10.7 Necessary Condition: Return and Resettlement of Refugees and Internally Displaced Populations

10.7.1 What is return and resettlement of refugees and IDPs?725Why is it a necessary condition? Return and resettlement of refugees and IDPs is a condition in which all individuals displaced from their homes during conflict are assured the option for a voluntary, safe, and dignified return to their homes or resettlement into new homes and communities. Once they reach their destinations, returnees should have recourse for property restitution or compensation, and should receive strong reintegration and rehabilitation support to build their livelihoods and contribute to long-term economic and political development.726 With proper support, displaced persons can serve as critical and essential human resources toward the rebuilding of the host nation.727 Return and resettlement can represent a visible end to violent conflict, legitimize the new political order, and restore normal life for the conflict-affected population.728 Resolving rights to nationality, residency, and property will contribute to an effective, trustworthy, and durable state-citizen relationship.

10.7.2 Guidance for Return and Resettlement of Refugees and IDPs729

10.7.3 Approach: Safe and Voluntary Return or Resettlement Safe and voluntary return or resettlement involves a guarantee of choice for return and one of safety for those who choose to return. These processes include reuniting families and support systems separated because of violent conflict and ensuring a safe and voluntary journey for refugees returning to their country of origin, IDPs returning to their hometowns, or any displaced individuals or groups resettling in new communities.

10.7.4 Understand the situation on the ground in order to plan effectively.730 Planning requires reliable information about the areas where displaced people seek to return or resettle, to minimize the challenges they face upon arrival. While it is important to gather credible information on the numbers and conditions of IDPs and refugees, it is also key not to jeopardize the security and freedom of movement of displaced populations. Collecting data for such an assessment will not be easy, as displaced populations are not always easily accessible. They may not be in camps where they can be registered, but may have assimilated into local communities or urban areas. Others may be in hiding or may fear being identified. Before initiating any strategy for the return of refugees and IDPs, be sure to assess and understand the scope of the problem by considering the following:

  • How many people have been displaced? Is the government understating or inflating numbers of IDPs or refugees in order to influence outside response?
  • To where have people been displaced?
  • Are the displaced refugees, IDPs, or both?
  • Does the host nation have the capacity to reintegrate the displaced?
  • What are the needs of the displaced population?
  • What are conditions in the host nation or local communities?
  • Are conditions at places of origin or resettlement communities less dangerous than conditions in the camps for the displaced?
  • Do viable resettlement options exist for the displaced?

10.7.5 Ensure voluntary return for refugees and IDPs. Voluntary return or resettlement is the cornerstone of any assistance related to refugees and IDPs. All displaced persons should be permitted to make their own decision without coercion or harassment of any kind, and they should be able to freely choose their place of residence.731 In keeping with the principle of non-refoulement for refugees, no person should be forced into a situation in which they may face persecution or death.732 This applies to IDPs as well. While “right of return” has traditionally referred to the right of refugees to return to their countries at any time, the concept is increasingly applied to IDPs returning to their homes. When the prospect of returning causes great fear, however, displaced populations should always have the option of a safe and assisted resettlement in their home country, or in the case of refugees, in the present country through asylum or a third-party country that is able and willing to take them.

10.7.6 Ensure safety of return for refugees and IDPs. Return and resettlement processes should focus on providing safe passage for displaced populations as they return to their homes or country of origin. Upon return or relocation, displaced persons should still receive protection from continued threats of violence, harassment, intimidation, or persecution. While it is the responsibility of the host nation government to provide this protection, international actors may have to help maximize equal access for returnees to security, health, and other public services, along with providing judicial or legal recourse when needed. The following activities can help improve protection for returning populations:733

  • Disarm and demobilize armed groups. The presence of armed groups will likely deter potential returnees and prevent them from successfully rebuilding their lives in old or new communities, especially in cases where these armed groups triggered the initial displacement. Disarming and demobilizing such groups sends a message to the displaced that violent conflict is over and that they can return safely. See Section 6.7.3 for a discussion about the disarmament and demobilization of ex-combatants.
  • De-mine the paths and communities of returnees. Land mines and unexploded ordnance could prevent the displaced from making it to their homes and could deter those who have yet to begin their journey home. In rural areas, where people depend on the land for subsistence and livelihood, de-mining farmlands is necessary for returnees to rebuild their livelihood.734 For more on freedom of movement, see Section 6.9.3.
  • Protect vulnerable groups from abuse. During the return phase, women, children, and other groups are susceptible to criminal and sexual abuse from those around them, including other returnees.735 Ensure special protection for these populations through targeted public security and law enforcement programs. See Section 6.8.3 for more on the security of vulnerable populations.

See Trade-off Section 10.9.3, Responsibility to protect vs. safety of relief workers.

