Case Studies

Last Updated: April 13, 2009

Afghanistan: A Case of Successful Voluntary Return?

The voluntary return of Afghani refugees, which began in 2002, has been touted by some as one of the largest and most rapidly organized voluntary repatriation operations ever organized. The international community heralded this rapid, large movement to repatriate as a sign of enormous success and a harbinger of sustainable peace and development. However, a few months after the repatriation programs were implemented questions arose to the actual validity of these claims of unparalleled success.

Some practitioners and scholars argue that, in fact, return was actually involuntary in many cases, and that refugees were forced to return to insecure areas, because of "asylum fatigue" in Iran and Pakistan. Iran and Pakistan had hosted a refugee population of around 6 million for more than two decades, and after the fall of the Taliban, these host countries, along with the Afghanistan government became keen to rapidly return refugees to their country of origin. Some argue that the governments and the international community, especially about the establishment of security, deliberately misled the returnees.

For more information:

Agata Bialczyk, "Voluntary Repatriation and the Case of Afghanistan: A Critical Examination," University of Oxford Refugees Studies Centre, Working Paper No. 46, January 2008.

Richard Black and Khalid Koser, The End of the Refugee Cycle?: Refugee Repatriation and Reconstruction (New York: Berghahn Books, 1999).

Frank Clements, Conflict in Afghanistan: A Historical Encyclopedia (ABC-CLIO, 2003).

Anwar Iqbal, "U.S. Opposes Refugee Repatriation," DAWN Group of Newspapers, June 29, 2008,

William Maley and Susanne Schmeidl, "Finding Durable Solutions in Contested Transitions: The Case of the Refugee Population," Paper presented at the annual meeting of the ISAs 49th Annual Convention: Bridging Multiple Divides (San Francisco: March 26, 2008).

Aunohita Mojumdar, "Afghanistans Refugee Challenge," Al Jazeera, August 12, 2008.

Refugees International, "Prospects for Repatriation of Afghan Refugees and Displaced Persons," Refugees International, February 8, 2002.

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Sudan: Challenges for Economic

 Reintegration in Southern Sudan

Following two decades of war in Southern Sudan, returnees and IDPs are facing extraordinary challenges in reintegrating, especially in the recovery of livelihoods and the ability to be self-reliant. The area of Southern Kordofan has seen some recovery of livelihoods but with little outside support and from a very low base. One of the key issues for all returnees is the ability to (re)establish livelihoods, and in South Kordofan, this means restocking livestock, which is necessary to generate agricultural surpluses. In South Kordofan, returnees, as well as remainees, have resorted to livelihood strategies, such as charcoal making, that were rarely used before the outbreak of violence.

Compounding the economic challenges facing returnees is that many Sudanese refugees are returning to agriculture-dependent rural communities after long stays in urban areas, which means they may lack the skills necessary for earning a livelihood from the land and may lead to permanent displacement back to the cities. Other challenges are aid dependence, a lack of infrastructure that limits market opportunities and deteriorating security that is restricting movement in some areas.

For more information:

Thomas Bohnett, "Refugees No More South Sudanese Return to their Homes, International Rescue Committee," April 14, 2008.

International Organization for Migration, "IOM Sudan Newsletter," Volume 24, April-May 2008.

Cathy Majtenyi, "Refugees Returning to Southern Sudan Face Hardship," VOA News, May 27, 2005.

Andrew Nam, "Livelihood Characterisation of South Sudan: The Use of Physiographic and Agro-Climatic Layers."

Sara Pantuliano et al. The Long Road Home: Opportunities and Obstacles to the Reintegration of IDPs and Refugees Returning to Southern Sudan and the Three Areas. Overseas Development Institute, August 2007.

United Nations, "United Nations Return and Reintegration Policy for IDPs to Southern Sudan and the Three Areas," United Nations Sudan Information Gateway, October 2006.

United Nations International Centre for Technical and Vocational Education and Training, "Education for Livelihoods and Civil Participation in Post-Conflict Countries: Conceptualizing a Holistic Approach to TVET Planning and Programming in Sub-Saharan Africa," Discussion Paper No. 3 (Bonn: UNESCO-UNEVOC International Centre for Technical and Vocational Education and Training, 2007).

Womens Commission for Refugee Women and Children, "From the Ground Up: Education and Livelihoods in Southern Sudan," Womens Commission for Refugee Women and Children, January 2007.

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Liberia: Linking livelihoods with market demands

Following 14 years of war and several years of peace, Liberia is striving to restore livelihoods among returnees in a dismal development context with soaring unemployment rates at 85%, and as of 2006, the worlds highest population growth rate (4.50%) with half of the population under 18. With around 86% of the population displaced during the conflict, the ability for the IDP and returnee populations to become economically self-reliant is a critical component of economic recovery and peacebuilding.

