Return of Forced Migrants
Voluntary repatriation, resettlement and local integration are the three ‘durable solutions’ to refugee crises recognised under international law, and facilitated by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Repatriating refugees and asylum seekers return from their country of asylum to their country of origin, either to their original communities or elsewhere. In-country return is also one of the key means for resolving internal displacement situations. Return migration may be permanent or short term, such as in the case of displaced persons who revisit their homes to assess the viability of returning with their families. Under international law and the norms espoused by organisations such as UNHCR, return must be voluntary in character and must take place ‘in conditions of safety and dignity’. Voluntary return should only be undertaken where there has been a fundamental change in the circumstances causing displacement. For instance, a peace agreement may have been signed, or an abusive regime replaced with a new government that protects the rights of its citizens. However, if the injustices at the root of forced displacement are not successfully redressed, repatriating refugees may easily become internally displaced persons (IDPs).
United Nations member states and UNHCR have long regarded return as the ‘preferred’ solution to refugees’ plight, and declared the 1990s the Decade of Repatriation (for e.g. Takahashi 1997). In many cases, refugees themselves also favour repatriation as the solution to their displacement, yet repatriation has only recently been actively pursued as the principle durable solution for refugees. After World War II, UNHCR’s precursor, the International Refugee Organisation (IRO) did not encourage the repatriation of displaced persons to communist countries where they could be persecuted as traitors. During the Cold War, the use of repatriation as a durable solution was limited as millions of refugees who ‘voted with their feet’ against repression and conflict in communist-aligned countries were offered permanent resettlement in the West. Permanent resettlement was offered principally to those refugees who were able to seek asylum in the West, but many refugees were also resettled from regions such as Southeast Asia.
Once the Cold War ended, the political utility of offering permanent resettlement to refugees diminished. At the same time, local integration opportunities waned as the developing countries hosting the majority of the world’s refugees adopted increasingly restrictive policies towards refugees and asylum seekers, in part as a protest against inadequate progress in establishing ‘burden sharing’ mechanisms between the global North and South, and in reaction to the continued militarization of refugee populations. Faced with the prospect of the indefinite ‘warehousing’ of millions of refugees in often impoverished and isolated camps, international efforts shifted to promoting the return of refugees and IDPs. In the last three years alone, more than 5 million refugees have returned to their countries of origin in 27 large-scale repatriation programmes. Major destination countries include Afghanistan, Angola, Burundi, Iraq , Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Somalia. These and other repatriation programmes have not been unproblematic: while many scholars, practitioners and policymakers argue that return is a fundamental right of forced migrants, others see the new focus on return as an erosion of refugee rights and question the voluntariness of many repatriation movements.
This guide is not intended to provide a comprehensive discussion of return in all its facets. Rather, it aims to set out some of the core principles and issues surrounding the return of refugees and IDPs, and highlight the challenges associated with making return a safe, dignified and sustainable process. It also addresses some of the issues raised by the return of failed asylum seekers. The guide seeks to help the reader navigate the extensive literature on return, and identify areas where additional research is required. The guide is open to revision and any recommendations for additional literature or websites will be warmly welcomed.
- UNHCR, Refugees by Numbers 2005 http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/basics/opendoc.htm?tbl=BASICS&id=3b028097c#Returnees
In addition to states of origin, states of asylum and displaced persons themselves, key actors in the return process include UN agencies, other regional and international organisations, donors, peacekeepers and NGOs in countries of asylum as well as in countries of origin. Although many displaced persons return ‘spontaneously’, that is, outside of an organized return process and without targeted assistance from governments or humanitarian agencies, UNHCR and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) often take the lead in facilitating large-scale return movements, working in cooperation with national governments. UNHCR and the IOM may also be involved in monitoring and providing initial support to returnees and their communities. However, a much wider array of political, legal and development institutions must cooperate in order to make return processes sustainable. In addition to those organisations that provide direct assistance to returnees, a number of advocacy and research groups report on the conditions facing returnees, and develop policy recommendations for governments, the United Nations and NGOs.
- African Union http://www.africa-union.org/
- Amnesty International http://www.amnesty.org
- Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugees’ Rights http://www.badil.org/
- Brookings Institution-University of Bern Project on Internal Displacement http://www.brook.edu/fp/projects/idp/idp.htm
- Global IDP Project http://www.idpproject.org/
- Human Rights Watch http://www.hrw.org
- International Committee of the Red Cross http://www.icrc.org/
- International Organisation for Migration (IOM) http://www.iom.int/
- International Rescue Committee (IRC) http://www.theirc.org/
- Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights—Representative of the Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons http://www.ohchr.org/english/issues/idp/index.htm
- Oxfam International http://www.oxfam.org/
- Refugees International http://www.refugeesinternational.org/
- United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) http://www.unhcr.org/
- United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) http://www.refugees.org/
- Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children http://www.womenscommission.org/
Studying return movements
Researchers have approached the questions surrounding return from a wide variety of disciplinary perspectives, including law, economics, politics, psychology, anthropology, geography and sociology. A substantial proportion of the literature on return has been developed by anthropologists concerned with perceptions of return and homeland within exiled communities, and how these perceptions contrast with the actual experience of return. Various scholars have employed a regional approach, addressing the particular obstacles posed by return to and within areas such as sub-Saharan Africa. Most of the literature on return is case-specific and examines contemporary or historical return movements. However, there is also a substantial body of literature intended to advocate and plan for an eventual return of the Palestinian refugees. Equally, a portion of the literature on the Palestinian refugee situation does not advance the case for return, out of concern that many Palestinians may not return by choice, but may be forced out of their host countries.
Many studies on return have been conducted by advocacy or humanitarian organisations, with a view to improving policymaking on return. In this vein, the comparative study of return processes is increasingly used to identify and evaluate practices that may help or hinder the homecoming of forced migrants. There is also a growing body of critical literature on the role of UNHCR and national governments in developing and implementing policies on return. With respect to repatriation to countries such as East Timor and Afghanistan, scholars are questioning the timing and motivation behind these operations, as well as the volunariness of the process.
While research on return has often concentrated on the macro-level perspectives of the national governments and international organisations involved in the facilitation of large-scale repatriation movements, it is increasingly recognized that more research is needed that examines the perspectives of returnees themselves, the gender dimensions of return, and the impact of return on communities or origin, as well as on vacated host communities. Field studies on return often examine only a short portion of the return process; future research on return may benefit from a longer-term perspective on the process.
