This report reviews the challenges facing returning refugees and internally displaced persons after protracted conflict, questioning the common wisdom that the solution to displacement is, in almost all cases, to bring those uprooted to their places of origin, regardless of changes in the political, economic, psychological, and physical landscapes.

268

Summary

  • Programs to return refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) to • their homes after conflict, implemented by national authorities with international support, frequently leave far too many without viable futures. The measures are often inadequate for three reasons: a widely shared but flawed assumption that the need to create a future for returnees is satisfied by restoring them to their prior lives; a lack of long-term engagement by implementing authorities; and a focus on rural reintegration when many refugees and IDPs are returning to urban areas. These arguments are illustrated in four country cases—Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Burundi.
  • In each case, the places that refugees and IDPs were forced to flee have been greatly reshaped. They often lack security and economic opportunities; governance is weak and services are inadequate. Returnees have made choices about their futures in large part on the basis of these factors.
  • While reclaiming land or receiving compensation for losses is important, the challenge for many returnees is to settle where they can maintain sustainable livelihoods; find peaceful living conditions; have access to health care, education, and employment opportunities; and enjoy full rights of citizenship. This may mean a move from rural to urban areas and a change in the source of income generation that has to be accounted for in the design of reintegration programs.
  • Returning refugees and IDPs should be assisted for a sufficient amount of time to determine which location and livelihood will suit them best. For international organizations, this may involve greater creativity and flexibility in supporting returnees in urban settings.
  • To accommodate inflows of returnees and their general mobility, national and local governments should develop urban planning strategies to manage the growth of their cities, coupled with regional development plans in rural areas that may involve investment in commercial agriculture. Linking rural and urban areas by strengthening government institutions can also provide returnees with more livelihood options and promote development.

About the Report

This report reviews the challenges facing returning refugees and internally displaced persons after protracted conflict, questioning the common wisdom that the solution to displacement is, in almost all cases, to bring those uprooted to their places of origin, regardless of changes in the political, economic, psychological, and physical landscapes. While affirming the right to return, the report underscores insecurity, lack of economic opportunities, and poor services generally available in areas of recent conflict where people are expected to rebuild their lives, documenting cases of seriously flawed return efforts. Greater flexibility in determining the best solutions to displacement and more investment in alternative forms of reintegration for those who have been displaced is needed.

Related Publications

Multilateral Political Missions and Preventive Diplomacy

Multilateral Political Missions and Preventive Diplomacy

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

By: Richard Gowan

Multilateral teams can often bring a level of expertise and impartiality to preventing conflicts that other missions cannot. With a little more support, they can be an even better tool for conflict prevention. The report is based on Review of Political Missions, a project launched by New York University ’s Center on International Cooperation in 2010. The United States Institute of Peace funded this project in association with the governments of Norway and Switzerland.

Conflict Analysis & Prevention; Mediation, Negotiation & Dialogue

Brimmer Rejects Criticisms of U.N. at USIP Event

Friday, September 9, 2011

By: Thomas Omestad

Taking on congressional critics of the United Nations, a senior State Department official told an audience at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) on September 7 that the Obama administration’s multilateral diplomacy at the U.N. has bolstered U.S. security but that “backwards” calls to cut or further restrict U.S. funding for the world body, if enacted, would harm U.S. global influence.

Conflict Analysis & Prevention; Mediation, Negotiation & Dialogue

Truth Commission Digital Collection

Truth Commission Digital Collection

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The United States Institute of Peace’s Truth Commissions Digital Collection is part of the Margarita S. Studemeister Digital Library in International Conflict Management.  The collection contains profiles of truth commissions and substantive bodies of inquiry from nations worldwide - offering general background information on the composition of each body, links to the official legislative texts establishing such commissions, and each commission's final reports and findings.

Conflict Analysis & Prevention; Human Rights

The Role of Women in Global Security

The Role of Women in Global Security

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

By: Valerie Norville

This report examines women’s roles in peacebuilding, postconflict reconstruction, and economic development. It draws on discussions at the conference on "The Role of Women in Global Security," held in Copenhagen on October 29–30, 2010, and co-hosted by the U.S. Embassy in Denmark and the Royal Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs in partnership with the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP). Ambassador Laurie S. Fulton, U.S. Ambassador to Denmark and former member of USIP’s board, brought together par...

Conflict Analysis & Prevention; Gender

View All Publications