Community (Economic) Reintegration

Last Updated: December 19, 2008

Reintegration is a process focused on creating the conditions that can enable returnees and the communities they return to or after war reside within to reconcile, (re)build infrastructure and institutions of good governance, develop productive livelihoods, and ultimately exercise their social, economic, civil, political and cultural rights in a manner that allows them to experience peaceful, productive and dignified lives. This is a key component of post-conflict peacebuilding; until this happens, economic recovery cannot take hold, and the transition from war to peace cannot be consolidated it may even be reversed.

Reintegration recognizes that the upheaval of conflict changes community life forever; many people will never return, lives are permanently changed such that the pre-war days connote an entirely different era. Reintegration, therefore, is not a return to the status quo or community of before; returnees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) often must return to remote and isolated areas, with chronic poverty and instability. And yet, it is increasingly recognized that in post-conflict settings reintegration can and should be a process for rebuilding communities economically and socially in a manner that considers the needs of all actors, and contributes to vital processes of economic recovery, and ultimately, building sustainable peace.

Community reintegration occurs within the broader context of the relief to development continuum, in which relief, recovery and development issues and responses are seen as overlapping and symbiotic processes, as well as being closely linked with the processes disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) of ex-combatants and psycho-social recovery of all those affected by violent conflict. Reform processes help guide international actors to better respond to this challenging transition process.

This section starts by examining conceptual issues related to reintegration, as well as refugee repatriation, a precursor to reintegration for those who are outside the country. It then turns to explore the linkages between community reintegration and peacebuilding, at both the national, strategic level and community level, in particular through processes of reconciliation and the building of livelihoods needed to sustain economic recovery.

The actors involved in community reintegration are then discussed, both the international and national actors intervening to design and implement reintegration strategies as well as the returnees, refugees, IDPs and communities themselves, who should be fully engaged within the process. While reintegration is frequently discussed only in terms of former combatants, this section of the portal is focused on community reintegration of displaced persons, which includes both refugees and IDPs, with the recognition that all reintegration efforts should be coordinated with a view towards all relevant actors, including refugees, IDPs, former combatants and people that remained in the community.1

The activities that fall within the reintegration purview are then described, with an emphasis on the economic dimensions. They include information gathering, livelihoods, land and property rights, as well as several cross-cutting topics (self-reliance, capacity building and social networks) and principles that should guide reintegration (self-reliance, conflict-sensitivity and a community development approach). Repatriation is also considered as an activity here, while the activities that comprise it in many way overlap with those of reintegration. The more psycho-social dimensions of reintegration are discussed in other parts of the portal, while some attention to these issues is given here as they overlap and interlink with the economic. The myriad of strategic frameworks and operational mechanisms are discussed, and best practices and principles being put forth by different organizations are shared.

While there is increasing and widespread agreement about the importance of integrated community-focused approaches, programs and strategies are not quite reflecting this vision. Challenges abound in ensuring that the processes of return and reintegration flow smoothly and bring desired results in ways that lay strong foundations for sustained, human development and support peacebuilding. This is a tall order, where returnees and IDPs often have to return to such difficult settings and national governments are overwhelmed with competing post-conflict priorities, and yet are expected to provide leadership in these processes while in many cases, they lack institutional, human and financial resource capacity to do so. In closing, several case studies illustrating these challenges and strategies being used to address them are introduced.

1. United States Agency for International Development, Community-Focused Reintegration (Washington, D.C.: USAID), 6.

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