- American University in Cairo Forced Migration and Refugee Studies Program http://www.aucegypt.edu/academic/fmrs/
- Centre for Refugee Studies, York University http://www.yorku.ca/crs/
- Forced Migration Studies Program, University of the Witwatersrand http://migration.wits.ac.za/
- Information Centre about Asylum and Refugees in the UK (ICAR) http://www.icar.org.uk/
- Institute for the Study of International Migration, Georgetown University http://www.georgetown.edu/sfs/programs/isim/
- International Association for the Study of Forced Migration (IASFM) http://www.iasfm.org/
- International Development Research Centre-Peace Conflict and Development Program http://www.idrc.ca
- Overseas Development Institute (ODI) http://www.odi.org.uk/
- Palestinian Refugee Research Net (PRRN) http://www.arts.mcgill.ca/mepp/new_prrn/
- Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford http://www.rsc.ox.ac.uk/
Legal provisions, principles, guidelines and agreements
Key principles and provisions in international law
International law addresses the refugee’s right to return as well as the right not to be forcibly returned to situations of persecution or serious danger. Refugee law has primarily focused on the latter right, known as non-refoulement. The right to return is set out in Article 13(2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as in various General Assembly Resolutions, particularly those on the Palestinian refugee situation such as Resolution 194 of 1948. Article 12.4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights also states that: ‘No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of their right to enter his own country’.
The 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees refers to repatriation only in the negative terms of refoulement. In contrast, the UNHCR Statute calls on the High Commissioner to facilitate the voluntary repatriation of refugees when appropriate. The 1969 OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa and the 1984 Cartagena Declaration on Refugees directly address repatriation, and emphasise the importance of its voluntary character. The 1969 OAU Convention goes on to call for ‘every possible assistance by the country of asylum, the country of origin, voluntary agencies and international and intergovernmental organisations, to facilitate their return’. The 1985 UNHCR Executive Committee Conclusion No. 40 (XXXVI) on Voluntary Repatriation underlines that in addition to being voluntary, return must also take place in ‘conditions of safety and dignity’. This language is reflected in Section V of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, but the UNHCR Handbook on Voluntary Repatriation concedes that while progress has been made in identifying minimum benchmarks for the safety of returnees, ‘the concept of dignity is less self-evident than that of safety’. Indeed, more rigorous legal and theoretical analysis is sorely needed to provide more solid grounding to this key principle for the governance of return.
In countries such as Angola, these international legal and normative principles have been translated into domestic law. In 2002, the government of Angola passed the Council of Ministers Decree Number 1/01, the Norms on the Resettlement of Displaced Populations, and Council of Ministers Decree 79/02, the Standard Operating Procedures for the Enforcement of the Norms on the Resettlement of Displaced Populations. The goal of these laws was to enable the safe return and reintegration of the displaced by providing assistance and access to land with a view to enabling self-reliance. The laws specified the responsibilities of national, provincial and local authorities for establishing conditions for sustainable return, and established space for community groups and international actors to participate in this process. To date, only 30 percent of return areas have achieved the minimum conditions identified in the Norms on the Resettlement of Displaced Populations. Nonetheless, Angola’s legislation has been commended as a valuable example and precedent for the incorporation of international principles on return into domestic law (See Brookings/Bern Project 2005).
Various scholars and legal experts have discussed the conditions that return must meet in order for it to be considered safe and voluntary. For example, refugees may not be physically forced to repatriate, but if humanitarian assistance is withdrawn in the country of asylum, the displaced may effectively be compelled to return. While this clearly has ramifications in terms of respect for the dignity of the displaced, rigorous examination of the notion of dignified return is comparatively uncommon. Yet, this discussion has become particularly relevant in light of the increasing use by countries of asylum of ‘temporary protection’ measures and policies of ‘mandated return’. These policies require refugees to repatriate once the country of asylum deems the threat of persecution to have been resolved. While some scholars contend that these policies are not incompatible with international legal obligations, others argue that substituting the judgement of states for the freely expressed will of refugees may run the risk of refoulement (Hathaway 1997; Chimni 1993). This debate highlights the intersection of legal and political considerations in planning and managing return movements.
- Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) (Contains texts of major international human rights treaties and Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement) http://www.ohchr.org/english/
- Refugee Law Project http://www.refugeelawproject.org/
- Santini, T. (2004) ‘North Caucasus: Upholding IDPs’ right to “voluntary” return’, Forced Migration Review 21 http://www.fmreview.org/FMRpdfs/FMR21/FMR21contents.pdf.
Return-related provisions in peace agreements
The return of refugees and IDPs is a complex and essential component of almost every modern peace process. Several United Nations bodies have recognized the importance of incorporating the rights of returning refugees and IDPs directly into peace agreements. For example, the Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and the Protection of Minorities has reaffirmed the right of refugees and IDPs to safe and secure return, and recommended that ‘the recognition of such rights be included within peace agreements ending armed conflicts’ (Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities Resolution 1998/26). With the notable exception of the 1999 Lome agreement, virtually every peace agreement concluded since 1995 includes provisions on the right of return for displaced persons.
Although controversial in many respects, the 1995 General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Dayton Agreement) set a new standard for addressing questions of return in peace accords in a detailed, comprehensive manner. Annex 7 of the Dayton Agreement is devoted specifically to displaced persons, and recognises the right of all displaced persons to return not only to their country of origin, but also to their original homes. The Agreement established a restitution commission to enable the displaced to regain access to their homes, and identified UNHCR as the international agency with primary responsibility for facilitating the return and reintegration process. The implementation of the Dayton Agreement’s provisions on return has hardly been smooth. However, the comprehensive, rights-based language on return used in the Agreement has been emulated in several other treaties. In particular, the Dayton Agreement’s conception of the right to return as the right to reclaim one’s original home has been highly influential and has, arguably, helped establish this right as a new international norm.
While there is an impressive and growing body of case-specific literature on the return of displaced persons in the context of peace processes, comparatively little attention has been paid to the broader comparative analysis of return-related provisions in peace processes. The few analyses that have been completed on this issue have adopted a primarily legal approach. Political and historical examinations of the process of negotiating the return provisions in peace agreements could improve shared understandings of how to affirm and protect the rights of displaced persons in the context of peace agreements.
- Agreement on Resettlement of the Population Groups Uprooted by the Armed Conflict in Guatemala (1994). http://www.c-r.org/accord/guat/accord2/resettlement.shtml.
