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Going home? A systematic review of the literature on displacement, return and cycles of violence

May 2018
ISSN: 12345678
Going home?
A systematic review
of the literature on
return and cycles
of violence
Jolien Tegenbos & Koen Vlassenroot
Conflict Research Group
Going home? A systematic review of the literature on displacement, return and
cycles of violence
Jolien Tegenbos & Koen Vlassenroot
CRG University of Ghent
February 2018
To date, repatriation or in other words ‘going home’ is the most preferred sustainable
solution put forward by the United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees (UNHCR)
and governments to address displacement triggered by violent conflict. The return and
reintegration of refugees, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), and former combatants is
also widely presented as being crucial to peacebuilding and national reconciliation; to the
promotion of state stability and legitimacy; and to the triggering of post-conflict
economic development. The prioritization of return (over local integration or
resettlement options) was put forward from the late eighties and early nineties onwards,
receiving strong impetus in 1992 by the then UNHCR High Commissioner Sadako
Ogata, who declared the nineties as the ‘decade of voluntary repatriation’ (Long 2011,
240). The growing importance of repatriation as strategy in the past three decades has
not, however, coincided with an increase in safe, voluntary and dignified returns. On the
contrary, scholars, practitioners and human rights organizations have observed how
refugee returns are often organized in unstable and war-like situations, and do not
always maintain a voluntary character (Chimni 1999; HRW 2017; Long 2013: 106109;
Toft 2007). Moreover, investigations into the later stages of repatriation have shown that
return is a very problematic concept and a long-term process (rather than an event) that
carries many challenges (Allen 1996; Allen and Morsink 1994; Black and Koser 1999;
Markowitz , Stefansson and Anders 2004; Oxfeld and Long 2004). Strikingly, despite the
growing salience of these critiques, issues of return and repatriation remain significantly
under-researched. Very little is known about the lived experiences of those who returned
and/or stayed behind, the longer term dynamics of return, and about the position of
returnees in (re)constituting societies. So, there is a limited understanding of a process
that profoundly impacts and transforms entire societies in conflict-affected areas, and
which “remains a powerful symbol of the end of conflict and a return to normalcy” (Black
and Gent 2006: 31).
In Central-Africa, the widespread reality of protracted conflict and protracted
refugee situations (PRS) creates a particular environment for return. While northern
Uganda has emerged out of a violent conflict between the Lord’s Resistance Army and
the Ugandan government, eastern Congo, Burundi, the Central African Republic (CAR)
and South Sudan continue to experience recurrent outbreaks of violence and population
displacement. In general, processes of violence and displacement in this region tend to
continue to be a part of people’s lives after returning ‘home’, exemplifying that ‘return
can hardly and unambiguously be seen as the ‘end of the refugee cycle’ (Black and Koser
1999). Furthermore, case-studies reveal that return itself often imposes renewed
tensions, particularly when returnees reclaim properties or compete over scarce
resources. Also, the increasing involvement of the international community and
humanitarian organizations in these processes of return (such as repatriation
operations, DDR programmes, reintegration assistance) and of post-conflict
reconstruction, opens up new spaces of contestation, adding new layers of complexity to
the existing contexts
These observations are of course not restricted to Central-Africa, but extend to
situations of population return all over the world.
Starting from the complex reality of return, this paper recognizes that cycles of
violence, displacement and return are intimately related and often inherently part of one
another. This paper aims to offer a critical overview and discussion of scholarly and
policy-oriented literature on processes of return in conflict and post-conflict societies
without ignoring the international historical and political contexts and policy-
frameworks that have continuously shaped and influenced research interests and
agendas. Indeed, the paper argues that much of the literature has maintained a close
connection to the official policy-frameworks and rationales of repatriation operations and
discourses in terms of peacebuilding and economic development. Furthermore, the paper
posits that the scope of many studies tends to be limited to specific social groups of
returnees and localized understandings and researches return on a case-by-case basis,
which explains the absence of a deeper understanding of how returnees, but also stayees,
and political and humanitarian actors experience, practice and give meaning to ‘return’.
For these reasons, this paper advocates a research agenda that is attentive to the social,
political, economic and cultural transformative impact of population return on regions
and societies in or emerging out of violent conflict.
The analysis presented in this paper is based on a systematic evidence-based
literature study and aims to provide a critical discussion of the literature on return and
repatriation processes researched in the last three decades. It starts by explaining the
methodological aspects of the search process, followed by an introduction to situate the
main debates in their historical context and within an evolving international policy
framework on return and the search for ‘durable solutions’. Next, it critically discusses
the main themes that emerged from the literature: (1) a conceptual debate on return, (2)
the socio-economic development dimensions of return, (3) its linkages to peacebuilding
and conflict prevention, (4) the psycho-social effects of war, and (5) the politics of return.
The subsequent section then provides a closer look at four specific countries in Central-
Africa: Uganda, South(ern) Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central
African Republic (CAR). The paper concludes with a future research agenda based on the
identified gaps in existing ‘evidence’.
The data for this paper was collected through a qualitative systematic ‘evidence-based’
literature study. Widely applied in the medical and natural sciences since the seventies,
systematic reviews grew increasingly influential in the nineties as the ‘gold standard’ for
an evidence-based policy, eventually also increasingly being used in other academic
disciplines such as the social sciences (Young, Ashby, Boaz and Grayson 2002). Through
a fixed protocol of data collection, systematic reviews came to be seen as a key tool to
reduce the researcher’s bias and establish a reliable, comprehensive rigorous ‘evidence
base’ to inform policy-making (Dixon-Woods et al. 2006; Mallett, Hagen-Zanker, Slater
and Duvendack 2012; Petticrew and Roberts 2006). However, scholars have warned of
the dangers of presenting systematic reviews as neutral, rational and objective, and of
the uncritical adoption of a rigid evidence-based methodological framework that has
mainly been used to assess the effectiveness of policy interventions (Cuvelier,
Vlassenroot and Olin 2013; Dixon-Woods et al. 2006; Hagen-Zanker and Mallett 2013;
Mallett et al. 2012). They argue for more reflexive and flexible approaches that combine
the core principles of rigour, transparency and replicability with a more “user-friendly
handling of retrieval and analysis methods” (Hagen-Zanker and Mallett 2013: 1; Mallett
et al. 2012: 447).
This literature review adopted a less rigid and more flexible approach to data
retrieval and analysis. The process of data retrieval consisted of a database-driven
search through several academic search engines, followed by a snowball search based on
relevant publications. The analysis was initially guided by a process of tagging, which
identified relevant publications that were subsequently thoroughly read and evaluated.
The literature from the database-driven search was collected between February
and March 2017. Five databases were selected: African Journals Online (AJO), JSTOR,
SCOPUS, Web of Science and Google Scholar. JSTOR, SCOPUS and Web of Science
were selected for their extensive coverage of academic literature. AJO was included to
target publications from African scholars.
Google Scholar was selected as a means to
find grey literature outside the mainstream publishing channels.
Three Boolean search strings were used to gradually narrow the scope of the
assessed publications. While the first search string was intended to target processes of
violence and displacement (displace*, *conflict*, violence, *war*), the second and third
search strings aimed to respectively target specific social groups of returnees (return,
returnee, eintegrat*, former IDP*, former refugee, ex-combatant, former combatant),
and processes of return and home-making (reintegrate*, re-integrate*, citizen*, stayee*,
reconstruct*, reconciliat*, social repair, home, belonging). ‘Home’ and ‘belonging’ were
incorporated to include publications that elaborated on the concepts of return and
homecoming itself. For every database, only the first 500 publications were considered
due to a decreasing relevance after this point. 1990 was used as a cut-off year, reflecting
the start of the ‘decade of voluntary repatriation’. Only English publications were
selected. Publications on diaspora populations and on the return of veterans
who fought
in WWII, or in the ‘war on terror’ in Iraq and Afghanistan were discarded to remain with
a core group of literature that focuses on physical return to countries in or emerging out
of violent conflict. This search strategy generated 789 publications.
After retrieval, all publications were subjected to a second screening by reading
the abstracts (and, when in doubt, scanning full texts) in order to identify the most
relevant ones, resulting in 433 remaining references. This second screening also involved
a process of tagging which aimed to give a general overview of the main themes present
in the literature.
The snowball search took place from June to August 2017. Reading through the
database-collection, it was noticed that some of much-cited and influential studies and
grey literature (such as policy documents, reports, etc.) did not surface during the initial
search. Therefore, bibliographies and footnotes of literature studies, as well as
publications making important arguments and often being cited within the database-
collection, were screened and eventually selected.
Finally, a small number of
publications were suggested by experts, were already known by the author or found by
coincidence outside the search protocol, (Apio 2015; Atim and Mazurana 2018; Akesson
and Baaz 2015; Bjarnesen 2013; Branch 2011; Hopwood and Atkinson 2015; Hopwood
2015; Kiconco and Nthakomwa 2018; Kibreab 1999; Macdonald and Porter 2016;
Macdonald 2017; Long 2011; Scalettaris 2013). This generated an additional 55 studies,
bringing the total number of publications to 488.
Situating the Debates
The past three decades have witnessed a dynamic and evolving landscape in terms of
actual return movements and experiences, and eventually of policy and research. Before
the nineties, relatively few researchers were interested in exploring what happened once
refugees decide to return home. This general lack of interest has largely been attributed
to international thinking about repatriation in the context of the Cold War and to
Although it should be mentioned that this search only generated 6 publications of which 3 were withheld.
However, the discursive separation of western ‘veterans’ and African ‘ex-combatants’ in many studies is
interesting in this regard. See McMullin (2013) for a critical discussion.
This sometimes even involved a second snowball search, based on influential studies retrieved during the
first one.
nationalist thinking that envisioned ‘return’ as an unproblematic event of ‘homecoming’
(Allen and Morsink 1994; Allen and Turton 1996; Chimni 1999; Long 2013).
During the Cold War, resettlement was actively promoted over repatriation as a
durable solution to refugee situations. Refugees coming from Eastern Europe were
highly valued by the US and its allies and warmly welcomed to the ‘free world’. The
small number of ‘defectors’ were often highly skilled and educated. They held valuable
inside-information from the USSR or its Eastern European allies, and their personal
stories of persecution and repression supported the propaganda war between the
Western and Eastern Bloc (Toft 2007: 143). In response, countries in the Western Bloc
adopted generous asylum policies, promoting the resettlement and local integration of
refugees rather than their return. This mindset was further influenced by the collective
trauma of the Holocaust, and feelings of guilt for having initially refused entry to Jewish
refugees (Toft 2007, 145). A genuine debate on repatriation was further complicated by
the creation of Israel, with competing demands of Zionists and Palestinians to ‘go home’
being backed by respectively the western and eastern bloc and leading to a stalemate
situation (Allen & Morsink 1994: 23). In this context, refugees were generally not
considered as a burden to host countries. Their stay was perceived as temporary, thus
rendering repatriation a “relatively low-priority issue” (Crisp 2001: 174). Consequently,
the promotion of resettlement over repatriation as a durable refugee solution resulted in
a rather reductionist policy framework on refugee return. Crisp (2001) writes that
UNHCR’s role in repatriation operations was largely confined to ensuring its voluntary
character and providing transport and small repatriation packages. Reintegration
assistance and activities were rarely recognized or included (174).
Allen and Turton (1996: 1) also argue that nationalist thinking contributed to a
lack of interest in return issues. Repatriation was commonly seen as an unproblematic
event that reestablished a broken ‘natural tie’ between people, place and identity
(Kibreab 1999; K. Long 2013; Warner 1994). The simple return of people to their ‘patria’
or homeland and their own social communities and territories, was believed to resolve all
issues and be sufficient for the reestablishment of political stability and legitimacy,
peace and consequently the end of displacement (Allen & Turton 1996; Long 2013; cf.
section on the concept of return).
