The article explores the relationship between return and transnationalism in the case of the post-2003 Iraqis' protracted displacement in Syria and Jordan. Based on field observations and interviews with Iraqi returnees, the article argues that transnational mobility and livelihoods constitute a precondition for their sustainable return. In this refugee context, return is rarely a one-way physical movement followed by permanent integration back home. It is a complex process that takes time and entails various degrees and modalities of transnational mobility, social networks and livelihoods connecting host and home societies. The international refugee regime in contrast is predicated on the assumption that refugees will not re-migrate after return. Stopping returnees' mobility may hamper the independent transnational livelihoods and development opportunities that the Iraqi people have pursued in the absence of permanent solutions to their predicament.

Policy Implications
  • International donors and regional states should harmonize their asylum and migration policy agendas and develop an integrated framework for durable solutions to the Iraqi protracted displacement.
  • Relevant agencies should consider ways to incorporate legal transnational mobility opportunities into policy frameworks for the protection of refugee populations in the Middle East.
  • Existing voluntary assisted return policies need to be revised to reflect the often non-sedentary and non-permanent nature of refugee returns to conflict-affected societies.
  • More research on returning refugees' transnational livelihoods is required to inform policy interventions facilitating the safe and sustainable return of refugees.