- Beyond Intractability http://www.beyondintractability.org/
- Conciliation Resources http://www.c-r.org/
- General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina (1995) http://www.ohr.int/dpa/default.asp?content_id=380
- General Peace Agreement for Mozambique (1992) http://www.c-r.org/accord/moz/accord3/rome1.shtml
- INCORE http://www.incore.ulst.ac.uk/
- Phuong, C. (2005) Forcible displacement and peace agreements, Geneva, International Council on Human Rights Policy http://www.ichrp.org/public/workingpapers.php?id_projet=27&lang=AN
Tripartite agreements are typically negotiated between a country of origin, a country of asylum and UNHCR in advance of a large-scale repatriation movement. These agreements should be based on the principles set out in international human rights and refugee law, as well as the relevant peace agreements. The UNHCR Handbook on Voluntary Repatriation contains a Sample Voluntary Repatriation Tripartite Agreement which recognizes that ‘voluntary repatriation, where feasible, constitutes the preferred durable solution for the problems of refugees, and that the attainment of this solution requires that refugees shall be repatriated in conditions of safety and dignity’. In a tripartite agreement the signatories identify and acknowledge their particular responsibilities in terms of ensuring the safety and security of returnees en route, at the border, and following return. ‘Assurances upon return’ are often also included in tripartite agreements. For example, UNHCR’s Sample Voluntary Repatriation Tripartite Agreement states that the country of origin shall endeavour to ensure that refugees can repatriate ‘without any fear of harassment, intimidation, persecution, discrimination, prosecution or any punitive measures whatsoever’, and regain access to land and lost property.
Scholarly analysis of tripartite agreements is scarce. The few studies that have been completed on tripartite agreements have taken a critical stance, arguing that these agreements are based primarily on the political will of donors, host countries and countries of asylum, rather than on the expressed interests of refugees. Although tripartite agreements signed by UNHCR typically emphasise that return must be voluntary, the conclusion of a tripartite agreement may be a precursor to the cessation of assistance to those refugees who do not want to repatriate. In this way tripartite agreements may limit the options available to refugees who do not believe they can safely return to their homes (Harrell-Bond 1989).
- UNHCR (1996) Handbook for Voluntary Repatriation, Geneva, UNHCR Department of International Protection http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/publ/opendoc.pdf?tbl=PUBL&id=3bfe68d32.
UNHCR’s ‘4Rs’ approach (repatriation, reintegration, rehabilitation, reconstruction)
UNHCR’s approach to return is set out in its Framework for Durable Solutions for Refugees and Persons of Concern, and focuses on four key phases of the return process: repatriation, reintegration, rehabilitation and reconstruction. UNHCR’s activities during a repatriation operation are guided by their international legal obligations, the terms of tripartite agreements, and the procedures set out in the Handbook for Voluntary Repatriation, as well as the more recent Handbook for Repatriation and Reintegration Activities. Large-scale repatriations typically take place in fragile post-conflict conditions. Designed as an ‘integrated approach’ to such situations, the 4Rs framework aims to ‘bring together humanitarian and development actors, create a conducive environment in countries of origin to prevent the recurrence of mass outflows and facilitate sustainable repatriation and reintegration’ (UNHCR 2004: v). This approach recognises that successful return is much more than a question of transportation and humanitarian assistance. According to current thinking amongst humanitarian practitioners, sustainable return requires a coordinated transition from humanitarian assistance to long-term development that benefits not only returnees but also other community members in return areas.
UNHCR’s implementation of the 4Rs approach and earlier repatriation models has hardly, if ever, been smooth. Several insightful evaluative studies of recent repatriation operations have been completed by UNHCR’s Evaluation and Policy Analysis Unit, as well as by independent researchers and NGOs.
- Lippman, B. and Malik, S. (2004) ‘The 4Rs: The way ahead?’, Forced Migration Review 21 http://www.fmreview.org/FMRpdfs/FMR21/FMR21contents.pdf
- Uehling, G. (2004) ‘Translating the 4Rs into an operational tool’, Forced Migration Review 21 http://www.fmreview.org/FMRpdfs/FMR21/FMR21contents.pdf
- UNHCR (2003) Framework for Durable Solutions for Refugees and Persons of Concern, Geneva, UNHCR http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/partners/opendoc.pdf?tbl=PARTNERS&id=3f1408764
- UNHCR (1996) Handbook for Voluntary Repatriation, Geneva, UNHCR Department of International Protection http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/publ/opendoc.pdf?tbl=PUBL&id=3bfe68d32
- UNHCR (2004) Handbook for Repatriation and Reintegration Activities, Geneva, UNHCR http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/home/opendoc.pdf?tbl=PARTNERS&id=411786694
- Worby, P. (2000) Refugee Return and Reintegration in Guatemala: Lessons Learned by UNHCR, 1987-1999, Geneva, UNHCR http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/research/opendoc.pdf?tbl=RESEARCH&id=3ae6bd4f0
Dissemination of information, logistics and monitoring
Large-scale assisted return movements are complex logistical feats that often take place alongside ‘spontaneous’ or unassisted return migration. Displaced persons’ decision-making regarding return depends on the dissemination of detailed information on the conditions prospective returnees can expect to find in their home communities. This information is often distributed through UNHCR, the IOM, NGOs or displaced persons’ organisations. Ideally, the organisations with responsibility for facilitating the process register those who wish to return, affirming that this choice has been undertaken voluntarily. Arrangements are then made for transportation, border crossing and, if possible, family reunification in the country of origin. In many cases returnees are provided with an initial cash grant to facilitate their immediate resettlement. Alternatively, they may be provided with kits containing basic subsistence items, tools and seeds, or access to work programmes. Monitoring conditions in areas of return is often a daunting undertaking given the scale of many contemporary return movements. However, monitoring is essential to ensuring protection and identifying and responding to breakdowns in the provision of support to return areas. Groups such as the Fleet Forum and the Fritz Institute are working to foster a more efficient, professional approach to the logistical challenges associated with providing assistance to the displaced, including during return operations.
- Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action (ALNAP) http://www.alnap.org/
- Di Mezza, S. (2005) ‘Information, counselling and legal assistance for returning Sudanese IDPs’, Forced Migration Review 24, p. 40 http://www.fmreview.org/FMRpdfs/FMR24/FMR2420.pdf
- Fleet Forum http://www.fleetforum.org
- FMR (2003) ‘Delivering the goods: Rethinking humanitarian logistics’, Forced Migration Review 18, September. http://www.fmreview.org/FMRpdfs/FMR18/fmr18contents.pdf
- Fritz Institute http://www.fritzinstitute.org/
- International Centre for Migration Policy Development (Repatriation Information Centre in Bosnia and Herzegovina) http://www.icmpd.org/default.asp?nav=scis&folderid=389&id=111
Institutional arrangements for the cooperative management of return
Similarly to the emergency phase of a humanitarian disaster, hundreds of institutions and agencies may be involved in facilitating and monitoring the return process. These actors include national and local governments, UN agencies, donors, local and international NGOs, peacekeepers and displaced persons’ organisations. The sustainability of the return process depends on the establishment of security and the transition from emergency relief to long-term development—tasks which no one agency alone is equipped to carry out. Lack of coordination and communication between these actors often leads to the inefficient distribution of limited resources and the paralysis of national institutions intended to uphold the rights of returnees. Approaches to the challenge of coordination have evolved in recent years. The United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) now takes a lead role in promoting inter-agency cooperation during emergencies as well as during return operations. Building on its long experience of facilitating refugee repatriation, UNHCR has accepted responsibility for the protection of IDPs, including during the return process, as part of the UN’s ‘collaborative approach’ to IDP assistance. Donors may also promote coordination by designating responsibility for supporting the return process to a lead domestic agency. For example, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Institutional Policy on Internally Displaced Persons affirms that USAID is the primary US agency with responsibility for internal displacement, including the return process.
An extensive amount of research and evaluation is carried out by advocacy groups and the evaluation branches of humanitarian organisations on effective institutional arrangements for supporting the displaced. Although much of this research may easily become dated as new policy arrangements are introduced, it plays a significant role in identifying the persistent obstacles to effective coordination and assessing efforts to overcome these obstacles. Research on inter-agency cooperation and coordination typically focuses on the emergency phase of a humanitarian crisis, or analyses a forced migration emergency in its entirety, from initial displacement to the return and reintegration of refugees and IDPs. Future research might question whether the return process presents any unique challenges to cooperation and coordination efforts, and suggest how these might be overcome.
- McNamara, D. (2005) ‘Who Does What’, Forced Migration Review-IDP Supplement http://www.fmreview.org/FMRpdfs/FMR24/IDP%20Supplement/02.pdf
- Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) http://ochaonline.un.org/
- OCHA Inter-Agency Internal Displacement Division http://www.reliefweb.int/idp/
- USAID (2004) USAID Assistance to Internally Displaced Persons Policy, Washington DC: USAID. http://pdf.dec.org/pdf_docs/PDACA558.pdf
Participation of displaced persons in planning and managing return
Although return movements are often large-scale, logistically complex operations involving the migration of thousands of people in impoverished circumstances, the displaced are much more than the recipients of aid in this process. First and foremost, under the principle of voluntary repatriation, the displaced participate in the return process as decision-makers. Decisions about return are made on the basis of information on conditions in return areas distributed through humanitarian organisations and through formal and informal channels within displaced communities. Organisations such as UNHCR and the IOM may operate ‘look and see’ schemes through which representatives of displaced families or communities may visit their homes to assess whether conditions are acceptable for the return of the larger group.
Although rare in practice, the displaced may also play an active role in negotiating the terms of their return and creating conditions conducive to repatriation. Indeed, for many displaced communities, planning for and making decisions about return is intertwined with their active engagement in peace processes. For example, Guatemalan refugees in Mexico organised themselves into Permanent Commissions which, with the support of the international community, became influential actors in the national peace process. The Permanent Commissions engaged directly with the Guatemalan government to negotiate the conditions of their repatriation, including amnesties, development assistance and the restoration of lost land. Small groups of IDPs within Guatemala bonded together to form Communities of Peoples in Resistance, which also negotiated the terms of their return with the government.
The active participation of refugees and IDPs in peacebuilding and return processes may be both controversial and costly. For example, many Georgian IDPs have found that they are easily manipulated unless they organize into groups to voice their interests and concerns in the peace process. As a result, they have established influential grassroots groups such as the IDP Women’s Association, Imedi-Women for Peace, and Fund Sukhumi. At the same time, however, certain self-appointed IDP leaders have incited violence and raised false hopes of imminent return, which has detracted from the struggling Georgian-Abkhazian peace process (Hansen 1999). In Guatemala as well as in countries such as Colombia, displaced activists have been threatened, ‘disappeared’ or killed as a result of their advocacy. However, after the National Council of Displaced Guatemalans (CONDEG) was created, the threats to grassroots IDP groups diminished, demonstrating that in certain circumstances, political organisation can be used both to promote peaceful return and to increase security for the displaced.
Many of the studies carried out on the participation of refugees and IDPs in decision-making on return focus on the organisational and decision-making strategies employed by particular groups of displaced persons, such as women, children and indigenous returnees. These disaggregated analyses have contributed to the development of a more nuanced understanding of the particular concerns faced by different groups. However, there is still a dearth of information on the decision-making processes employed by displaced persons who return to their homes spontaneously. A clearer impression of the factors influencing spontaneous return in comparison to participation in an organised repatriation movement may in turn help researchers to understand how well spontaneous returnees fare in comparison to assisted returnees, and why.
- Barnes, C. (ed.) (2000) ‘Owning the Process: Public Participation in Peacemaking’, Accord: An international review of peace initiatives 13 http://www.c-r.org/accord/peace/accord13/index.shtml
- De Rivero, J. (2001) ‘Reinventing Communities: The Resettlement of Guatemalan Refugees’, Forced Migration Review 11 http://www.fmreview.org/FMRpdfs/FMR11/fmr11.3.pdf
- Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (1994) Special Report on the Human Rights Situation in the so-called “Communities of Peoples in Resistance” in Guatemala, Washington, D.C., Inter-American Commission on Human Rights http://www.cidh.oas.org/countryrep/CPR.94eng/Table.of.Contents.htm
- Inter Pares (2003) ‘Building the Road Home,’ Inter Pares Bulletin 25(4) http://www.interpares.ca/en/publications/bulletins/html/bul-sept_2003/index.php
- Kharashvili, J. Women Work for Peace in Georgia, Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe (IDEE) http://www.idee.org/cfp20-julia.html
- Lippman, B. and Rogge, J. (2004) ‘Making return and reintegration sustainable, transparent and participatory’, Forced Migration Review 21 http://www.fmreview.org/FMRpdfs/FMR21/FMR21contents.pdf
- Ouko, M. (2004) ‘From warriors to peacemakers: People-to-people peacemaking in southern Sudan’, Forced Migration Review 21: 28-29 http://www.fmreview.org/text/FMR/21/10.htm.
