Refugee return in protracted refugee situations


What refugee return initiatives have occurred in Africa? What lessons have been learnt from successful/sustainable return processes across the world, especially in relation to protracted refugee situations?


Voluntary repatriation/return is seen as one of the durable solutions to protracted refugee situations and is the ‘preferred’ solution of the international community. Successful or sustainable return processes require the reintegration of refugees, which can be complicated by their protracted refugee experience and conditions in the country of origin.

Evidence from case studies indicates that return is often protracted or cyclical; it can be spontaneous or assisted; returns can happen rapidly or at a slower pace; and resolving protracted refugee caseloads often involves resettlement and local integration, as well as return to country of origin. Security, access to adequate services, housing, and livelihood opportunities are key to return.

Lessons for initiatives prior to return

  • Access to quality, trustworthy information is important for refugee decision making about return.
  • Return programmes need to take into account conflict dynamics and the political economy.
  • Establishing security, access to adequate services, housing, and livelihoods can be conducive to return as these are key for refugees.
  • Treatment in host countries is not enough to ‘push’ refugees; the decision to stay or return is informed by a comparison of conditions in host countries and countries of origin.
  • Access to livelihood assets, social networks, and opportunities in the country of origin can result in early return.
  • Poverty both restrains and encourages return, with poorer refugees less likely to return and reintegrate sustainably.
  • Local integration could equip refugees for sustainable return by giving them an ability to build up assets which can contribute to reintegration.
  • Preparation for return while in exile can help refugees reintegrate.

Lessons for initiatives to support return

  • Return can be staggered or cyclical; and mobility is a key strategy in its sustainability.
  • Effective support for refugee return is demand driven.
  • A comprehensive integrated approach between humanitarian, development, government and private sector actors is needed.
  • Flexibility in funding can assist sustainable return.
  • Return programmes need to account for increasing urbanisation, as many refugees prefer to settle in urban areas rather than in rural areas.

Lessons for initiatives to help reintegration

  • Addressing land and other restitution and redress issues in important for livelihoods and sustainable return.
  • Return processes should be integrated in wider development processes and assist whole communities.
  • Ethnic and other forms of discrimination can impede sustainable return by making it impossible for some groups to return.
  • Return programmes need to take into account the diverse experiences of refugees which impact on their prospects for sustainable return and reintegration.
  • Women face particular challenges in return.

Lessons for initiatives to ensure sustainability of refugee return

  • Sustainability of return is weakened by politically driven planning which does not account for the needs of the refugees.
  • Unsustainable return can have a negative impact on peacebuilding.



Suggested citation

Rohwerder, B. (2015). Refugee return in protracted refugee situations (GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report 1282). Birmingham, UK: GSDRC, University of Birmingham.