Although scholarly interest in displacement steadily increased during the
seventies and eighties, studies on processes of return remained almost non-existent
(Allen & Morsink 1994: 2), as was confirmed by Coles (1985) and Crisp (1987) in their
elaborate reviews of literature and policy frameworks. Crisp also argued that existing
studies largely concentrated on three streams of interest (international law, political
motivations, and logistics, and mainly focused on the international approach towards
repatriation, evaluations of organized repatriations, their funding, responsibilities, etc.
The experiences of returnees themselves had rarely been examined (Crisp 1987 cited in
Allen & Morsink 1994: 2). This radically changed from the late eighties onwards, when a
booming interest in processes of ‘return’ has been attributed to (1) the increasing
prioritization of voluntary repatriation over resettlement as the most desired refugee
solution by the international community; and (2) to a number of large-scale post-conflict
return movements (Chimni 1999; Crisp 2001; Macrae 1999; Toft 2007).
The policy shift from resettlement to repatriation can partly be explained within
the context of the end of the Cold War and of a surge of conflicts in Africa. After the
collapse of the USSR, the unexpected exodus of citizens of the former Soviet republics
combined with new refugee crises in the Balkans, the African Great Lakes and
Southeast Asia (among others) created pressure on countries of asylum. Additionally,
western states became increasingly reluctant to host refugees whom they perceived as
being part of large migration flows from the poorer ‘South’ to the wealthier ‘North’ (K.
Long 2013: 101). Further, in the absence of Cold War geopolitics, the value of refugees as
a propaganda tool had dwindled, reducing them to ‘locusts’ instead of ‘diamonds’ (Toft
2007). As a result, asylum policies became increasingly more restrictive and repatriation
a preferable response strategy.
Partly as a result of these shifts, the ambitious ‘refugee aid and development’
strategy of the seventies and eighties was replaced by a new ‘returnee aid and
development’ strategy. The ‘refugee aid and development’ approach was developed in
response to growing refugee populations and decreasing capacities of asylum countries to
host them, particularly in Africa. A range of projects funded by UNHCR, aimed at
connecting refugee assistance to larger ‘sustainable’ development goals through the
inclusion of ‘host’ populations and promoting self-sufficiency. In this way, refugees would
be able to contribute to the local economy, thus reducing the burden for their hosts
(Crisp 2001: 170). According to Crisp (2001), this strategy was not in line with the
changing interests after the Cold War and the diverging objectives of donor and asylum
governments, the former being interested in ‘finding lasting solutions to refugee
problems’ and the latter in benefiting from ‘international burden sharing’ (172).
Voluntary repatriation was promoted as the ‘only effective solution’, pushing UNHCR to
focus its attention more on repatriation and reintegration of returning refugees than on
providing humanitarian assistance (Crisp 2001: 173).
In 1985, the UNHCR Executive Committee issued Conclusion no. 40 on Voluntary
Repatriation which expanded UNHCR’s mandate to returning populations (Allen &
Turton 1996: 2). In the following years, the percentage of UNHCR’s total budget
expenditure on return operations increased accordingly, from 2 percent before 1984 to
approx. 14 percent in the period 1990-1997 (Crisp 2001: 175; Macrae 1999: 3). The
broadening of its mandate was considered necessary because, along with the growing
importance of ‘voluntary repatriation’, people were increasingly returning to conflict-
affected regions (which at that time became defined as ‘political emergencies’
). In
response to growing criticism on this worrying trend, UNHCR became gradually more
involved in assisting, reintegrating and protecting returnees.
Macrae (1999) and Crisp (2001: 178) argued that UNHCR had a ‘comparative
advantage’ over receiving countries, as it was familiar with the returning population and
had the necessary expertise, experience and logistical capacity to provide immediate
assistance upon their return. Importantly, this policy shift converged with a growing
demand from donors to justify the use of funding, leading eventually to a re-
establishment of the ‘rationale for international assistance’ (Macrae 1999: 10). In 1992,
the High Commissioner justified this shift as follows:
“given the number of countries involved, the magnitude of the numbers returning
and the fact that their successful reintegration is critical to any national
reconciliation and reconstruction process, the issues are not simply humanitarian.
International security is at stake” (UNHCR 1992, cited in Crisp, 2001: 176).
UNHCR’s mandate in assisting and reintegrating returnees was now framed in terms of
peacebuilding, conflict resolution and the prevention of new outbreaks of violent conflict
(see UNHCR 1992, 1998, 2004). In addition to the connection between return assistance
and peacebuilding, a close relationship was also established between return and
economic recovery. Returnee aid thus had to serve wider development objectives, which,
in turn, would also contribute to peacebuilding. To these ends, UNHCR developed closer
partnerships with UNDP and the World Bank. This last partnership is also known as
the ‘Brookings process’ and paved the way to a joint policy agenda aimed at closing ‘the
gap between humanitarian assistance and long-term development’ (Crisp 2001: 185).
For more elaborate discussions on what is presented here as a very short summary, see Crisp (2001),
Macrae (1999), Chimni (1999), Long (2013), Allen & Turton (1996), Toft (2007), Stein (1994), Rogge (1994).
In her article, Macrae (1999) provides a critique on (the politics of) the term ‘post-conflict’: many countries
experiencing return can better be conceptualized as ‘chronic political emergencies’.
Macrae (Macrae 1999: 1) aptly argues that UNHCR’s attention to peacebuilding and
economic development in returning areas “have been based on an analysis of the causes
of conflict which focuses largely on internal and economic factors”.
This process, encompassing the growing concern of the international community
with peace, stability and economic development in post-conflict situations; and the
expressed need for deeper involvement of UNHCR, UNDP and the World Bank in
repatriation and reintegration operations, evolved synchronously with large return
movements throughout the nineties and early 2000s. Although Long (2013) warned that
a unilateral interpretation of repatriation was “an almost exclusively post-Cold War
phenomenon” (87), the numbers of displaced people returning to their countries of origin
during the ‘decade of voluntary repatriation’ was unprecedented. Rogge (1994) estimated
a return of approximately 3.5 million displaced people between 1971-1990 (16-17). Harild
et al. (2015) note almost as many returns for 1995 and 1996 alone (3).
In the aftermath
of the collapse of the USSR, massive returns took place to El Salvador, Nicaragua and
Guatemala (Long 2013; Stepputat 1999; Worby 1999), while hundreds of thousands of
Cambodians were suddenly and quickly repatriated from Thailand in order for them to
participate in the 1993 elections (Eastmond & Öjendal 1999). One million refugees
returned to Ethiopia and Eritrea (Bascom 2005; Kibreab 2001, 2002, 2003) after new
governments took power in 1991 and 1993. Between 1992 and 1996, about 1.7 million
Mozambican refugees repatriated following the 1991 Paris Peace Accords (Long 2011:
240), and half a million Rwandan refugees were repatriated from refugee camps in
Democratic Republic of Congo (Pottier 1999). And the largest return movement since
WWII was believed to be the Bosnian repatriation from the second half of the nineties
onwards (Black & Koser 1999: 3).
Both the policy shifts and large-scale refugee repatriations had a significant
impact on the field of refugee studies, which was now increasingly turning its attention
to the ‘afterlife’ of the refugee. In response to the policy shift of the international
community towards repatriation instead of resettlement, it was argued that “what is
being promoted as the most desirable solution to refugee crises is a poorly understood
social and spatial phenomenon” (Bascom 1994; Norwegian Government, Department of
Immigrant and Refugee Affairs 1994: 5, cited in Chimni 1999: 4). To fill this gap, the
United Nations Research Institute of Social Development (UNRISD) launched a research
programme on the return of refugees. Symposia in Addis Ababa, Harare and N’Djamena
resulted in two widely credited edited volumes of Allen & Morsink (1994) and Allen
(1996) on African repatriation and reintegration operations and experiences that ‘put
returnees on the map’. Other research followed, expanding further the geographical
scope to African (Kingma 1997; Koser 1997; Preston 1997), Asian (Eastmond & Öjendal
1999; Van Hear 1994; Worby 1999) and Central American (Bailey & Hane 1995;
Brentlinger, Hernan, Hernandez-Diaz, Azaroff, & McCall 1999; Sundquist & Johansson
1996) processes of repatriation.
Developments like the ‘returnee aid and development’ strategy and the ‘Brookings
process’ were largely echoed in the focus of research and the growing body of studies on
the issue of return. Most of the identified debates discussed below can in one way or
another be traced back to how UNHCR, and by extension the international community,
defined return in terms of peacebuilding and economic recovery. Scholarly attention to
return has, even more than similar work on refugees, largely been inspired and
influenced by these policy priorities and concerns. It helps to explain why most of the
selected and reviewed literature tends to be policy oriented and guided by normative
interests aimed at improving the repatriation and reintegration of returnees. Scholarly
attention has generally moved towards what determines refugee decision-making to ‘go
Of course, these are mostly recorded return movements by UNHCR in the context of increasingly organized
repatriation operations.
home’ (e.g. Koser 1997) or to evolve into actors of change and development once returned
(Cassarino 2004).
This paper presents the major debates identified through the literature review on
return. The first section of this literature review will present the conceptual debate in
existing literature on the nature of return. This reveals the continuous scholarly
endeavor to better understand how processes of return have and are being practiced by
returning populations, and how policy and research frameworks should be adapted in
order to be in line with these lived experiences. The second section presents an analysis
of how the linkages between repatriation, reintegration and development are understood
in existing literature. It argues that successful, sustainable repatriation is generally
understood as consisting of reintegration based on economic development. A considerable
number of studies look into the socio-economic dimensions of population return, aimed at
improving repatriation and reintegration interventions. The third section presents
studies that focus on cycles of violence, displacement and return. Many scholars working
on these issues are influenced by concerns of peacebuilding, conflict resolution, and
reconciliation, which are considered to be crucial for preventing new cycles of violence
and displacement. These studies have particularly focused on processes of Disarmament,
Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) of former combatants; access to land;
reconciliation; and the role of displaced persons in peace accords. The fourth section
concentrates on the literature focusing on psychosocial effects of war, which have gained
increased attention among researchers and policy makers, mainly in respect to its
relevance for peacebuilding, reconciliation and post-conflict reconstruction. The fifth and
last section looks at the literature illustrating a return of ‘the political’, which refers to
the reconnection of returning populations to the political status they left behind when
moving into exile. Although this is a much more recent field of study, scholars have
increasingly dealt with population return as an intricate political process that aims to
bring peace, security and democratic legitimacy.
The Concept of Return
One of the most vivid debates in the identified and selected literature is about the
concept of return itself. Two sets of questions dominate this debate: the first aims to
achieve a better understanding of how processes of return have and are being practiced,
experienced and given meaning by returning populations, researchers and policy-
makers; the second focuses on ways forward by rethinking policy and research
frameworks that are in line with experienced processes of return.
- Processes of return
Scholars focusing on experiences and practices of return have examined the law
and practice of ‘the right to return’; questioned the idea of ‘return’ as a process of
‘homecoming’ and ‘re’integration; and discussed whether or not ‘return’ can be seen as
‘the end of the refugee cycle’.