- Refugees International (2003) ‘Angola: Spontaneous Returnees in Danger of Being Marginalized’ http://www.refugeesinternational.org/content/article/detail/894/.
- Riess, S. (2000) ‘Return is Struggle, Not Resignation: Lessons from the Repatriation of Guatemalan Refugees from Mexico’, UNHCR New Issues in Refugee Research Working Paper No. 21. http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/research/opendoc.pdf?tbl=RESEARCH&id=3ae6a0c97.
- Women Waging Peace http://www.womenwagingpeace.net/
- Women Waging Peace (2004) ‘Recommendations for Peace in Sudan: Women Making the Difference’, from Women Waging Peace Conference, Washington, D.C., 15 October 2004. http://www.womenwagingpeace.net/content/articles/SudanRecommendations.pdf
Addressing the vulnerabilities of women, children, elderly and disabled returnees
The return process can heighten the vulnerability of groups already at risk of exploitation or marginalisation, such as women, children, the elderly and the disabled. Members of vulnerable groups may be sidelined during a family or community’s decision-making process on return. Family members may be separated from one another during the journey home, and women and children may be at particular risk of sexual exploitation en route and in unstable return communities. Furthermore, women’s claims to property rights may not be respected during the restitution process or when land is reallocated in return areas. While displaced, many refugee and IDP women take on new and challenging roles as heads of households, camp leaders and organisers in the struggle for return. For example, Guatemalan refugee women in Mexico organised themselves into advocacy groups and were instrumental in pressuring the Guatemalan government to negotiate the 1994 Accord on the Resettlement of the Populations Uprooted by the Armed Conflict. However, upon return many of the women were pressured to relinquish their positions of leadership in the community and return to traditional gender roles. Ensuring that return is an enabling rather than disempowering process for potentially vulnerable groups such as women and children is a persistent challenge for the displaced as well as for the humanitarian practitioners who work with them.
Although the gap between policy and practice is often wide, the vast majority of organisations working with returnees have institutional policies designed to mitigate the vulnerabilities of groups such as women, children and the elderly. The Sphere Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Disaster Response address the needs and rights of vulnerable groups when implementing humanitarian assistance programs. Various political bodies have also called for greater attention to the concerns of marginalised groups in the return process. For instance, the groundbreaking Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security calls on all actors involved in negotiating and implementing peace agreements to adopt a gender perspective that addresses ‘the special needs of women and girls during repatriation and resettlement and for rehabilitation, reintegration and post-conflict reconstruction’ (UN 2000). The adoption of Resolution 1325 prompted the development of an extensive series of research initiatives on not only mitigating the vulnerabilities of women and children, but also on the role women play as peacebuilders and leaders in the return and reconstruction process.
- FMR (2002) ‘Older Displaced People: At the back of the queue?’, Forced Migration Review 14, July. http://www.fmreview.org/FMRpdfs/FMR14/fmr14contents.pdf
- Kvinna till Kvinna http://www.iktk.se/english/index.html
- Rehn, E. and Sirleaf, E.J. (2002) Women War Peace: The Independent Experts’ Assessment, New York, UNIFEM. http://www.womenwarpeace.org/
- Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict http://www.un.org/special-rep/children-armed-conflict/
- UNIFEM Portal on Women, Peace and Security http://www.womenwarpeace.org/
- Wareham, R. and Quick, D. (2001) ‘Problems or partners? Working with women to rebuild the Balkans’, Forced Migration Review 11: 16-17. See http://www.fmreview.org/text/FMR/11/05.htm.
- Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children http://www.womenscommission.org/
Return of failed asylum seekers
The above sections focus on the return of refugees and internally displaced persons, principally within the developing world. However, since the 1990s, return programmes for failed asylum seekers have emerged as an important element of migration management systems, particularly in the European Union. These programmes are part of the shift in the international refugee regime towards temporary protection, and are especially significant in light of the policy decisions made by the British, Danish and other European Union governments to move away from granting citizenship to refugees, which implies that protection for refugees is temporary, and that return is both preferred and inevitable. Key examples of EU returns programmes for failed asylum seekers include the UK’s voluntary return programmes, and those initiated by the Scandinavian governments. The return of asylum seekers whose applications have been rejected in the European Union has garnered critical attention from a wide range of academics and, especially, NGO advocates. Much of the debate focuses on the establishment of criteria for the safe return of failed asylum seekers, a subject addressed by a coalition of NGOs led by organisations including Amnesty International and the European Council on Refugees and Exiles.
- Advisory Committee on Aliens’ Affairs (ACVZ) (Netherlands) (2004) Return of Illegal Migrants and Failed Asylum Seekers: International Aspects, The Hague, ACV http://www.acvz.com/phpwcms/index.php?id=35,79,0,0,1,0.
- Advisory Committee on Aliens’ Affairs (ACVZ) (Netherlands) (2005) Return of Failed Asylum Seekers, The Hague, ACV http://www.acvz.com/publicaties/SummaryAdv12.pdf
- Amnesty International EU Office http://www.amnesty-eu.org/
- Amnesty International-EU et al (2005) Common Principles on Removal of Irregular Migrants and Rejected Asylum Seekers http://hrw.org/english/docs/2005/09/01/eu11676.htm
- ECRE (2003) ECRE Position on Return, Brussels, ECRE http://www.ecre.org/positions/returns.shtml
- ECRE (2005) The Return of Asylum Seekers Whose Applications Have Been Rejected in Europe, Brussels, ECRE http://www.ecre.org/positions/returnsex5.pdf
- Gibney, M.J. and Hanson, R. (2003) Deportation and the Liberal State: The Forcible Return of Asylum Seekers and Unlawful Migrants in Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom, Geneva, UNHCR, New Issues in Refugee Research Working Paper Number 77. http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/research/opendoc.pdf?tbl=RESEARCH&id=3e59de764.
