of mostly indigenous ethnic minorities from remote highlands to lowland areas and along roads. Various justifications are given for this internal resettlement: eradication of opium cultivation, security concerns, access and service delivery, cultural integration and nation building, and the reduction of swidden agriculture. There is compelling evidence that it is having a devastating impact on local livelihoods and cultures, and that international aid agencies are playing important but varied and sometimes conflicting roles with regard to internal resettlement in Laos. While some international aid agencies claim that they are willing to support internal resettlement if it is ‘voluntary’, it is not easy to separate voluntary from involuntary resettlement in the Lao context. Both state and non-state players often find it convenient to discursively frame non-villager initiated resettlement as ‘voluntary’.