The right to leave and return to one’s country is considered a basic right, reflected
in Article 13(2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. In a context of
violent conflict, peace and tripartite agreements often explicitly specify ‘the right to
return’ for displaced populations. Importantly, this right is also increasingly understood
as the right to reclaim houses, properties and lands (HLP). The notion of restitution or
compensation gained international acceptance in the context of Cambodian and
Guatemalan repatriation operations in the 1990s, and was also explicitly mentioned in
the 1995 Dayton peace accords ending the war in Bosnia (Williams 2009: 5354). The
implementation of ‘the right to return’ in Bosnia (and to a lesser extent in other former
Yugoslavian republics), sparked extensive scholarly interest. It is argued in existing
literature that the ‘right to return’ has been used by the international community as a
political tool of nation-building, to ‘reverse ethnic cleansing’ and to recreate former
Yugoslavia’s multi-ethnic character in newly established states (Black 2001; Bougarel,
Helms & Duijzings 2008; Dahlman & Tuathail 2005a, 2005b; Jansen 2006; Ó Tuathail &
Dahlman 2004; Sert 2011). Black (2001) argues that funding for post-war reconstruction
was increasingly linked to and conditioned by processes of repatriation, referring to the
right of ‘minority groups’ to reclaim their former properties in newly established and
largely mono-ethnic nations that emerged out of post-war former Yugoslavia. While it is
generally agreed that this was largely a successful, but lengthy, process, authors have
argued that issues such as ethnic reconciliation and poverty reduction have been ignored
(Black 2001; Ó Tuathail & Dahlman 2004). Moreover, the intention of creating multi-
ethnic nations did not materialize (Sert 2011: 231).
Other literature has questioned the link of return, apart from being a right, to the
notion of voluntariness. UNHCR’s High Commissioner Sadako Ogata did not merely
declare the nineties the decade of repatriation, but that of ‘voluntary repatriation’.
Scholars have increasingly objected to this imagined reality, arguing that ‘voluntariness’
has gradually made way for the acceptance of ‘safe’ and ‘imposed’ returns (Chimni 1999;
Toft 2007).
Return has also been understood as ‘homecoming’.
The primacy of voluntary
repatriation as a sustainable solution to displacement since the late eighties has been
underscored by the idea of repatriation as encompassing a return to the ‘patria’, or the
homeland. ‘Return’ was seen to involve a sense of belonging to and identification with a
community and a place or territory, both intrinsically linked and giving meaning to
‘identity’ (Kibreab 1999; K. Long 2013: 2829). In this light, Hammond (1999) notes that
the ‘terms of the repatriation canon’ such as reintegration, reconstruction and
readjustment suggest an understanding of repatriation as a return to a place which is
familiar, implying the restoration of a broken, ‘natural tie’ (30).
Together with notions such as ‘re-integration’ and ‘re-construction’, however, the
homecoming model has received rising criticism since the early nineties. Returning
populations often resettle elsewhere than their former ‘homes’ (Joireman, Sawyer, &
Wilhoit 2012; Sert 2011; Vorrath 2008); struggle with social reintegration into their
home communities being considered as ‘stayee communities’ (Bascom 2005; Sonja
Fransen & Kuschminder 2012; Kibreab 2002; Oxfeld 2004); and thus rarely ‘come home’
or return to a context they knew from before the outbreak of violent conflict. According to
Warner (1994), the idealized notions of homecoming attached to the policy framework of
voluntary repatriation are not only unrealistic, but also tend to contain nostalgic
equations between individuals, community, territory and government, fostering a false
understanding of ‘return’ as the reestablishment of a natural tie between people, place
and identity and neglecting societal transformations in conflict affected areas redefining
this ‘natural tie’ as well.
The decade of ‘voluntary repatriation’ thus ended with the recognition that
repatriation is not necessarily the ‘end of the refugee cycle’, but often a very problematic
and difficult process casting returnees in new socio-economic and political realities
(Black & Koser 1999). In his chapter on Eritrean refugees returning from Sudan in the
early nineties, Kibreab (1996) describes the different economic and social
transformations that affected these refugees in exile:
“Many former rural dwellers became urbanized. For some this proved a deskilling
experience, and the integration of such groups in Eritrea is likely to be an uphill
task. Social networks which provided support in times of crisis have either been
Evidently, the following discussion is only based on publications detected via the search protocol and
specifically linked with ‘return’ processes. Diaspora literature was discarded during the screening process.
Other important contributions to the broader debate of national belonging and homemaking are therefore
not included (e.g. Malkki 1995; Blunt & Dowling 2006).
weakened or replaced by more commoditized relationships. The moral ties which
maintained extended family life have commonly been set aside. Traditional modes
of leadership have become almost meaningless.” (Kibreab 1996: 60)
While Stein (1994: 68) comes to the same conclusion and stresses that “repatriation is
not a panacea’, Markowitz and Stefansson counter the understanding of the
‘impossibility’ of return presenting an edited volume of ‘encouraging experiences’, with
the aim to illustrate that “the blessings of homecoming can make it well worth the
struggle” (12).
Given the different dynamics of ‘homecoming’, more recently, scholars have also
attempted to address the question of how ‘return’ is actually practiced and experienced.
As part of this literature, interest has turned to transnational perspectives, including
studies focusing on borders and circular mobilities that view migration as an integral
part of the ‘return’ experience and vice versa (Bailey & Hane 1995; Barrett 2008;
Eastmond 2006; Iaria 2014; L. D. Long & Oxfeld 2004: 2; Stepputat 2004). In contexts
described as ‘protracted refugee situations’ (PRS), scholars have also examined how
refugee strategies define migration patterns, pointing at the choice to visit their lands
and relatives in their home countries, yet simultaneously maintaining residence and the
benefits of refugee protection in the host country (Chatelard 2010; Hovil 2010; Kaiser
2010; Monsutti 2004). This practice, aimed at minimizing risk by dispersion, is described
in existing literature as ‘split return’ (Harpviken 2014); the shift between livelihood
opportunities and the maintenance of a network of social relations in different places,
indeed helps to strengthen their socio-economic position and security.
This recognition of ‘split return’ inspired a perspective on return as an ambiguous
and fluid concept. In her paper on Sudanese refugees in Uganda, Hovil (2010) illustrates
how these refugees “effectively created their own ‘durable solution’ through a
combination of economic and social integration within the Ugandan population, and
ongoing movement in and out of Sudan” (1). Other scholars explored even more
ambiguous returns, including repatriations that can best be understood as new forms of
displacement because of the settlement in places where ‘returnees’ have never been
before (Ballinger 2012; Cornish, Peltzer & Maclachlan 1999). A pertinent example is the
home-making process of Jewish settlers in Israel, as described by Hagemann (2015), or
the ‘displacement’ of more than half a million Burkinabe immigrant laborers from Côte
d’Ivoire, a return to a country some of them had never seen before (Bjarnesen 2013).
These cases helped rethinking current and traditional understandings of ‘return’ as
- Normative standards and policy responses
The second set of questions in existing literature on return relates to the establishment
of normative standards informing the concept and the practice of ‘return’ both in
academia and policy. Different approaches are presented in the selected literature on
how to examine processes of return and reintegration and which conceptual framework
to apply. The same literature critically assesses how to adapt policy-frameworks to the
ever-changing realities and understandings of return.
In this respect, two theoretical contributions deserve particular attention. One is by
Laura Hammond (1999), who based on the case study of returning Tigrayans to Ethiopia
focuses on the later stages of repatriation, and advocates for the development of a new
language rethinking the ‘repatriation equals homecoming model’. By translating terms
such as ‘re-integration’, ‘re-construction’ and ‘re-covery’ to the ‘operative principles of
social change’, such as construction, creativity, innovation and improvisation, Hammond
suggests that the experiences of returnees can teach lessons about “culture change, the
construction of communities, and the multiple meanings of and connections between,
notions of identity, culture, home and geographical place” (p.228). However, while her
work has been cited extensively, few scholars have yet examined the social
transformative impact of population return on (post-)conflict societies (see e.g Wood
2008; Grabska 2013; 2014). Such analyses require a focus on entire communities,
including consideration for the currently under-researched experiences and perspectives
of stayees (cf. section on repatriation, reintegration and development).
A decade later, Long (2008, 2013) argued that repatriation should not only be
envisaged as the (re)creation of a ‘home’ as a social process, but also as a political process
(2013: 223). Based on field research in Guatemala, Long posits that repatriation should
be understood as a ‘political act’ through the renegotiation of the social contract between
citizen, nation and state. Acknowledging the likely absence of such a relationship before
leaving the home area, Long argues for a reconceptualization of repatriation into
empatriation (2013: 29). For Long, reference should be made to ‘nation’ when defining
social contract. In doing so, she aims to establish a collective reconciliatory basis for
refugee empatriation, “premised on the value of restoring a national, group-based
relationship” (2013: 179). In her approach to repatriation as a political process and a
‘return’ to a political community – rather than a place Long also argues to disconnect
repatriation from (immediate) physical return. She introduces the perspective of
continued mobility, suggesting ways for a more durable effect of physical repatriation
(212). This disconnection between ‘citizenship’ and ‘residency’ is supported by the
growing body of empirical work on ‘split return’ (cf. supra) which argues that ‘return’
should not be seen as the end of movement, but includes larger dynamics and patterns of
migration. The importance of mobility solutions is also increasingly recognized by
UNHCR itself (Long 2013: 203; UNHCR, 2007, 2008, 2016). The ECOWAS’ refugee labor
mobility framework (Agreement 2007; ECOWAS Commission 2008) that provides legal
migration options for refugees within the West-African community and UNHCR’s
Comprehensive Solutions Framework (UNHCR 2003) aimed at accommodating the
‘Afghan use of mobility’, can be understood as a direct illustration of this process.
Repatriation, Reintegration and Development
The connection between repatriation, reintegration and development is another
dominant theme in existing literature on return. In the context of the emerging ‘returnee
aid and development strategy’ during the late eighties and early nineties, scholars have
shown increased interest in the socio-economic developmental dimensions of repatriation
and reintegration processes (Allen 1996; Allen & Morsink 1994; Black & Koser 1999).
Many studies focus on assessments of specific repatriation operations (Naqvi 2004; Sperl
& De Vriese 2005; Worby 1999), the rebuilding of livelihoods and land access (Bascom
2005; Binns & Maconachie 2005; Kibreab 2001; Özerdem & Sofizada 2006; Wood &
Phelan 2006), and the decision-making process of refugees to ‘return home’ (Harild et al.
2015; Koser 1997; Omata & Kaplan 2013; Stefanovic, Loizides, & Parsons 2015;
Stepputat 2004). Most of the research identified through the literature review that has
been discussed in this section, tends to be policy-oriented inspired by normative
assumptions aimed at improving repatriation and reintegration interventions. In
addition, research findings increasingly point to the challenges that returnees confront,
thus fueling and influencing the debate on the problematic nature of return itself (cf. the
concept of return). However, the strong emphasis on economic reintegration, official
repatriation operations, and a particular interest in the challenges of returnees, all have
left stayees, spontaneous return movements, the role of the state, and the long-term
impact of the humanitarian presence largely at the margins of scholarly interest despite
the fact that these dynamics profoundly impact and transform - societies. It prevents
building a broader and more comprehensive understanding of ‘post-return’ development.
In exploring repatriation operations, economic reintegration and decision-making,
studies are mainly concerned with examining the ‘sustainability’ of return. This research
interest also reflects increasing attention of the international community towards
longer-term perspectives of reintegration programming. Official UNHCR positions for
instance, recognize that “experience shows that if the issue of sustainability of
reintegration of refugee and displaced populations is not addressed properly, the
countries concerned will almost inevitably slide back into conflict.” (UNHCR 2004: 267).
While ‘durability’ is often considered to involve no subsequent remigration (Black &
Gent 2006: 21),
UNHCR defines ‘sustainability’ of return as ‘effective reintegration’ that
succeeds when “returnees are similar to the local population in terms of socio-economic
conditions and security” (UNHCR 1997: 2, cited in Fransen 2017: 1).
Studies on the socio-economic dimensions of return tend to focus on the
challenges returnees face in realizing ‘effective reintegration’. Existing literature largely
approaches successful, sustainable repatriation as reintegration based on economic
development, with specific attention to the recovery of livelihoods and access to land
(Bascom 2005; Binns & Maconachie 2005; Fransen 2017; Kibreab 2001, 2002, 2003;
Özerdem & Sofizada 2006). Although organized repatriations often bring along
development benefits because of the presence of humanitarian assistance (Bascom 2005),
returning populations put enormous pressure on receiving societies and increase
competition over often scarce (natural) resources and social services (Barasa & Waswa
2015; Sonja Fransen & Kuschminder 2012; Wood & Phelan 2006). Kibreab argues in this
perspective that the reception of returnees by stayees is dependent on whether former
refugees “constitute an [economic] opportunity or a burden to areas of return” (2002: 77).