- Human Rights Watch-Documents on Refugees, Internally Displaced Persons and Asylum Seekers in Europe and Central Asia http://www.hrw.org/doc/?t=refugees_europe
- Human Rights Watch (2002) Treating ‘Illegals’ Legally: Commentary Regarding the European Commission Green Paper on a Community Return Policy on Illegal Residents, Brussels, Human Rights Watch http://www.hrw.org/campaigns/migrants/docs/ec-green-paper0802.pdf
- International Centre for Migration Policy Development ICMPD http://www.icmpd.org/default.asp?nav=home
- UK Home Office-Immigration and Nationality Directorate http://www.ind.homeoffice.gov.uk/content/ind/en/home.html
Return and peace processes
While the UNHCR Handbook on Voluntary Repatriation underscores that repatriation should only be promoted after the conclusion of a peace process, in some cases such as Western Sahara and Cambodia, the return of displaced persons in advance of national elections or referenda has been seen as a critical factor for achieving peace (Bhatia 2003). Similarly, the International Crisis Group has argued that the return of displaced persons may catalyse the stagnant South Ossetian peace process (ICG 2005). In cases where the peace is not yet secure, UNHCR and other humanitarian assistance agencies may facilitate repatriation at the request of individual refugees, but generally do not actively promote return as a durable solution to displacement. (Notably, however, this policy is coming under pressure through the increasing use of temporary protection measures and mandated return programs.)
The question of return is a cardinal obstacle in the crippled Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and has proved to be an abiding challenge in the implementation of the Dayton Agreement. The return of displaced persons from minority groups undermines the logic of nationalism and ethnic cleansing that fuelled many of the most brutal conflicts of the 1990s and recent years. However, several United Nations bodies have affirmed that the return of the displaced is essential not only to post-conflict reconciliation, but also to regional security. As the United Nations Secretary-General acknowledged, ‘The return of refugees and internally displaced persons is a major part of any post-conflict scenario. And it is far more than just a logistical operation. Indeed, it is often a critical factor in sustaining a peace process and in revitalizing economic activity.’ (UN 2005)
Internationally-mandated peacekeepers have often been central to the maintenance of security and the protection of returnees, particularly those from minority groups. However, the role of peacekeepers as the protectors of returnees has been called into question by reports of peacekeepers abusing and sexually exploiting civilians during missions in West Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In order to improve the professionalism and effectiveness of peacekeeping missions, international experts have called for peacekeeping to be reconceived not only as a military function but also in terms of governance, humanitarianism and capacity building. Calls have also been raised for forced displacement issues, including return, to be integrated into mission design from the outset, with peacekeepers receiving training on the rights and protection needs of returnees. However, research on the interaction between peacekeepers and returnees remains limited, and is often predominantly based on the perspectives of peacekeepers and humanitarian workers, rather than on the opinions and experiences of the displaced.
- ACCORD (African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes) http://www.accord.org.za/web/home.htm
- Forced Migration Review Special Edition ‘Sudan: Prospects for Peace’ http://www.fmreview.org/FMRpdfs/FMR24/FMR24contents.pdf
- Eschenbacher, J. (2005) ‘IDPs and Peace Processes’ in Eschenbacher, J. (ed.) Internal Displacement: Global Overview of Trends and Developments in 2004, Geneva, Norwegian Refugee Council http://www.internal-displacement.org/
- Hansen, G. (1999) ‘Displacement and Return’, in Cohen, J. (ed.) A Question of Sovereignty: The Georgia-Abkhazia Peace Process, London, Conciliation Resources http://www.c-r.org/accord/geor-ab/accord7/index.shtml
- International Crisis Group (2005) ‘Georgia-South Ossetia: Refugee Return the Path to Peace’, Europe Briefing No. 3 http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=3380&l=1
- O’Neill (2004) A New Challenge for Peacekeepers: The Internally Displaced, Washington, Brookings Institution-University of Bern Project on Internal Displacement. http://www.brookings.edu/fp/projects/idp/20040422oneill.htm
- O’Neill, W. and Cassis, V. (2005) Protecting Two Million Internally Displaced: The Successes and Shortcomings of the African Union in Darfur, Washington, Brookings Institution-University of Bern Project on Internal Displacement http://www.brookings.edu/fp/projects/idp/200511_au_darfur.pdf
- Pearson Peacekeeping Centre http://www.peaceoperations.org/
- Search for Common Ground http://www.sfcg.org/
- United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations http://www.un.org/Depts/dpko/dpko/index.asp
- United States Institute of Peace http://www.usip.org/
Demobilisation of combatants
The demobilisation of combatants is one of the most delicate aspects of any peace process, and is essential to the sustainability of returns. Effective demobilisation and retraining of troops for civilian occupations is critical to ensuring that former soldiers, returnees and non-displaced citizens can co-exist peacefully in their home communities. In many cases displaced persons have taken up arms and are therefore directly involved in the demobilisation process. This is particularly true in the case of children abducted from their homes and forced into combatant roles. Evaluations of demobilisation and repatriation processes in countries such as Mozambique have indicated the importance of approaching the demobilisation of combatants, the return of displaced persons and the development of local communities in a holistic manner that does not discriminate against returnees or those who did not leave their homes in the course of a conflict. A significant body of literature has developed, particularly in the field of psychology, on the implementation of culturally-appropriate approaches to the demobilisation of adult and child soldiers.
- Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers http://www.child-soldiers.org/
- Human Rights Watch (2003) ‘Problems in the Demobilization and Reintegration of Former Combatants’, in Struggling Through Peace: Return and Resettlement in Angola, New York, Human Rights Watch. http://www.hrw.org/reports/2003/angola0803/
- McKay, S. et al (2006) Girls Formerly Associated with Fighting Forces and their Children: Returned and Neglected, London, Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers. http://www.child-soldiers.org/resources/2006_-_McKay_et_al_-_girl_mothers.pdf
- Multi-Country Demobilization and Reintegration Program (MDRP) http://www.mdrp.org/
- Robertson, C. and McCauley, U. (2004) ‘The return and reintegration of “child soldiers” in Sudan: The challenges ahead’, Forced Migration Review 21 http://www.fmreview.org/FMRpdfs/FMR21/FMR21contents.pdf
- UNDP Crisis Prevention and Recovery Unit-Small Arms and Demobilization http://www.undp.org/bcpr/smallarms/
- Yu, L. (2000) ‘Separating ex-combatants and refugees in Zongo, DRC: Peacekeepers and UNHCR’s “Ladder of options”’, New Issues in Refugee Research, Working Paper No. 60. http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/research/opendoc.pdf?tbl=RESEARCH&id=3d57a9ef4.
