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Understanding repatriation: refugee perspectives on the importance of safety, reintegration, and hope


  • Susan Zimmermann

    Corresponding author
    1. Refugee Studies Centre, Oxford Department of International Development, University of Oxford, UK
    • Refugee Studies Centre, Oxford Department of International Development, University of Oxford, 3 Mansfield Road, Oxford, OX1 3TB, UK
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  • This paper was written between January and August 2009, on the basis of PhD work completed in July 2007.


This paper uses rich, empirical data to explore repatriation from refugee perspectives, which are widely overlooked within host state framings of this topic. Participants from two countries are compared within how they approached the prospect of repatriating differently or alike, whilst different background contexts to these cases affected the ways in which participants framed discussions. Both the Somalis and Afghans were concerned with issues of safety and reintegration prospects upon return, and revealed that these were key parts of what they had also sought while living in exile. In addition, hope for change – or its absence – affected whether they anticipated returning or staying away permanently, with proof more than promise of change sought, so suggesting a difference with the early expectations more preferred by host states. Policy and political discussions of repatriation tend to make claims about refugees without asking about their own priorities. This gap in perspectives is a source of tension and distrust, and emphasis can be misplaced to try to promote return without reference to such empirical understandings as this paper explores. This paper concludes by asking whether unless we can understand return on such refugee terms, then what is its actual meaning and whose perspective does it serve? Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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