Reflecting concerns for peacebuilding, many studies also warn for the risks of renewed
conflict if such tensions between stayees and returnees are not addressed (Huggins et al.
2004b; McMichael 2014; Unger & Wils 2007; Unruh 2008, 2013; Watts & Holmes-Watts
2008). It is argued that in some cases spontaneous returns may be more successful than
official repatriation operations (Bakewell 2000; Bascom 2005; Eastmond 2006; Kibreab
In other cases, official repatriation operations tend to ignore socio-economic and
political realities and factors involved in return decision-making processes (Dolan 1999
cited in Bakewell 2000: 372; Özerdem & Sofizada 2006), thus undermining rather than
supporting sustainable return. Kibreab illustrates for instance how in the case of
refugees returning to western Eritrea, spontaneous repatriates chose areas of return
with a favorable agricultural climate, while refugees settled by the government ended up
in places that were not suitable for ‘rain-fed agriculture’ (2001: 3). Spontaneous return,
however, received limited attention in existing literature, and mainly concentrates on
circular migration, or ‘split return’ (cf. section on the concept of return), thus addressing
only a small specific group of returnees. Also, the position of stayees has received little
attention in literature and repatriation and reintegration processes are mainly studied
from the experiences and perspectives of the returnees. Cassarino (2004) for instance
does not consider the stayee population in his theoretical framework aimed at increasing
the understanding of the developmental impact of returnees (cf. supra). An exception is
the work of Ellen Oxfeld (2004) who illustrates how a ‘stayee’ community received
returnees with great ambivalence perceiving them as both family and ‘visitors’,
questioned their new customs and experienced feelings of alienating in social interaction.
In search of what constitutes a successful, sustainable return, several scholars
have studied the decision-making process of refugees on whether to stay or to repatriate
(Black et al. 2004; Harild et al. 2015; Koser 1997; Omata 2013; Stefanovic et al. 2015;
Van Uffelen 2006). This literature points at the importance of socio-economic and
Although it must be said that migration and strategies of continued mobility after return are gradually
more included in UNHCR’s policy frameworks (cf. the concept of return).
security conditions in both the countries of exile and those of return. It is argued that the
decision to repatriate is often based on whether the return or local integration is
expected to be ‘sustainable’ or not. At the same time, it is acknowledged that return can
be a staggered or reiterative process, which itself in the long term can also contribute to
a more ‘sustainable’ return ( Long 2013; Stepputat 2004). An element often examined in
this perspective is the role of information. While it is generally agreed that information
about the conditions in the country of return can potentially influence the decision to
return or not, Koser has stressed that “repatriation is a complex process” and that “the
information factor should not be overstated” (1997: 14).
As mentioned above, the concern about ‘sustainability’ of return, is also present in
UNHCR’s ‘returnee aid and development’ strategy that aimed for a longer-term
perspective on returnee reintegration. Researchers investigating the socio-economic
dimensions of return have given significant attention to UN repatriation and
reintegration operations that reflect these policy interests. A series of programmes
attracting much research attention fall under the ‘4Rs’ approach and the ‘Quick Impact
Projects’ (QIPs). ‘Quick Impact Projects’ (QIPs) were intended to be small in scale, based
on gender equity and community participation, and connect successful reintegration to
sustainable development. They were first introduced in 1991 in Nicaragua and widely
implemented in other return operations, becoming “a standard UNHCR reintegration
practice by the middle of the 1990s” (Crisp 2001: 180181). Researchers have generally
acknowledged the value of QIPs for repatriation in Guatemala (Naqvi 2004; Worby
1999), Mozambican repatriation (Oda 2011) and for the creation of a so-called ‘safe zone’
in Somalia (Kirkby, Kliest, Frerks, Flikkema, & O’Keefe 1997). Crisp, however, states
that QIPs often suffered from ‘inadequate planning, data-collection and project
identification’ (2001: 182-183). Moreover, it has been argued that QIPs generally missed
the opportunity to include former soldiers and DDR programming (Spear 2006).
As mentioned previously, in 2002, the UNHCR, UNDP and the World Bank
deepened the Brookings process by developing the ‘4Rs’ approach. Repatriation,
Reintegration, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction were four key areas that would guide
program planning “to support poverty reduction and peace-building” and facilitate a
more sustainable return (UNHCR 2004: 268). Pilot projects in Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka,
Afghanistan and Eritrea were soon followed by other cases (Lippman & Malik 2004;
Sperl & De Vriese 2005; UNHCR 2004). While UNHCR stresses that 4R programmes
should aim to address the needs of returning populations in an ‘integrated manner’
(UNHCR 2004: 271), it has been argued that contextual factors are not always taken into
account. For Özerdem and Sofizada, the conceptualization of the 4R’s approach did not
mark “a concerted effort to change how projects were implemented” (2006: 79). In their
analysis of the wider policy-implications of land-related challenges for returnees in
Afghanistan (ie landlessness in context of a largely agrarian society), they argue that the
sustainability of reintegration is significantly compromised partly due to the failure of
the international community to include the centrality of land in policy frameworks.
Also, discussions on reintegration and economic development largely neglect the
state, and by extension, all actors involved in conflict or post-conflict governance. Many
studies start from an aid-centric approach, mainly defining the gaps in humanitarian
assistance to improve reintegration programming. However, the engagement of political
(state) actors in economic reintegration and development in the context of population
return is rarely addressed. Scholars working on land access and land conflicts in the
aftermath of return for instance have stressed the need for land reform or for large
government-led land reform programmes, yet without looking into existing governance
contexts (Huggins et al. 2004b; Unruh 2004, 2008; Watts & Holmes-Watts 2008). This
explains the lack of knowledge on local political dynamics of land reform, its implications
on the ground, and on how local political actors position themselves towards
humanitarian agencies. Further, while economic reintegration activities of UNHCR and
humanitarian organizations receives sufficient attention, the long-term impact of their
presence is hardly discussed in existing literature.
Cycles of Violence, Displacement and Return
Another dominant theme in the reviewed literature includes the linkages between cycles
of violence, displacement and return. Existing debates are centered around issues
related to peacebuilding, conflict resolution and prevention in the context of population
return to countries in or emerging out of violent conflict. It is argued that, in order to
break cycles of violence and displacement, “it is critical to locate the forces or factors that
engender violence within this cyclical process” (Hovil 2008: 19). The selected literature
focuses on four major themes related to violence and processes of population return: (1)
Demobilization, Disarmament and Reintegration (DDR) processes; (2) access to land; (3)
reconciliation and transitional justice; and (4) peace agreements.
A widely shared critique to dominant repatriation discourse is that the very
return of displaced people to their country of origin is too easily considered proof of the
fact that peace is achieved. As Black and Gent argue, “the end of the Cold War (…)
created a ‘peace dividend’ (…) Return was not only a solution for individual refugees, but
also came to be seen as a central pillar of peace processes” (2006:17). For Juergensen,
“repatriation (is) one of the most important social artifacts of any peacebuilding and
reconstruction process” (2002: 161). Repatriation processes that did not signify or
indicate an end of violent conflict have inspired these critiques on the return-peace
equation. A notorious example is the ‘self’-repatriation of half a million (mostly Hutu)
Rwandan refugees from eastern Zaïre in 1996, which was initially interpreted by the
international community as a large success. Later analyses revealed, however, that some
700,000 returnees were ‘missing’ and that the refugee camps had been violently
dismantled to push refugees and ex-Forces Armées Rwandaises genocidaires back to
Rwanda for retribution for their involvement in acts of genocide (Pottier 1999). Based on
similar cases, Black and Gent conclude that “international organizations dealing with
post-conflict countries” increasingly recognized that “return itself is not enough to
promote peace; rather, this return needs to be ‘successful’” (2006: 24).
One particular issue that received wide scholarly attention is the return of ex-
combatants, particularly in relation to processes of Demobilization, Disarmament and
Reintegration (DDR).
Almost one third of identified and reviewed publications focuses
on ex-combatants, and about 20% on DDR specifically. For Johanna Söderström, “the
fear of returning soldiers is an ageless phenomenon” (2015: 1). Their return is generally
considered as a threat to post-conflict state stability, and a potential factor in sparking
new outbreaks of violence. Scholars have pointed at the crucial importance of their
reintegration into civilian life or into the national army or police force (Kingma 1997;
Porto, Parsons, & Alden 2007). Although recent publications have revised the one-sided
image of the ex-combatant as a ‘threat’ (McMullin 2013; Söderström 2015; cf. the return
of the political), it remains widely accepted that DDR plays a critical role in the
transition from war to peace. The UN’s Integrated Disarmament, Demobilization and
Reintegration Standards (IDDRS) of 2006 specifically stipulate the importance of social
and economic reintegration as the ‘ultimate objective’ of DDR processes (quoted in
McMullin 2013: 2).
The design and implementation of these DDR interventions, however, have met
A more elaborate discussion of DDR processes can be found in the complementary literature study “Does
DDR work? A review of the evidence”.
with considerable critiques. The socio-economic ‘reintegration’ approach in particular has
been criticized for rarely achieving its intended purpose of transforming combatants into
integrated and productive civilians. This failure has largely been attributed to
insufficient attention to community participation and social embeddedness of DDR
programmes (Bowd & Özerdem, 2013; Knight & Ozerdem, 2004; Oyewo, 2016; Sany,
2006; Solomon & Ginifer, 2008), to the recovery of (in)formal livelihoods (Lamb, 2011;
Verwimp & Verpoorten, 2004), and to the specific difficulties of reintegration for female
ex-combatants, who cope with higher degrees of stigmatization and marginalization
partly due to their ambiguous position in traditional gender roles (De Watteville 2002;
Rhea 2016). It has been stated that this lack of attention can be mainly attributed to a
rather generalised approach to ex-combatant reintegration, based on the restoration of
security rather than focused on development. As is argued, this ironically risks
heightening the risk of a return to violence rather than reducing it (Knight & Ozerdem
2004; McMullin 2013). Other scholars have argued that it should be recognized that the
post-conflict economic landscape is rather fragile, and offers ‘very little to reintegrate
into’ (Jennings 2007; Mcmullin 2013; McMullin 2013: 3; Richards: 2016). As stated by
some authors, DDR programmes, thus, would do well to be embedded in a more
comprehensive approach to post-conflict development (Muggah & Krause 2009; Porto et
al. 2007).