Landmines and UXOs
In many of the recent conflicts that have caused immense forced displacement, landmines have been laid indiscriminately and linger as a mortal threat to civilians long after the signing of peace agreements. Several studies have shown that landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXOs) represent a disproportionately serious risk to refugees and IDPs, including returnees. For example, 8 to 10 million mines litter Angola. In 2002 the internally displaced represented approximately 30 percent of the Angolan population, but more than 50 percent of civilians injured or killed by landmines were IDPs (Clover 2002). In Sri Lanka in 2003, UNHCR reported that approximately 1000 people had been killed or injured by landmines since large numbers of civilians began returning to their homes. Landmines appear to pose a heightened risk to the displaced because refugees and IDPs may have to flee or return through unknown territory. The displaced may be pressured to return before the de-mining process is complete, and may be unaware of where landmines have been placed in their absence. The mining of borders heavily trafficked by refugees, such as the Tanzanian-Burundian border, can impede refugees’ freedom to seek asylum as well as their ability to return home.
Beyond causing injury and death to returnees, landmines and UXOs threaten the sustainability of the return process because they render large swaths of land inaccessible for settlement or farming. Lack of safe land to accommodate both non-displaced members of the local community and returnees has been shown to spark violent conflict and hinder reconciliation and reintegration efforts in countries such as Angola and Afghanistan.
- Aqa, S., et al (2004) ‘Protecting displaced population from landmines: A call for joint action’, Forced Migration Review 21 http://www.fmreview.org/FMRpdfs/FMR21/FMR21contents.pdf
- E-MINE Electronic Mine Information Network http://www.mineaction.org/
- ICBL (2005) Landmine Monitor Report 2005, Washington, DC, ICBL http://www.icbl.org/lm
- International Campaign to Ban Landmines http://www.icbl.org
- Mines Action Canada http://www.minesactioncanada.org/
Justice and reconciliation
Legal security for returnees
Return in conditions of safety requires the establishment of legal security for returnees. This entails the restoration of effective national protection. In other words, the displaced should be able to return without fear of harassment, discrimination, arbitrary detention, physical threat, persecution or punishment on account of having been displaced or remaining in exile. Legal security also involves the protection of cultural rights, the prosecution of war criminals and the establishment of a well-trained, professional police force who can provide protection to returnees and respond to complaints. UNHCR urges countries of origin to provide amnesties and guarantees of legal security in advance of repatriation, often through tripartite agreements.
A critical but complex process essential to the establishment of legal security is the institutionalisation of human rights norms and the repeal of laws that discriminate against returnees. In post-conflict scenarios such as in the former Yugoslavia, the repeal of anti-returnee legislation has been part of a broader process of overhauling and streamlining anachronistic legal systems inherited from the Communist era.
- Human Rights Watch (2004) ICTY Justice at Risk: War Crimes Trials in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Serbia and Montenegro, New York, Human Rights Watch. http://www.hrw.org/reports/2004/icty1004/.
Under international law, victims of human rights violations have the right to a remedy. Legal definitions of reparations are established in the International Law Commission’s Articles on State Responsibility and the Draft Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Violations of International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, which were prepared by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Restitution. Three main types of redress fall under the umbrella of reparations: restitution, compensation and satisfaction. The goal of restitution is to restore the conditions that existed prior to the violation, through means such as the return of land and houses. The ‘first form of reparation’, restitution is required unless it is materially impossible or involves a burden highly unequal to the benefit the victim could receive through compensation (Shelton 2002). Housing and property restitution is typically the form of redress most relevant to returnees. While they are displaced, many refugees and IDPs’ homes are taken over by ‘secondary occupants’, who may themselves be displaced. Restoring displaced persons’ access to their homes and agricultural lands is essential to enabling reintegration and rebuilding livelihoods.
Developed by the UN Special Rapporteur on Housing and Property Restitution, the Draft Principles on Housing and Property Restitution for Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons serve as a valuable new tool to guide the restitution process. The Principles support the now widely-accepted view that the right to return entails return not only to the country of origin, but also original homes. They draw on experiences in providing restitution following conflicts in places such as Kosovo, Tajikistan and Guatemala. In Bosnia and Herzegovina the first comprehensive effort to provide restitution to displaced persons took place under the auspices of the Dayton Agreement. Extensive analyses of the property restitution process in Bosnia have been published in recent years, principally by legal scholars and the practitioners involved in the process. This literature analyses the laws underlying the restitution process, the institutional arrangements used to carry out the restitution process, the obstacles to implementing the restitution process, and the connections (or lack thereof) between restitution and sustainable minority returns.
Financial compensation may be made available to returnees who cannot or choose not to reoccupy their original homes. Compensation may also be extended to the displaced and other victims of human rights violations as a form of redress for the physical and psychological abuses they suffered. However, most of the countries to which and within which refugees and IDPs return simply cannot afford to provide financial compensation to the displaced. The Dayton Agreement envisioned the establishment of a compensation fund for those unwilling or unable to return to their homes, but this fund did not materialise due to lack of support from donors. In such situations, reparations of ‘satisfaction’ may be particularly relevant. Satisfaction addresses non-material injuries through means such as official apologies, assurances of non-repetition of the offence, trials and truth and reconciliation commissions (see section 5.3). While no form of reparation can fully rectify the wrongs that force people to flee their homes, these types of redress may make the return process more sustainable by acknowledging the violations committed against the displaced, and ensuring some measure of accountability for them.
Although the international community’s interest in transitional justice and reparations for victims of human rights violations (including returnees) is growing, it is important to recognise that the international legal system is not yet sufficiently developed to ensure that remedies are universally and equally available. In order to understand the limits on returnees’ access to reparations, researchers need to examine the provisions of peace agreements, the political will of national political powers, and the support of the international community. The Sudanese Comprehensive Peace Agreement, for example, does not fully address restitution or land policy issues. Consequently, researchers and analysts anticipate that conflicts over land between local residents and returnees could easily hinder the peace process.