10.7.7 Provide refugees and IDPs with full access to the information they need to decide whether or not to return. One means for doing this is to arrange visits for IDP or refugee representatives to assess the conditions of the potential destination. Women and members of different ethnic, racial, religious, and political groups should be included as much as possible on these trips.736 Important information should be available in a language understood by the population and should include the following:737

  • The political and security situation of intended destinations, including freedom of movement; amnesties; and the availability of assistance and protection for women, children, minorities, and other vulnerable groups.
  • A realistic assessment about whether the causes of displacement have been resolved and about the availability of reintegration assistance. If the situation remains dangerous, keep displaced populations informed and be careful about offering return assistance.738
  • Procedures for returning or resettling, including details on what items can be brought for the journey, required documentation, available modes of transportation, and other administrative requirements.
  • Information about landmine risks, potential housing disputes, opportunities for employment, and availability of public services and facilities.

10.7.8 Develop internal resettlement alternatives for those who decide not to return to their original homes. Some of the displaced may choose not to return to their previous homes for fear of discrimination or violence. Others may return to find their homes destroyed or land unusable as a result of landmines or ongoing occupation by militias. In these cases, resettlement should remain a viable option with appropriate compensation. In certain cases, the restitution of property to some returnees will result in the eviction of other displaced persons who have moved in since the displacement. Measures need to be taken to ensure that upon eviction, these persons will be able to find adequate shelter and compensation if they cannot have access to their own properties.739

10.7.9 Manage refugee returns as far from the border as possible. The best strategy for managing refugee returns and reducing the risk of chaos and violence is to do so as far from the border as possible. This allows for the proper preparation of refugees and border officials (and security officials) so all know what to expect. Those who pose security risks can be dealt with or screened before entry rather than after entry. Strong pre-entry and entry controls enhance security, reassure refugees, and reduce unauthorized movements of people, particularly reducing the exploitation of refugees by human smugglers.

10.7.10 Approach: Property Dispute Resolution Efficient and effective property dispute resolution is a major gap in many S&R missions and poses serious challenges to political stability.740 During violent conflict, many homes and properties are destroyed, along with property titles and records. Disputes arise when displaced persons return, seeking to reclaim their houses, land, or property. The situation is further complicated by massive population displacement, illegal occupation of houses and buildings, conflicting claims to property, absence of documentation to determine resolution, and discrimination against women in accessing land.741 Common means for dispute resolution include restitution of property and compensation for resettlement.

10.7.11 Address property disputes to encourage the return of displaced populations. Without a level of confidence that they will have homes to return to, many displaced populations may opt not to return, or may simply occupy homes that belong to other displaced persons, further complicating the situation. To mitigate this problem, establish a transparent process for handling property claims/disputes and for addressing land policy, along with a plan for constructing shelters as needed.742

10.7.12 Base resolution processes in a legal framework to ensure consistency and enforceability. In defining the kinds of homes, land, and property that should be subject to restitution or compensation, consider both formal property and tenure laws, as well as informal practices.743 A formal land law should also be established to govern land rights, the status of registered land titles, the recognition of traditional rights to land, and the regulation of land rental markets or land transfers.744 In the midst of conflict, land records are often destroyed or misplaced. Where possible, it is necessary to collect, restore, or reestablish records quickly to prevent and resolve property disputes.745 Mechanisms for resolution should be linked to local reconciliation and transitional justice mechanisms, since they can also be the source of further conflict if badly managed.746 Don’t rule out local informal mechanisms for resolving disputes, particularly in countries with complex legal frameworks, disputed records, and weak enforcement. See also Section 7.8.15. To ensure that decisions are binding and to limit corruption and other illicit property activities, legal means of enforcement will be necessary.747 For more on legal reform and property rights, see Section 7.5.9.

See Gap/Challenge: Section 10.10.7, Effective property laws.

10.7.13 Return property lost during conflict to its original owners where possible and offer compensation for those who must resettle. Where clear ownership can be proven, property should be restored to the owners who lost it as a result of the conflict. this may require evicting other displaced persons who have been using the abandoned property for shelter and finding alternative solutions for those evicted. This may also involve dealing with those who have seized abandoned properties and brought them into the illicit property market by either renting or selling them. In some cases, displaced persons may have forcibly lost claim to their properties before the conflict on a discriminatory basis by the last administration.748 Efforts need to be taken to restore these properties to their original owners. Additional compensation for those who are forced to move or resettle may also be appropriate.

See Trade-off: Section 10.9.5, Giving property to their original owners vs. existing occupants.

10.7.14 Ensure property rights of women, orphans, and other vulnerable populations. Without a male head of the household, female heads of households or parentless children often run into obstacles upon return. In the case of divorce, abandonment, or death of the male, women or children often hold no formal claim to property. These problems prevent them from submitting claims for repossession or reconstruction of their houses. Procedures should be put in place to ensure that these vulnerable groups are given proper compensation and shelter and to address inequalities and discrimination.749 In certain cases, people may hold traditional, informal claims to property, which are typical for minorities or indigenous people who have been residents of the land and lack recognition by formal authorities. Recognize these traditional claims and provide the property owners with formal titles to the property so that they may return to their lands without fear of further conflict.750

10.7.15 Allocate properties for community and commercial uses as needed. Even while property is being fought over for purposes of shelter, putting property aside for community and commercial purposes remains vital to the reintegration and rehabilitation of a community.751 Homes are not the only forms of property lost amidst conflict. Farmers and fisherman may return to find their equipment and livestock destroyed. Try to provide compensation support to those who have lost infrastructure or other forms of property that serve as the means for livelihoods.752 International players in a reconstruction zone will also need buildings or headquarters from which to operate.753

10.7.16 Approach: Reintegration and Rehabilitation Upon arrival at their new destinations, those who return or resettle will need reintegration and rehabilitation support to promote long-term economic and social development. A major gap exists in transitioning seamlessly from the return or resettlement processes to sustainable development activities. The latter activities are vital to ensure that people who return or resettle are not abandoned but are given the support needed to rebuild their lives over the long term.