A second issue that has received increasing scholarly interest is the relationship
between repatriation, land and conflict. Scholars have argued that land is a crucial
aspect of socio-economic reintegration in agrarian societies, because it is a critical means
of livelihood and includes an important socio-cultural and symbolic value (Kande' 2016;
Unruh 2004). While its significance has been widely recognized, issues of housing, land
and property (HLP) have only recently become a part of debates on post-conflict
peacebuilding and refugee return. Scott Leckie’s (edited) books on the linkages between
violent conflict, HLP issues and post-conflict peacebuilding (Leckie 2003, 2007, 2009;
Leckie & Huggins 2011) have set the scene for the incorporation of HLP in debates on
population return. Since the early 2000s, scholars have pointed to the high frequency of
land conflicts following population return, and the complexities involved in providing
returnees with restitution or compensation for houses, land and properties they left
behind. Returning populations often find their lands occupied by other people, sold their
land before leaving home, experience difficulties in finding the boundaries of their
properties or simply have no land to return to, especially after protracted displacement
(Immanuel 2010; Leckie 2003; Leckie & Huggins 2011; Rugadya 2008; Vorrath 2008;
Wood & Phelan 2006). Vorrath notes that in the case of Burundi almost 90% of
reintegration challenges are assumed to be land-related, with refugees who fled in the
seventies or nineties returning and claiming their land from new occupants, which has
provoked countless land disputes (2008: 123). In northern Uganda, in the aftermath of
the protracted conflict with the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and 25 years of forced
displacement in IDP camps, a highly complex and problematic context related to access,
use and ownership of land, caused considerable difficulties to returnees in reclaiming
their properties and land rights (Immanuel 2010; Hopwood and Atkinson 2015; Rugadya
2008; Rugadya Nsamba-Gayiiya, & Kamusiime 2006; cf. debating return in Uganda,
South(ern) Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and CAR). In such conditions, a
crucial challenge also includes “the mismatch between customary land tenure systems,
which are undergoing changes related to modernization and globalization, and state-
managed systems based on western models” (Huggins et al. 2004a). Also, it is argued
that the dominant focus on the position and challenges of returnees obscures the broader
structural dimensions of HLP challenges such as land scarcity, inadequate land laws
and registration systems, affecting also non-displaced parts of society (Huggins 2009;
van Leeuwen 2010).
A third dominant theme in existing literature is centered around reconciliation
and transitional justice.
In the reviewed literature, the linkages between population
return and reconciliation have been mainly addressed from two perspectives: (1) social
reintegration of ex-combatants, with a specific focus on former child soldiers; and (2)
HLP restitution as a mechanism of transitional justice. Almost half of the publications in
the literature on reconciliation focus on the social reintegration process of former (child)
combatants. In particular, scholars have drawn attention to issues of stigmatization,
marginalization and social exclusion of ex-combatants (Betancourt, Agnew-Blais,
Gilman, Williams, & Ellis 2010; Denov & Marchard 2014; Derluyn, Vindevogel, & De
Haene 2013; McMullin, 2013; Rhea 2016; Worthen, McKay, Veale, & Wessells 2012).
Other literature, which mainly draws on experiences in Sierra Leone and
Uganda, explores the potential for traditional forms of social repair (such as taking
part in forgiveness rituals and cleansing ceremonies) to enable a successful re-entering
in the social community, with very mixed findings (Allen 2006; Baines 2007; Macdonald
2017; Kelsall 2009; Muldoon et al. 2014; Veale & Stavrou 2003; Williamson & Cripe
2002; Shaw 2007; Victor and Porter 2017). It has been suggested that “in Africa justice is
essentially restorative rather than retributive” (Allen 2010: 244). However, scholars have
also warned of the danger of ‘romanticizing and instrumentalising traditional forms of
justice (Allen 2006; Allen and Macdonald 2013; Branch 2011). Some advocate for more
holistic transitional justice approaches that combine local forms of social repair with
formal judicial mechanisms (Baines 2007; Stovel 2008). While others question the
practice and performance of the internationally driven ‘toolbox approach’ to transitional
justice and advocate for ‘transformative justice’, defined as: ‘transformative change that
emphasizes local agency and resources, the prioritization of process rather than
preconceived outcomes and the challenging of unequal and intersecting power
relationships and structures of inclusion at both the local and the global level ‘(Gready
and Robins 2014: 340). Also HLP restitution as a mechanism of transitional justice has
received increased attention in existing literature (cf. supra). Scholars have argued
though that property restitution has its limitations as a strategy to promote social
reconciliation. A case often referred to is Bosnia. While scholars have generally
acknowledged that in this case the restitution process has been relatively successful
(ethnic minorities were eventually allowed to reclaim their former lands and properties
in the new mono-ethnic nations), social healing and ethnic reconciliation mechanisms
were largely neglected (Black 2001; Ó Tuathail & Dahlman 2004; Sert 2011).
A final and recent stream of literature concerns the involvement of displaced
persons in peace agreements. A growing group of scholars has addressed the need to
include the particular challenges of displaced persons in peace negotiations with the aim
of achieving lasting peace and facilitating sustainable return (Andersen-Rodgers 2015;
Fagen 2009; Koser 2007; McHugh 2010). It is argued that while returning populations
might challenge the security and stability of post-conflict nations, refugees and IDPs are
rarely included as participants in such agreements. The Brookings-Bern Project on
Internal Displacement has played a pioneering role in addressing the specific position of
IDPs in peace processes. This collaboration between the Brookings Institution in
Washington and the University of Bern resulted in a number of studies that informed
policy-makers, offering tools and suggestions on how to include IDP representation in
peace negotiations (Fagen 2009; Koser 2007; McHugh 2010). These studies concluded
that IDPs face particular challenges because of being displaced within their own country.
It is argued that their vulnerability is significantly higher than that of refugees due to
A more profound and elaborate discussion on reconciliation can be found in the PoR literature review on
psycho-social support
their lack of an international protection status, their presence closer to war context, and
difficult access to humanitarian aid (Koser 2007: 13). Further, Patricia Fagen (2009: 33)
states that IDPs are often at a ‘disadvantage vis-à-vis refugees’ as the last mentioned are
generally represented by UNHCR and the host country at the negotiation table.
Although Fagen also notes that the particular position of IDPs has received increasing
international recognition, they are still rarely included and represented as genuine
stakeholders during peace processes. Andersen-Rodgers (2015) add that although the
inclusion of displaced people in peace accords produces a positive effect on the promotion
of peace on a macro level, it does not necessarily succeed in resolving the issues voiced by
the IDPs, including displacement.
Psycho-social Healing
One strand of literature looks into issues of psycho-social health and mental wellbeing
among returning populations. The reviewed literature mainly focuses on ex-combatants,
with scholars expressing a strong interest in the psychological impact of being involved
in combat. Former combatants, and child soldiers in particular, have been a dominant
subject of research on trauma and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and on social
processes of stigmatization and its psychological effects (Ertl, Pfeiffer, Scauer, Elbert, &
Neuner 2011; McMullen, O’Callaghan, Shannon, Black, & Eakin 2013).
Further, the complementary literature review on Psycho-Social Support (PSS) in
the context of the Politics of Return research project (Torre 2018) found that PSS
programs have gained increased attention in relation to their potential for
peacebuilding, reconciliation and post-conflict reconstruction.
Baingana et al. (2005) for
instance focus on the psycho-social effects of war and its relevance to conflict resolution
and prevention. Also the research ordered by the World Bank (cf. Brookings process)
includes an extensive review of post-conflict interventions in Afghanistan, Burundi and
Uganda (among others), and produced a conceptual framework aimed at developing more
effective psycho-social interventions in conflict-affected settings (Baingana et al. 2005:
21). Most studies have been conducted in a limited number of cases though, including
Uganda and to a much lesser extent former Yugoslavia, Liberia, Sierra Leone and the
Democratic Republic of Congo. The effects of child soldiering in northern Uganda have
been studied extensively. Scholars have focused on the traumatic experiences of
abducted children who were forced to commit atrocities, often targeting their own
relatives and communities. Studies concentrating on the psychological effects of war
have also documented the widespread presence of depression and psychiatric disorders
such as PTSD (Derluyn, Broekaert, Schuyten, & De Temmerman 2004; Pfeiffer & Elbert
2011; Pham, Vinck, & Stover 2009) and conduct disorder (Ovuga & Amone-POlak 2017).
Other scholars have warned of the danger of presenting a one-sided image of the
victimized and traumatized child soldier stripped of “agency, active choice or power in
constructing its own frames of meaning” (Torre 2018; McMullin 2011; Summerfield
1999). In his analysis on former child soldiers in northern Uganda, Mergelsberg (2010)
objects to the trauma discourse and introduces the notion of ‘transition’. He argues that
it is predominantly the transition from one world to another (or from civilian life to that
of a soldier and back again), and the adjustment to a new moral and social reality, that
prompt the biggest challenges. In doing so, Mergelsberg also echoes the critiques of
Summerfield (1999) and others by moving away from the Western individualized notion
of trauma to an analysis that is attentive to the collective social dimensions of
experiences of war and violence.
Other literature looks into the social effects of being involved in combat, including
For a comprehensive overview of the historical background of PSS, see the literature review (Torre 2018)
A more elaborate discussion of these critiques can be found in the literature review on PSS (Torre 2018)
issues of stigmatization. It is widely agreed that former combatants face a difficult re-
entering into the social community and have to deal with large scale social exclusion and
discrimination (Betancourt et al., 2010; Denov & Marchard, 2014; Derluyn et al., 2013;
Rhea, 2016; Worthen et al., 2012), which further impacts on their mental wellbeing
(Betancourt et al., 2010; Stott, 2009). In addition, Scholars highlight that this is very
much a gendered process in which ‘child mothers’ in particular face rejection by their
families, often transferring also the stigma to their children (Stott 2009). Looking at
former child soldiers in Colombia, Denov and Marchard (2014) illustrate how returnees
actively employ strategies and conceal their past in order to try to ‘manage their stigma’,
thus facilitating their return into the social community.
As mentioned elsewhere, this literature has a strong emphasis on psycho-social
processes of child soldiers compared to those of adult ex-combatants. McMullin (2011)
critiques the ‘generic’ focus on child soldiers’ vulnerabilities in psycho-social
interventions and on counseling and training in life skills, assuming that “children’s
unique vulnerability results from war’s greater and long-lasting effects on children than
on adults, regardless of the coping strategies, life experiences and positionality of the
individual” (McMullin 2011: 751). He argues for a more concentrated effort to focus on
child agency during reintegration processes and for more consideration for the shared
experiences of adult and child soldiers. It is also remarkable that existing literature
tends to neglect other groups of returnees, including former refugees or IDPs, in
discussions of the psycho-social wellbeing.
The Return of the Political
A final emerging theme in the literature on return can best be described as the ‘return of
the political’. It focuses on the returning population’s reconnection with the political
status they left behind when moving into exile. Remarkably, while refugee studies
generally distinguish the humanitarian status of a refugee with the political status of a
citizen, very little has been written on the return of political status once refugees
repatriate to their countries of origin. Stepputat argues that “The process of how
repatriation links up with the (re-)formation of states has rarely been examined” (210).
Indeed, the strong focus on the socio-economic dimensions of return for a long time has
left political processes largely unaddressed. Only recently, scholars have looked into the
politics around return. Growing criticism has been expressed by scholars against
existing socio-economic and aid-centric approaches to population return, which resulted
in the image of returnees as a burden in need of humanitarian assistance and ex-
combatants as a threat to post-conflict state-building rather than as beneficial
contributors to state building (Daley 2013; Helling 2007; Söderström 2015; Vorrath
2008). Also the idea of ‘return’ as the end of a political process, rather than being an
inherent part of it, has been questioned. Most of these analyses start from a top-down
perspective of state-building, yet scholars are increasingly interested in more bottom-up
approaches and are documenting citizenship issues of returning populations as well as
their contribution to political transformations.
In the repatriation literature and discourse, the return of a displaced population
has often been depicted “as an indicator of the well-being and maturity of a state
signaling the success of a political process” (McDowell & Eastmond 2002: 23). However,
similar to the critiques on the equation of return with peace (cf. section on cycles of
violence, displacement and return), the idea of return as an evidence base for post-
conflict political stability and legitimacy is widely criticized among scholars. Macrae
(1999) has argued for example that, while population return is generally framed as
taking place in ‘post-conflict’ situations, displaced people actually return more often to
politically unstable ‘chronic political emergencies’ than to stable environments.
Moreover, while voluntary repatriation in safety and dignity is considered paramount for
‘just returns’, circumstances of so-called ‘imposed returns’ have cast serious doubt to the
political legitimacy of the receiving state (Bradley 2013; Chimni 1999; Shutzer 2012).