- Bosnian Commission for Real Property Claims (CRPC) http://www.law.kuleuven.ac.be/ipr/eng/CRPC_Bosnia/CRPC/new/en/main.htm
- Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) http://www.cohre.org/
- Davies, A. (2004) ‘Restitution of land and property rights’, Forced Migration Review 21. http://www.fmreview.org/text/FMR/21/04.htm
- Farha, L (2000) ‘Women’s Rights to Land, Property and Housing’, Forced Migration Review 7: 23-26. http://www.fmreview.org/text/FMR/07/07.htm
- Hurwitz, A., Studdard, K. and Williams, R. (2005) Housing, Land, Property and Conflict Management: Identifying Policy Options for Rule of Law Programming, New York, International Peace Academy. http://www.ipacademy.org/Publications/Publications.htm
- International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) http://www.ictj.org/
- International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) http://www.un.org/icty/
- International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) http://22.214.171.124/default.htm
- Iraq Property Claims Commission (IPCC) http://www.ipcciraq.org/01_about.htm
- Kosovo Housing and Property Directorate (HPD) http://www.hpdkosovo.org/
- National Service of Gacaca Jurisdictions http://www.inkiko-gacaca.gov.rw/En/EnIntroduction.htm
- Redress http://www.redress.org/
Reconciliation and coexistence
Post-conflict reconciliation is an issue that has sparked great interest amongst researchers. Following the genocides in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, the centrality of reconciliation to the return process was made clear. While most researchers and policymakers recognise that complete reconciliation in the aftermath of such atrocities is impossible, some degree of reconciliation or, in the least, an openness to coexistence is essential to enable returnees to live peacefully alongside their former neighbours. Reconciliation initiatives were launched in return areas of Bosnia and Rwanda by UN agencies and international and local NGOs. Many focused on encouraging members of conflicting ethnic groups to embark on common agricultural or entrepreneurial activities, or frequent shared public spaces such as sports clubs and schools. In countries such as Mozambique, more informal routes to reconciliation were pursued, drawing on local cultural resources such as traditional healing ceremonies.
In cooperation with Tufts and Harvard Universities, UNHCR sponsored a multi-year program in return communities in Bosnia and Rwanda entitled Imagine Coexistence, through which UNHCR supported locally-led initiatives intended to promote the reintegration of minority returnees into communities struggling with persistent ethnic divides. The analysis of Imagine Coexistence and similar programs have provided practitioners with valuable insights into the design and implementation of locally relevant reconciliation and coexistence activities that may translate into improved conditions for returnees and their neighbours.
Truth and reconciliation commissions have also helped establish conditions for sustainable, dignified returns by validating the testimony of the displaced and ensuring that the violations they experienced are not erased from the national historical record. For example, investigators from Guatemala’s UN-sponsored Commission for Historical Clarification hiked into remote areas of the country to interview thousands of civilians who were displaced by the war. Although the Guatemalan Commission for Historical Clarification was criticised as a structurally weak body, many of the displaced persons who testified for the Commission indicated that they found the experience to be an affirming one. The Commission concluded that the murder and forced displacement of thousands of Mayan civilians during the Guatemalan civil war was a genocide, and deemed the Guatemalan state and its paramilitaries responsible for 93 percent of the atrocities of the war.
- Babbitt, E. et al (2002) Imagine Coexistence: Assessing Refugee Reintegration Efforts in Divided Communities, Boston, Tuft’s University http://fletcher.tufts.edu/chrcr/pdf/imagine.pdf
- Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation http://www.csvr.org.za/
- Commission for Historical Clarification (2000) Guatemala: Memory of Silence—Report of the Commission for Historical Clarification. http://shr.aaas.org/guatemala/ceh/report/english/conc1.html
- Institute for Justice and Reconciliation http://www.ijr.org.za/
- South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission http://www.doj.gov.za/trc/
Sustainable return: Reintegration, reconstruction and development
Reconstruction and the relief-development gap
Large return movements typically take place in the aftermath of devastating natural disasters or armed conflicts that have destroyed homes, roads, farms, businesses and public institutions. Although refugees and IDPs often welcome the chance to return to their homes and are not daunted by the struggle they know accompanies return, the absence of adequate infrastructure, social services, land and natural resources inevitably poses a challenge to the sustainability of returns. The arrival of large numbers of returnees can reduce residents’ access to already meagre supplies of natural resources and public services, and create communal tension. The small grants or assistance kits returnees may receive from humanitarian agencies are rarely if ever enough to enable the displaced to reintegrate and re-establish livelihoods. By design, UNHCR’s ‘Quick Impact Projects’ attempt to address immediate needs in return communities; unfortunately, they often do not function as a long-term investment in development. In fact, some critics have suggested that Quick Impact Projects often have a detrimental impact on long term development. This gap between humanitarian assistance and the instigation of viable, long-term development programs is well-documented, but rarely bridged. The resulting impoverishment exacerbates social grievances, hinders the establishment of law and order, and heightens the prospect of fragile post-conflict societies returning to violence. A crucial aspect of averting further violence and making returns sustainable is creating or reviving accountable governance institutions that represent all members of society on an equitable basis.
Just as it is now widely accepted amongst practitioners that assistance programs must benefit not only returnees but the entire community in return areas, researchers are increasingly open to studying the impact of the return and reintegration process on not only the displaced, but also on their broader social networks. A significant number of academic studies and evaluative reports have been completed that synthesise the best practices arising from reintegration, rehabilitation and reconstruction projects in return communities worldwide. However, there remains a need for further research into the impact of return on the communities that hosted displaced populations, sometimes for generations. Although largely unassessed, it can be assumed that the relatively rapid departure of large numbers of displaced persons, and the humanitarian assistance they attracted, is likely to have significant consequences, both positive and negative, on host communities.
- Development Workshop Angola (2005) ‘Post-Conflict Transition in Angola: Three Years Later’, Presentation risk-mapping research made for Seminar on Internal Displacement in Southern Africa, Gaborone, Botswana, 24-26 August 2005. http://www.sarpn.org.za/documents/d0001603/Angola_Post-Conflict_Aug2005.pdf \ http://www.dw.angonet.org/Peacebuilding/index.htm
- Dolan, C. and Large, J. (2004) Evaluation of UNHCR’s repatriation and reintegration programme in East Timor, 1999-2003, Geneva, UNHCR. http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/research/opendoc.pdf?tbl=RESEARCH&id=403f62e17
- Hovey, G. (2000) ‘The Rehabilitation of Homes and Return of Minorities to Republika Srpska, Bosnia and Herzegovina’, Forced Migration Review 7: 8-11. http://www.fmreview.org/FMRpdfs/FMR07/fmr7.4.pdf
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Psychosocial aspects of return and reintegration
The return and reintegration processes present complex psychosocial challenges that are beginning to be examined by researchers in greater depth. For example, many young refugees and IDPs grew up in urban centres and cannot remember their rural ‘homes’. In many cases they are loath to give up their urban lives and lack the skills that will help them prosper in the country, circumstances which complicate their prospects of integration. Displaced persons returning to communities where atrocities took play may be dealing with psychological trauma that precludes reintegration. For these survivors, return may not necessarily be permanent. Rather, it may be an opportunity to reflect on the past and pay respect to the dead (for e.g. Pollack 2003).
- Academic-practitioner working group on the response to the psychosocial needs of refugees and displaced persons http://www.forcedmigration.org/psychosocial
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