See Gap/Challenge: Section 10.10.6, Long-term development needs of returnees.

10.7.17 Promote self-reliance and empowerment of refugees and IDPs to prevent dependency on aid.754 Displaced people need to be given opportunities to be productive and self-reliant, as opposed to being passive recipients of aid. This requires that the host nation government treat displaced populations as contributors to local development and that these groups have access to socioeconomic activity. this will involve gradually integrating education, health, agriculture, and livelihood-promoting activities that link up with longer-term development programs.

10.7.18 Recognize that displaced populations represent a rich body of potential human and material assets and resources.755 Refugees and IDPs bear characteristics of resilience, courage, and determination to thrive and employ a rich set of skills to survive. To develop their human potential, it is important to provide this group of people with opportunities for education, skills training, and income-generating initiatives. If they are not provided such opportunities, displaced populations can become sources of instability. Male refugees, in particular, sometimes turn to violence, exploitation, and other criminal activities when they are disempowered by their experience as refugees or displaced people. Communicate to communities the benefits of welcoming returnees and new settlers, including the influx of new skills, resources, higher education, health and gender equality, which they may have gained during the period of displacement. Try to preserve these gains when people reintegrate back into more traditional social structures.756

10.7.19 Create an environment that sustains return.757 Physically helping displaced people return or resettle is only the first step of many. The environment to which the displaced return should be comfortable enough for them to remain and rebuild their lives. If the host nation or community cannot properly absorb them, a new wave of displacement can occur.758 Good local governance, protection of the rights of communities, social services, economic revival, livelihood creation, and improved access to services help prevent further displacement of the population.759 Plans should include programs to reunite families and offer support systems for those who were separated during the repatriation process.

  • Access to essential services and livelihood opportunities. Return and resettlement populations should be assured access to essential services. In addition to shelter, water, food, sanitation, and health services, infrastructure and education should be readily available in the local community in order to sustain its population at the most basic level and serve as a platform for further reconstruction and development.760 Providing these populations with access to livelihoods will enable them to rebuild their lives and give them a sense of ownership in the reconstruction of the country.
  • Reunification of families. Reuniting family and friends helps returnees to feel comfortable in their new communities. Intimate and familiar relationships are key to a person’s psychological support system. When families are unable to reunite in their own communities, secondary migration is common.761
  • Redevelopment of local communities through processes to promote peaceful coexistence. Processes to promote reconciliation among members of a community should be implemented to build a new support system and preventing new or old tensions from arising.762
  • Revitalization of civil society. A functioning civil society at a grassroots level is critical to the reconstruction of community identity. By giving a voice to those who were most likely silenced during conflict, civil society is an important element to the reintegration process.763 See Section 8.8.3 for more on civil society development.
  • Host nation presence at the local level. The national government will not be perceived as legitimate by rural populations if it is seen merely as a distant power.Once the government has assisted in repatriation it should maintain visibility at the local level, assisting and supporting the local population, and enabling them to feel like part of the new state. Lack of assistance and support at a local level will encourage some returnees to move to larger cities, where prospects for assistance from the national government are higher.764 See Section 8.6.11 for a discussion on strengthening subnational governance institutions.
  • Adequate rights for returnees in old and new communities. Steps aimed at ensuring transitional justice are necessary, taking into account displaced persons’ rights to restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, reparation, and guarantees of non-repetition. If justice is not assured, further inter- and intra-communal tensions over access to land, water, and other resources are likely.765 Protections against discrimination based on ethnicity, background, or the basis of having been displaced should be enforced. See Section 7.7.3 for a discussion on transitional justice.

10.7.20 Through conflict-sensitive development, strive to build the following characteristics in the returning or resettling populations:766

  • Economic characteristics. Displaced people become less reliant on aid, attaining self-reliance and are able to pursue sustainable livelihoods. Economic integration allows refugees to better interact with the local population, as they are viewed as contributors rather than as a burden.
  • Social and cultural characteristics. Interactions between displaced populations and local communities enable peaceful relations and encourage returnees and new settlers to live amongst or alongside the host population. Displaced populations can live without discrimination or exploitation and can contribute to the development of their host communities.
  • Legal characteristics. Displaced groups are granted a progressively wider range of rights by the government, which are equal to those of citizens. These include freedom of movement; access to education, employment, and public services; the possibility of acquiring and disposing of property; and the capacity to travel with valid travel and identity documents. Eventually, refugees and IDPs should receive permanent residence rights and perhaps citizenship in the country of settlement.