Building on this criticism, scholars have approached population return as an intricate
political process that aims to bring peace, security and democratic legitimacy. In this
respect, Katy Long (2008, 2013) argues for repatriation to be understood as a ‘political
act’, related to and concerned with the rapprochement between citizen, nation and state
(cf. section on the concept of return).
In top-down state-building analyses, re-establishing human security for returning
populations is considered a crucial node of this renewed ‘rapprochement’. Literature on
Security Sector Reform (SSR) has argued for more integrated approaches, embedding
DDR programmes and reconciliation efforts into the broader transformation of security
sector institutions, thus increasing state stability and legitimacy, and enhancing a more
‘sustainable’ return.
Starting from a state-perspective, some scholars looked into new dynamics of in-
exclusion following the ‘reunion’ of different stayee and returnee groups within the
borders of the nation-state (Metsola 2010; Stepputat 1999; Turner 2015). Both Turner
(2015) and Metsola (2010) analyse how state narratives of post-war national unity have
cast citizens into new socio-political categories and realities. In post-genocide Rwanda,
for example, different social groups were turned into different citizen categories, based
on their histories of mobility and their supposed ‘roles’ during the genocide. Turner
argues that the ‘survivors’ of the genocide (mainly Tutsi), the saviors of the nation
(mainly Tutsi refugees from Uganda) and the ‘suspects’ of ‘genocidal mentalities’ (mainly
Hutu) were subjected to different governmental practices, creating different and in-
/exclusionary forms of citizenship and membership.
Other literature on state-formation and population return looks into interference
by international external actors. A well-researched case is the Dayton peace agreement
of 1995. Scholars have argued that the international community forcefully imposed the
newly mono-ethnic nations in the Balkans to welcome the return of now ethnic minority
groups, and thus ‘reverse ethnic cleansing’ by recreating former Yugoslavia’s multi-
ethnic character (Black 2001; Bougarel et al. 2008; Dahlman & Tuathail 2005a, 2005b;
Jansen 2006; Ó Tuathail & Dahlman 2004; Sert 2011; Toal & Dahlman 2011). Other
research has connected the involvement of UNHCR and UN peace operations in the
repatriation and reintegration of refugees and IDPs to state-building efforts (McDowell
& Eastmond 2002; Scalettaris 2013; Stepputat 1999). Scalettaris (2013), for example,
argues that UNHCR’s interference in the Afghan Land Allocation Scheme (turning
isolated areas into settlements for returning refugees) helped to transform landless
returnees into Afghan citizens, and in this process, also contributed to the
transformation of the Afghan state and its relationship with its citizens. Daley (2013)
has stated that scholars should be much more attentive to the reconfiguration of state-
civil relationships as a result of humanitarianism.
Researchers also recently advocated for a research agenda that incorporates the
political agency of returning populations (Alfieri 2016; Baines 2015; Helling 2007; Long
2008, 2013; McMullin 2013; Marjoke Anika Oosterom 2014; Söderström, 2015). As of yet,
political reintegration has hardly been articulated in UNHCR policy-frameworks.
According to Fransen for UNHCR ‘effective reintegration’ is accomplished when
returnees achieve the same socio-economic conditions and security as stayees (UNHCR
1997: 2, cited in Fransen 2017: 1), thus largely neglecting political conditions. Oosterom’s
research in northern Uganda, looks into how experiences of war and displacement
(re)shaped people’s understanding and practices of citizenship (2011; 2016; 2014) and
argues that “protracted conflict diminished their sense of citizenship and radically
changed the social environment in which active citizenship is learnt” (2014: 283). In this
case, feelings of belonging and trust in the Ugandan state eroded significantly, which
can partly be attributed to an increased securitization of their position during
widespread government-led encampment.
Scholars have also challenged one-sided image of ex-combatants as being a threat
to post-conflict state-reconstruction and have looked into their political agency and their
political participation in elections, protests, etc. (Blattman, 2009b; McMullin, 2013;
Söderström, 2015). It is argued that ex-combatants’ participation in political processes is
crucial to peacebuilding and state buidling and must thus be incorporated into
reintegration approaches and programmes. Citing Mats Berdal, McMullin (2013) states
that reintegration “is an ‘intensely political process’ and cannot ‘be treated simply as a
set of managerial and administrative challenges’” (Berdal 1996: 5, quoted in McMullin
2013, p. 34). It is illustrated in literature that ex-combatants demonstrate a higher (need
for) political engagement than other groups in society. Blattman (2009) found in
northern Uganda that former child soldiers were comparatively more active in
community mobilization, joining political groups, and leadership activities than their
peers who had not been involved in combat, thus demonstrating a higher political
Debating Return in Uganda, South(ern) Sudan, the Democratic Republic of
Congo and the Central African Republic (CAR)
Next to former Yugoslavia, Uganda stands out as the country that is comparatively most
discussed by scholars in existing literature on processes of return. The end of a
protracted war between the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the Ugandan government
(1986-2007) has left a significant mark on the topics discussed. Despite some
most publications focus on the LRA conflict. The vast majority are
concerned with issues of psycho-social healing and re-integration of formerly abducted
persons and children born of war, reconciliation and transitional justice, and emerging
land conflicts following IDPs return home.
When it comes to the psycho-social effects of forced abduction and child soldiering,
the returning populations in northern Uganda are arguably the most researched
communities (cf. also section on psycho-social health). While Scholars often emphasize
the traumatic experiences and psychological effects of being abducted and being forced to
commit atrocities at a young age (Derluyn et al. 2004; Ovuga & Amone-POlak 2017;
Pfeiffer & Elbert 2011; Winkler et al. 2015), some have also explored their relation to
social reintegration challenges, stigma and social exclusion (Amone-P’Olak et al. 2016;
Denov & Lakor 2017; Pham et al. 2009; Veale & Stavrou 2003; Mergelsberg 2010; Victor
and Porter 2017). There is a growing literature on the multiple social, economic and
political challenges preventing the successful reintegration of girls and women who were
abducted by the LRA, ‘forced to carry marry commanders and to bear their children’, as
well as on the ‘children born of war’ themselves (Apio 2016; Atim and Mazurana 2017;
Baines 2016; Kiconco and Nthakomwa 2017).
In addition, studies concerned with social reintegration have explored the
dynamics of broader societal reconciliation in this context (Alipanga, De Schryver,
Return processes to Luweero following the Ugandan Bush War (book chapters of Kabera & Muyanja in
Allen & Morsink 1994; and book chapters of E.A. Brett, Amelia Brett and Allen, in Allen 1996), and in the
aftermath of more specific conflict dynamics in Teso region (de Berry 2004).
Neema, Broekaert, & Derluyn 2014; Veale & Stavrou 2003). One example is the analysis
on the social reintegration processes of formerly abducted children (FAPs). Annan and
Blattman (2011) and Veale and Stavrou (2003) find that traditional methods and ritual
forms of cleansing facilitated the re-entering of these individuals into their community
and facilitated ‘personal and collective peace’. Other ethnographic and qualitative
studies reach very different conclusions and emphasise the highly complex nature of
‘reconciliation’ and social acceptance in the aftermath of the conflict, emphasizing a
range of ceaseless issues from cosmological insecurity to gender relations to competition
over land (Macdonald 2017; Victor and Porter 2017; Hopwood and Atkinson 2015).
As the site of the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) first investigation and
arrest warrants, northern Uganda has also been widely researched as case study of the
apparent tensions between ‘retributive’ versus ‘restorative’ forms of transitional justice.
Soon after the investigation was publically announced in 2004, this fierce debate
centered on the relationship between ‘peace’ and ‘justice’ and the peacebuilding and
reconciliation benefits of amnesties and ‘traditional’ justice over ‘international’ forms of
criminal prosecution (Allen 2006; Baines 2007; Branch 2011). More recent research has
argued that, amongst returning populations, there is no dichotomy between ‘restorative’
and ‘retributive’ justice highlighting the importance of considering war crimes and
available options for redress and reconciliation in the political, socio-economic and
institutional contexts in which they occur (Macdonald and Porter 2016; Macdonald 2017;
Porter 2017).
The nature of the ‘war in the north’, including the massive settlement of the local
population in IDP camps, has disrupted and complicated existing patterns of land access,
land use and land ownership. Although most IDPs envisaged to return to their original
homes, scholars have documented different resettlement patterns, with IDP camps
gaining a semi-urban afterlife (S.R. Whyte, Babiiha, Mukyala, & Meinert 2014; Susan
Reynolds Whyte, Babiiha, Mukyala, & Meinert 2012) or people clustering in denser
groupings or closer to major roads (Joireman et al. 2012). It has been argued that the
Ugandan government has failed to prioritize the settlement of land conflicts in its policy
framework for population return and reconstruction, known as the Peace, Recovery and
Development Plan (PRDP) (Immanuel 2010; Rugadya 2008). Reports commissioned by
the World Bank revealed ‘high levels of distrust of the Ugandan government’s intentions
towards land’ and collected numerous complaints about the difficulties returning IDPs
are faced with in finding or reclaiming their land after years of absence (Rugadya 2008:
33; Rugadya et al. 2006). While some argued that customary practices of land tenure
have added to these challenges and have contributed to the marginalization of
vulnerable populations such as women, orphans and widows(Immanuel 2010; Rugadya
2008) , others find that customary landholding authorities have ‘regained a degree of
effectiveness in managing their land, indicated by a steep decline in numbers of local
land conflicts’ (Hopwood 2015; Hopwood and Atkinson 2015).
South(ern) Sudan
This section focuses on population return to South Sudan, and to the southern part of
Sudan before its independence in 2011. South(ern) Sudan is relatively well represented
in the literature on return. Two significant moments of population return have sparked
researchers’ interest. The first moment is the return of Sudanese following the 1972
Addis Ababa Agreement, which ended the first civil war and established an autonomous
‘Southern Sudan’ within Sudan. Akol describes it as “one of the largest repatriation
operations on the African continent” (1994: 78). Existing literature includes (technical)
evaluations of the repatriation operation, and mostly in terms of returnee assistance
(Akol 1994; Johnson 1996; Salih 1996). The second moment of return followed the 2005
Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which paved the way to the independence of
South Sudan in 2011.
Based on fieldwork experiences, scholars have been able to engage in detailed
analyses on the socio-economic and political challenges of population return. Various
studies have focused on the socio-economic impact of return after the CPA. While
refugees were understood as carrying an immense potential for ‘reviving their country’
(due to better learning and livelihood opportunities in exile), their return also increased
competition and conflict over (minimal) resources (land, water, education, employment
opportunities) as limited return assistance produced increased pressure on receiving
communities to provide the necessary support (Barasa & Waswa 2015; Wood & Phelan
2006: 9). Taking gender as a lens to analyze emplacement strategies upon return,
Grabska (2012; 2013; 2014) further examines how the encounter between Nuer refugee
returnees from Kenya and stayees challenged and reconfigured both the social and
economic fabric in Ler (Unity County). In her analysis on the custom of marriage,
masculinities and gender relations, she demonstrates how ‘displacement and forced
migration are part of wider processes of social transformation’ (Grabska & Fanjoy 2015:
Scholars have pointed to the blurring of socio-legal categories ‘refugee’, ‘returnee’,
‘ex-combatant’, ‘stayee’ and ‘IDP’(Sluga 2011: 9; Wood & Phelan 2006) in relation to the
complex situation of large-scale and continuous displacement and replacement during
decades of violent conflict. Authors have for example examined how Southern Sudanese
successfully alternated their refugee positions in Uganda with return visits across the
border (Kaiser 2010; Hovil 2010). Others have documented how refugees were forced
back from DRC, Uganda and Kenya as part of local conflict dynamics and settled as
IDPs in Western and Central Equatoria (Wood & Phelan 2006; Sluga 2011).The many
complex histories of conflict mobility help to explain why scholars have paid relatively
more attention to societies receiving the returnees than in other settings.