Liberia has great potential in human capital but little understanding of the real-life applicability of livelihood and entrepreneurial strategies. Despite this recognition that livelihoods are a key component of conflict-sensitive reintegration, projects in Liberia are facing tremendous challenges. Chief among these challenges to success is a failure to attach livelihoods and skills training to market demands. Aid agencies and the Government of Liberia have failed in most cases to conduct market assessments that can be linked to vocation training programs. Currently, skills-training courses are rarely connected with market demand, and thus, seldom lead to gainful employment or small and medium business development. Additionally, the nations economy is comprised largely of an informal economy (an estimated 80%), but skills programs are failing to target the informal sector and potential income generation opportunities. Many are advocating for the employment of a demand driven approach to livelihoods.

Liberia illustrates a fairly typical post-conflict challenge where governments are faced with extreme demands to produce "deliverables" in order to placate competing interests groups and peace spoilers, but most importantly to ensure societal ownership over the peacebuilding and economic recovery processes.

For more information:

Robert Chambers and Gordon R. Conway, "Sustainable Rural Livelihoods: practical concepts for the 21st century," Institute of Development Studies, IDS Discussion Paper 296, December 1991.

Andrew Dorward, "Pro-poor Livelihoods: Addressing the Market/Private Sector Gap," (Manchester: paper originally presented at the Sustainable Livelihoods Seminar on Private Sector and Enterprise Development, November 19, 2001).

Piers Goovaerts, M. Gasser and A.B. Inbal, "Demand Driven Approaches to Livelihoods Support in Post-war Contexts," Social Development Paper No. 89, (The World Bank and International Labour Office).

Womens Commission for Refugee Women and Children, "Build the Peace: Creating Economic Opportunities for Post-conflict Liberia," Womens Commission for Refugee Women and Children, June 2007.

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Colombia: Urban displacement and protracted conflict

The more than 40 years long armed conflict in Colombia has created one of the worst and least publicized humanitarian crises in the world, despite recent promises of peace, including the demobilization of many combatants. According to an Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) report, internally displaced persons (IDP) rates are at a two-decade high, with estimates ranging from 2,649,139 displaced persons according to the government to 4,261,355 from a non-governmental organization, Consultoria para los Derechos Humanos y el Desplazamiento. This rising trend is accredited to escalating violence between right-wing paramilitaries, left-wing guerrillas and the government of Colombia, despite claims that the rebel groups have been demobilized, as well as the governments coca burning and fumigation campaign which increased civilian casualties and displacement. "A defining feature of the Colombian armed conflict and associated violence is that the parties have routinely targeted civilians to clear land for economic and strategic advantage. Given Colombias multi-party conflict, it is virtually impossible for civilians to find safe ground where they are not targeted by any armed parties."1 The violence and human rights abuses, along with the "extensive presence of landmines," worsens the situation for communities that must flee and for those that are already displaced and cannot return to their homes. Compounding this situation in Colombia is the fact that many demobilized combatants have migrated to urban areas, where the rural conflicts have transformed into organized crime and gang violence. This new development has created new waves of "intra-urban displacement, as well as new insecurity for the internally displaced persons...and urban poor."2

The displacement situation is a bit unique for civil conflicts, with the majority of those displaced fleeing from rural areas affected by violence to urban areas, like Bogota, rather than seeking asylum in another country. Approximately 93 percent of those displaced from rural violence flee to an urban area.3 IDPs in urban areas are often "hidden" from the public eye, in that they do not reside in formal camps where identification and assistance is much easier, and since 2006, many IDPs have experience intra-urban displacement, making situational evaluations even more difficult.

For more information

Frances Deng, "Internal Displacement in Colombia" (Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institute, September 7, 2000).

Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, "Colombia: Rate of New Displacement Highest in Two Decades" (IDMC, October 17, 2008), 10.

Karen Jacobsen and Kimberly Howe, "Internal Displacement to Urban Areas: the Tufts-IDMC Profiling Study: Santa Marta, Colombia; Case 3" (Geneva: IDMC, September 2003), 3.

Refugees International, "Colombia," Refugees International.

United States Committee for Refugees, "World Refugee Survey: Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)," USCRI.

1. Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, "Colombia: Rate of New Displacement Highest in Two Decades" (Geneva: IDMC, October 17, 2008), 10.
2. Karen Jacobsen and Kimberly Howe, "Internal Displacement to Urban Areas: the Tufts-IDMC Profiling Study: Santa Marta, Colombia; Case 3" (Geneva: IDMC, September 2003), 3.
3. Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, "Colombia: Rate of New Displacement Highest in Two Decades" (IDMC, October 17, 2008), 10.

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