Land and access to resources and properties constitute another main theme in
research on return. Similar to other country cases, it is documented how refugees
returning after the CPA often find their properties occupied by self-resettled IDPs who
are sometimes unwilling to leave these properties (Branch & Mampilly 2004; Sluga
2011; Badiey 2013). Further, Badiey (2013) demonstrates how the recognition of
‘customary rights to land historically held by southern Sudan’s ethnic communities’ in
the CPA and different wartime experiences sparked conflict over Juba’s position in the
newly independent state, with various groups expressing competing claims over land,
jurisdiction and authority. Interestingly, according to archival research conducted by
Kindersley (2017), the significance that was given to these customary land rights in the
CPA can be seen as a continuation of ideas of governance and citizenship prioritizing
‘primordial ethnic homelands’ that have guided (post-)colonial efforts to control
population movements, including the repatriation operation after the first civil war in
the 1970s. Badiey (2013) argues that the ‘determination of control over land’ may be the
biggest challenge to post-war state-building efforts.
Since 2013, renewed outbreaks of large-scale violence again force millions of
people to seek refuge abroad or in other parts of the country. By the end of March 2018,
it was estimated that approximately two and a half million refugees reside in Uganda,
Sudan and Ethiopia and add to almost two million IDPs; two-thirds of the population in
the country is also experiencing serious food insecurity (OCHA 2018)
. With no lasting
signs of decreasing violence, the current situation will likely prompt new questions about
the meaning of previous returns as well as about the politics and possibilities of future
Democratic Republic of Congo
Existing literature on return processes in the Democratic Republic of Congo is rather
modest, and, with few exceptions, mainly concentrates on youth and adult DDR
programmes (e.g. Muggah 2004; Muggah, Maughan, & Bugnion 2003), and on the
psycho-social effects of child soldiering. Research on returning IDPs and refugees is
nearly non-existent. While some authors remark that spontaneous returns have taken
place in various times and places
, the lived experiences are yet to be examined and
In eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, several DDR programmes have been
introduced in volatile situations with regular outbreaks of violent conflict. de Vries and
Wiegink state that “in such cases of a society in arms (…) the potential for mobilization
is ever present” (2011: 41). Evidently, this poses significant challenges to the success of
these DDR programmes. With insufficient attention for reintegration after
demobilization, and the continuous proliferation and fragmentation of armed groups,
both children and adults are continuously susceptible for remobilization, creating a
context of ‘circular mobilisation’ (Nduwimana 2013; Richards 2016).
Studies on the psycho-social effects of child soldiering in the Democratic Republic
of Congo have valued culturally adapted Trauma-Focused Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
(CT-FCBT) (McMullen et al. 2013), and investigated trauma-related suffering in
combination with appetitive aggression (Hecker, Hermenau, Maedl, Elbert, & Schauer
2012; Hermenau, Hecker, Maedl, Schauer, & Elbert 2013; Koebach, Nandi, et al. 2015;
Koebach, Schaal, & Elbert 2015). These last studies found appetitive aggression (the
perception of committing violence as appealing, fascinating and exciting) and
psychological distress to be more prevalent among former child soldiers than adult ex-
combatants, which is attributed to the young age of recruitment. Although they found ‘no
direct relationship between appetitive aggression and PTSD (Hermenau et al., 2013: 1
2), the authors point to other studies that have highlighted the protective effect of
appetitive aggression on trauma symptoms. On the relevance of social/psychological PSS
interventions (cf. section on psycho-social healing), Stott (2009) advocates for the need to
transcend this dichotomy and focus on holistic approaches. While documenting
challenges of community acceptance, Stott also found the former child soldiers in Beni
and Lubero express significant psychological distress, which in turn, affects their social
Central African Republic (CAR)
In the reviewed literature, studies on return processes in the CAR are nearly absent.
The literature search did not generate any relevant publications, with the exception of
some observations on ongoing DDR operations, and a comment on the ‘notably weak
mention of internal displacement in the peace agreement’ of 2007 (McHugh 2010: 67).
Two publications focus on DDR operations in several countries, including yet not
exclusively the CAR. Both Lamb (2011) and Caraméz & Sanz (2009) analyse the DDR
programme ‘Ex-Combatant Reintegration and Community Support Project’ (PRAC). The
PRAC ran from 2004 to 2008 and aimed at continuing demobilization efforts of the
National Programme on Disarmament and Reinsertion (PRDR) that had been
interrupted by the coup that replaced president Ange-Félix Patassé by François Bozizé.
The evaluations by Lamb (2011) and Caraméz & Sanz (2009) on the programme’s
effectiveness correspond to more general critiques on DDR in other settings: the PRAC
failed to help ex-combatants establish viable livelihoods and suffered from a lack of
community participation. Since 2012, the CAR is undergoing new outbreaks of violence
and displacement.
Morris (2005) mentions a massive return movement of about 900,000 IDPs between 2003 and 2005 (p.28).
Pottier (2008) records thousands of short-lived IDP returns in Ituri.
Conclusions and Recommendations
From the review of existing literature on return, it can be concluded that there is the
strong tendency whereby policy frameworks orient research towards peacebuilding and
economic recovery; that there is a considerable shift in the understanding of ‘return’,
both conceptually and in practice; that most literature remains largely embedded in
specific case-studies mainly focusing on returnees and their reconnection to the national
context; and that there is an emerging a debate on political processes of return.
First, studies looking at issues of return have maintained a strong link with the
discourse of repatriation and reintegration in terms of peacebuilding and economic
development. This has resulted in an academic field led to policy concerns. Most of the
literature is policy oriented, with many studies zooming in on specific repatriation
operations. This results in a narrowing of focus of research to the very rationale that
guides operations of return. Not only has this prevented an analytical approach to
repatriation and reintegration operations, but also a deeper understanding of how
(spontaneous) returning populations, receiving societies and humanitarian organizations
experience, practice and give meaning to ‘return’. Research, thus, should take a step
back from policy frameworks and operations, and look into return experiences ‘from the
ground up’.
Second, as a result of an increase in ‘unsettling returns’ (or a decrease in
voluntary, safe and dignified repatriations) and a growing body of empirical ‘evidence’,
critiques have mounted on policies and popular understandings of return processes.
Researchers have attempted to disconnect the idea of return from simple notions such as
homecoming, the consolidation of peace, the advent of state stability and legitimacy, and
the end of ‘movement’ as such. Scholars generally agree that return is a very problematic
concept and a long-term process (rather than an event) that carries many challenges.
Return is no longer perceived as the end of the refugee cycle or as a largely post-conflict
issue. Rather, it can be an inherent part of conflict dynamics and displacement itself.
However, scholars still struggle to understand and conceptualize the actual practices,
experiences and meanings of people who (re-)enter a country of origin. Despite existing
studies on cross-border practices and ‘split return’, there remains a need to include
populations that do not engage in continued mobility after returning, or benefit from
others who do.
Third, return processes are often examined on a case-by-case basis, mainly
concentrating on the returnees themselves, and on how returnees (re)connect to the
national context. As a consequence, ‘return’ is often detached from its broader context.
Already in 1994, Warner argued that “discussions of return to home seem oblivious to
questions of time and changes that can take place for the refugee, in the country of
origin, and the relationship between the two” (169). Many analyses fail to include
stayees (and by extend entire societies), and importantly also the refugee in the
returnee. Displacement is mostly addressed insofar as it disrupts people’s place in
national society, but rarely as a process that creates and transforms societies in or
emerging out of violent conflict. Addressing the transformative impact of population
return, therefore would require a greater consideration for refugee histories and their
interaction with societal changes during their absence yet affecting the positions, views
and strategies of those who stayed behind.
Fourth, although the political dimension may not yet be a dominant debate in
existing literature, an increasing number of publications addresses the post-conflict
relationship between the state and returning citizens. Further, amid growing criticism
on the ‘aid-centric analysis of the problem of repatriation and reintegration’ (Macrae
1999: 25), and the humanitarian depoliticized approach to refugees, IDPs and returnees
alike (Daley 2013), attention for political processes defining or influencing return seems
critical. While “the return of a displaced population is often presented as a necessary
component for any successful state rebuilding process” (Long 2010: 10), how returnees
themselves contribute to this process remains unaddressed in existing literature.
Research should equally be concerned with much more localized forms of governance,
especially in regions where state-structures are largely absent. Also the long-term
impact of humanitarian presence in situations of population return deserves more
attention. While there is a lot of literature on repatriation and reintegration strategies,
these are generally approached from the benefits (or failures) they bring in terms of
assistance and development funding. The larger, political role, impact or consequences
remain largely unaddressed and, thus, more research on how organizations enter,
integrate and navigate the national space would be useful.
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... Whilst also recognizing this difficulty, the articles in this special issue set out to explore the under-researched dynamics of refugee, IDP and ex-combatant 'return' in conflict affected places. To kick-start the research project from which the articles in this special issue derive, a systematic literature review of major debates pertaining to refugee, IDP and ex-combatant 'return' was conducted (Vlassenroot and Tegenbos 2018). (It found that much of the existing literature is structured around global priorities relating to displacement and return, and therefore tends to be both policy-orientated and normatively driven, seeking improvement in global and national efforts towards repatriation and re-integration (ibid: 8). ...
... In addition to the significant legalistic literature on repatriation, the extant scholarship on return can be broken down into four main categories (see Vlassenroot and Tegenbos 2018). The articles in this special issue both contribute to-and challenge-our understanding in these areas. ...
... The research project entitled 'The Politics of Return' was an AHRC/ESRC funded Partnership for Conflict Crime and Security Research (PaCCS) project, hosted at the Firoz Lalji Centre for Africa, at the London School of Economics: The literature review written by Vlassenroot and Tegenbos (2018) for the project was instrumental to the researching and structuring of this introduction. ...
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By 2019, a record high of 79.5 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, violence, and human rights violations (UNHCR 2020a: 2). In the decade leading up to this only a fraction of this number were able to ‘return’ or find a ‘durable solution’. Multiple waves of displacement are common, and ‘return’ often involves far more complicated arrangements than the term suggests. Yet if ‘return’, as a one-directional durable solution is increasingly rare, the need to understand it in difficult and dynamic contexts of precarity and multi-directional mobility, is all the more urgent. This introductory essay reflects on what studies of return can tell us about the ‘life cycle’ of conflict and displacement dynamics in war-affected Central and East Africa, with particular focus on Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, and Uganda. ‘Return’ and the ‘returnee’ category is broad and includes former combatants, especially those involved in non-state armed groups. We survey the historical and conceptual background of ‘return’ and its growing prominence in international policy before introducing four areas in which the articles in this special issue contribute to our understanding of internally displaced person, refugee and combatant return dynamics: conceptualizations of home and mobilities; everyday negotiation of belonging; the relationship between return and ‘cycles of violence’; and finally, the ways in which return shapes and re-shapes governance and public authority across settings.
... At the same time, these actors remain largely neglectful of the social priorities of those returning that include not just immediate survival but also the aspiration to favourably embed themselves in social hierarchies. South Sudanese are not simply returning 'home', but they are employing strategies to navigate the changing or continuous social structures and class distinctions Scholars have long highlighted that returning 'home' is a problematic concept (Allen 1996;Kibreab 1996;Jansen and Lo¨fving 2009;Grabska 2014;Tegenbos and Vlassenroot 2018). It assumes that there was a clear idea of 'home' before displacement and it ignores the reconstitution of the self and community during periods of exile (Yngvesson 2000;Yngvesson and Coutin 2006;Grabska 2014). ...
... The 2005 peace agreement did not end the militarization of leadership, power, and the class structure in South Sudan. Much literature has been concerned with how soldiers reintegrated into civilian life (Kingma 1997;Porto et al. 2007;Tegenbos and Vlassenroot 2018). For South Sudanese coming from Kakuma, their challenge was instead to integrate into a militarized society as civilians. ...
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Scholarship prompted by 40 years of mass repatriations has highlighted that repatriations and returns are shaped by social navigation and renegotiation of ‘home’. This article argues that the original experience of displacement itself, and the interconnected social rupture or continuity, moderates this negotiation and has consequences for social distinction, class reproduction, and political emplacement as refugees return. Specifically, the article considers the diverse social implications of both refugee camp education and wartime militarization, and the mediation of their social consequences by the specificities of histories of initial displacement. We do this by exploring the first 10 years of socio-political struggles of men born in Southern Sudan in the 1980s who lived in Kakuma Refugee Camp (Kenya) in the 1990s and who returned to Southern Sudan after the 2005 peace agreement. The article contrasts experiences of those who were born in Greater Gogrial and Greater Bor as a way to take account of different histories of displacement.
... Whereas the assumption acts as a cohesive force whose function is to consolidate kinship boundaries of the community and their links with the homeland, how gender relations influence women and men's decision to return should be taken into consideration when examining return processes. Furthermore, while return is widely perceived to be critical for peace building and national reconciliation; state stability and legitimacy; and for triggering post-conflict economic development (Tegenbos and Vlassenroot, 2018), gender analysis of return remains critical to understand why return may not mean the same thing for both women and men. But what is home? ...
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Gender and socio-economic change: Everyday lives of women and men in Uganda is a product of research by researchers and post-doctoral fellows under the project: ‘Enhancement of Gender Focused Research, Capacity Building of Women in Leadership and Gender Mainstreaming in Higher Education in Uganda’. The research was done at the School of Women and Gender Studies, Makerere University, whose mission is to provide intellectual leadership for mainstreaming leadership and maintaining gender equality in development. The book covers three themes: Work at community level and how it contributes to women’s empowerment; the situation of post-conflict and gender-based violence; and mainstreaming gender in development policies. The authors investigate the integration of the gender perspective in social development at national level. They also seek to understand how social and economic changes play out in the lives of women and men. The authors seek a deeper understanding of interrelationships between gender dimensions and cultural, social, economic and political aspects and how they impact women and men. The book will be useful to policy makers, development experts as well as gender activists.
... Support for disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) of former combatants following protracted war and conflict occurs in the expectation that it will promote peace, national reconciliation and economic development [1]. In many instances, those passing through DDR processes are very young, and in some situations a considerable number may be children. ...
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Background Much has been written about the short-term challenges facing children returning ‘home’ from rebel fighting groups, but little is known about the longer term day to day realities of return. This article presents findings from the first long-term assessment of the social and economic challenges facing an officially registered group of children who passed through an internationally-financed reception centre after a period of time with the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Methods Records from a reception centre were used to trace a random sample of individuals to their current location. Two hundred and thirty in-depth semi-structured interviews were carried out and 40 follow-up interviews between 2013 and 2016 . Interviews were informed by long-term ethnographic research in the region. These interviews were subsequently coded and analysed to describe the long-term day to day realities of return. Results At the time of interview, 90% of formerly abducted people returned ‘home’ six or more years ago, and 75% returned nine or more years ago. The majority have managed to access family land for farming, but concerns about what they may have done to survive whilst living with the LRA adversely affects their day-to-day lives. However, some important differences were noted: those men and women who spent less time with the LRA are more likely to live on ancestral land with close relatives; and they are more likely to report experiencing stigma and a spiritual affliction called ‘cen’. In contrast, those who spent the longest time with the LRA are less likely to report these problems, they are mainly living in urban locations and tend to manage slightly better. Children born of war are vulnerable to abuse, irrespective of current residence. Conclusions Research findings question the merits of post-conflict reintegration programmes emphasising immediate family reunifications, without follow-up monitoring, social protection, education and skills training. By overlooking the diverse experiences of those who lived and fought with the LRA, and failing to anticipate or respond to the long term socio-political and economic challenges facing children on their return, reception centre processes not only failed to foster social reintegration, but they also inadvertently exacerbated the vulnerability of returning children.
... Our research thus challenges the commonly held perception in much of the DDR literature that return is focused on the geographic location where individuals are mobilized. Return is often understood by practitioners and scholars alike as homecoming or repatriation-a return to the homeland-although, as is the case with the Tolekistes, displaced populations and former fighters often resettle elsewhere (Vlassenroot and Tegenbos 2018). ...
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Since the end of the 2006 post-war transition, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the international community have struggled to design, finance and implement a host of national and regional disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) programmes. The weak capacity of implementing institutions, widespread corruption, funding gaps, Western-driven processes and a misdiagnosis of local needs have all been raised as core reasons behind failures. Little is known about how processes of ex-combatant return shape and reshape public authority, where former combatants return to, how they negotiate and experience ‘return’ and how viable ways of life are successfully constituted post return. While many ex-combatants in the DRC continue to be re-recruited into militia groups, one group that has reintegrated successfully is the Toleka—a several-thousand-strong group of ex-combatants who returned (or remained) in the provincial capital of Mbandaka (Equateur province). The Toleka formed a bicycle-taxi organization and unionized its membership, providing protections and collective-bargaining authority to the group, while providing a public good. It also helped to reshape identities, produce a sense of civilian solidarity and provide a bridging function from life in the military. This article looks at how this organization was formed, how the former fighters identified and capitalized on a local need and the conditions that allowed them to successfully unionize and protect their rights as they re-entered civilian life. Based on extensive fieldwork and interviews, this article seeks to understand a case of ‘successful’ return in a region with few such successes.
... Although UNHCR affirms that no hierarchy exists between the three, that they are all part of an integrated approach (UNHCR 2012: 186), data on refugee flows and state policies clearly shows that 'repatriation and return will likely continue to be the most favoured durable solution, not only for those hosting refugees but for many refugees themselves' (Hammond 2014: 508). Acknowledging that the reasons for this are quite broad, much of the literature suggests that while some refugees may embody a desire to return home, political processes that go far beyond their reach consistently undermine their agencyand sometimes choice -in whether or not they repatriate (Tegenbos and Vlassenroot 2018;Bradley 2013). Within this context, Long (2013: 2) problematises the identityemplacement nexus, explaining that: ...
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When violent conflict flares up, forced migration often follows. Ethnographic data shows that forced migrants remain attached to their places of origin and often express a desire to return once conflict has abated, be it after weeks, months, or years. Conversely, peacebuilders in the homeland have not effectively integrated displaced persons within their strategic programming. This is cause for concern considering the literature connecting the collapse of fragile peace to 'refugee spoilers.' There is a critical gap in peacebuilders' commitment to understanding refugees' needs and claims, and the implications these pose on peace stability following repatriation. This article argues that ethnography of refugees still living in exile can generate rich datasets useful to the development of peacebuilding programming. More than this, it proposes a methodology-ethnographic mapping-that can collect both spatial (maps) and narrative (descriptions) information in tandem and across cultural groups living in refugee camps.
... The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) believe that going back home is the most durable solution for internally displaced persons (IDPs) problems compared to integration and resettlement somewhere else. IDPs' eventual successful reintegration into their traditional communities is perceived to be critical to national reconstruction and reconciliation processes, which leads to the notion that voluntary repatriation is the only effective solution (Tegenbos and Vlassenroot 2018). It seems that IDPs themselves have an instinctive inclination to voluntarily repatriate home rather than explore other options. ...
The article examines the determinants of return intentions among the Maranao internally displaced persons (IDPs), who had fled the war in Marawi City, Lanao Del Sur, Philippines. The study involved 10 key informant interviewees and 306 survey respondents. The results reveal that an overwhelming majority of the respondents wish to repatriate back home. Analysis shows that place attachment, good memories in relation to profit-making, and cultural identity contribute to the firm desire to return home. There is also a culturally appropriate response for their life recovery. Available copy here:
This chapter examines the complexities of the safe return of refugees, in the context of forced displacement from conflict-affected countries. Specifically, it explores how the concept of repatriation has evolved, what returnees see as a condition for a safe return, as well as the challenges that complicate a safe return. Transitional justice mechanisms may be a critical tool in creating the conditions for a safe and sustainable return.
Technical Report
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This paper reviews the existing DDR literature on the DRC in search for lessons. It aims, on the one hand, to infuse context and specificity into current discussions about DDR programming and the implementation of community reintegration and, on the other, to suggest potential ingredients of a winning formula for DDR in the DRC.
The chapter examines the gap between the legal principles and the practice of “voluntary” repatriation as a durable solution for Rwandan refugees in Uganda. Since the Tripartite Agreement was signed in 2003 to repatriate 25,000 Rwandan refugees, only 850 of them (0.03%) returned home; and most of them almost immediately went back to Uganda, claiming insecurity and human rights violations in Rwanda. This chapter focuses on four legal principles: the right to return to one’s home country, the principle of non-refoulement, returning in safety and dignity, and the cessation clause of refugee status. The author argues that current political and socio-economic circumstances in Rwanda do not constitute a fundamental change that justifies repatriation and the cessation of refugee status for Rwandan refugees in Uganda.
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Girls and women who bear children owing to wartime sexual violence committed by armed actors face challenges in gaining acceptance on return to their families and societies. This study analyses the lives of women survivors and their children born of wartime sexual violence in Uganda. It draws on a population-based survey of 1,844 households in the Acholi and Lango sub-regions of northern Uganda, as well as on in-depth qualitative interviews conducted in 2014 and 2015 with 67 purposefully selected women survivors of wartime sexual violence. The study finds that: stigma is linked to broader gender discriminatory sociocultural norms and practices and changes under different circumstances; women's economic agency is essential to reducing stigma; households with members who suffered war-related sexual violence experienced significantly higher rates of violence post conflict than did other households; and the passage of time is less of a determining factor in their acceptance and reintegration than previously thought.
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In post-war northern Uganda (as elsewhere), the reintegration of ex-combatants into their home communities is an ongoing process that involves long-term social and spiritual labour. The “re” of “reintegration,” however, might falsely assume a static and cohesive Acholi cosmology within which the parameters of such labours are clearly defined. Pathways taken with the goal of lessening suffering caused by war are tread by Acholi civilians and ex-combatants alike, and the ways former Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) fighters attempt to alleviate spiritual distress illuminate wider struggles for moral authority in everyday life. These practices are embedded in cosmologies which, though predating the 20 years of violent upheaval that ended in 2006, are sites of contestation where the politics of belief and doubt are played out. Drawing on insights gleaned from ethnographic fieldwork over the last decade, we focus here on targeted research from January to August 2014 with former LRA individuals who were part of a bigger study of clients at an ex-combatant reception centre. We explore how these persons have experienced, described, and responded to the suffering caused by ajwani (“dirty things”) – the stuff of a polluted cosmos. We further discuss the politics of “belief” and doubt in contemporary Acholi. The labour of ex-combatants and their communities to alleviate spiritual suffering demonstrates how ritual practices both challenge and uphold the power of moral authorities. In the wider context of post-war sociality in Acholi, effective and socially acceptable alleviation of spiritual suffering is contested, processual, and highly constrained by material resources and perceptions of ritual legitimacy. The practices of belief and doubt are not only a matter of metaphysics or ontology, but of shifts in worldly power.
A number of studies have documented and analyzed forced marriage patterns and realities of girls within the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). However, the impact of wartime abduction, captivity and forced marriage on forging and sustaining post-LRA marriage relationships has been under-researched. This article contributes to addressing this gap by examining how stigma against female LRA ex-abductees influences their prospects for choices in marriage as they seek to reintegrate in communities of Uganda. Drawing on findings from Acholi area of northern Uganda, the article discusses how cultural and traditional perspectives stigmatize female ex-abductees, considered as ‘unacceptable’, 'stained’ and therefore ‘unmarriageable’. The findings suggest that stigma adversely affects access to key community relationships such as marriage, thereby hindering social and economic opportunities for recovery and reintegration among the female ex-abductees in Uganda.