Community (Economic) Reintegration: Community Reintegration & Peacebuilding Processes

Relationship to peacebuilding

Reintegration interacts with peacebuilding in numerous ways, at various levels. At the national strategic level, it influences all "pillars" of peacebuilding and contributes to vital processes of post-war social cohesion. At community levels it is directly linked to both conflict and peacebuilding, in particular through processes of reconciliation and the building of livelihoods needed to sustain economic recovery.

A key element in strategic level peacebuilding

The reintegration process is widely recognized as a key element in peacebuilding. Reintegration influences all of the peacebuilding pillars, including security, reconciliation, and governance, and is an important component in creating a sustainable peace. "A comprehensive and institutionalized approach to reintegration would also help to produce a number of desired outcomes in an integrated manner. These include good local governance; protection of the rights of communities inclusive of returnees; improved social services including infrastructure; co-existence and confidence building; economic revival and livelihood creation; and, improved access to services."1

Reintegration, conflict causes and respecting human rights

The primary force driving action to holistically reintegrate displaced persons is to promote a durable peace and to break the cycle of displacement. Returnees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) often go back to find the very same conditions that spawned conflict in the first place, pointing to the need for reintegration and rehabilitation in returnee areas to be viewed as priority areas for peacebuilding and conflict prevention efforts.2 "There is a symbiotic relationship between the return and reintegration of displaced people and the peacebuilding process. Unless uprooted populations can go back to their homes and enjoy a reasonable degree of security in their own community, the transition from war to peace may in some situations be delayed or even reversed."3 Some emphasized that repatriation and reintegration programs should be rooted in the values of peacebuilding, and others,4 human rights. Refugees and IDPs who return to their homes voluntarily and with awareness of their (and others') human rights, according to UNHCR, "are most likely to have a positive engagement with the reintegration and peacebuilding processes." This has suggested the importance of reintegration projects focused around issues of protection, non-discrimination and gender equity, minority rights, access to justice and the rule of law, recognition of land ownership and property rights.5 The voluntary return and reintegration of refugees and IDPs, can also contribute to the prevention of new or secondary movements.6 If people return voluntarily they are more likely to stay, which is the objective of reintegration, and a foundation for economic recovery sustainable economic activity can only take root in a stable context.

Promoting reconciliation and co-existence

Reintegration is an important component of the reconciliation and peacebuilding process. As stated by UNHCR, "it is closely linked to progressive reduction of political and social violence, as well as the establishment of effective and equitable judicial procedures and the rule of law."7 In addition to being a key component of peacebuilding at the macro level, the reintegration process at the community level involves key aspects of pe"Reintegration should foster social cohesion in areas and communities of return in order to contribute to peace building and conflict prevention."8 Communities of return should benefit from reintegration activities in order to promote social cohesion.9 Sometimes the less ambitious goal of co-existence is identified, but as a first step towards reconciliation,10 where communities have been severely divided and may not be able to move towards reconciliation. Coexistence, beyond living side by side, involves some degree of communication, interaction and cooperation.11 This is discussed in extensive detail in the psycho-social thematic sectionGo to Challenge: Mitigating tensions

Promoting livelihoods and economic recovery

For reintegration strategies to contribute to sustained peace they must incorporate mechanisms to build the capacity of people to be self-supporting both during and after conflict, especially through the development of livelihoods programs. As a cautionary note, while secure livelihoods translate into better prospects for lasting peace, such efforts, even if ultimately successful, can take years to produce peace dividends at the level of ordinary peoples' livelihoods (in other words, average citizens and even "peace spoilers" that stand to benefit from continued conflict).12 Go to Employment and Empowerment

Returnees and IDPs frequently return to areas where the economy is destroyed, with little immediate basis for creating or restoring livelihood opportunities. In particular, chronic shortages of social services and depleted livelihood opportunities may impede efforts.13 When finally able to return home, returnees and IDPs normally encounter ruined property and infrastructure, with a severe lack of health, sanitation and education services. Without the fundamentals required to create a livelihood option, they can immediately fall into a cycle of debilitating poverty. They likely may face additional barriers to participation in the economic recovery process. Without concerted improvements towards economic recovery, returnees and IDPs (and other community members) could migrate again, settling in other communities trying to achieve stability, and feed into processes that could foster a return to violence.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) underscores the challenges for returnees and IDPs in establishing new livelihoods and accessing from basic services and benefiting from the rule of law centrally needed for their economic recovery.14 In the case of refugees, when not in their countries, they face restrictive asylum regulations that limit their freedom of movement and access to education, skills training and productive livelihoods. "Their potential for human growth and development is stifled. Reduced to mere recipients of humanitarian assistance, the ability of refugees is limited to make a positive contribution to the economy and society of the asylum country."15 This further reinforces the goal of successful reintegration into their home countries.

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Most recent evolutions


On July 28, 1951, the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees was adopted and became the lasting framework for displacement and reintegration issues.16 The Convention defined the criteria for refugee designation, which is still used by governments today. In response, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) began as what was essentially a "European refugee agency."17


UNHCRs preferred solution to refugee problems shifted from a focus on asylum and resettlement to repatriation.18 This shift was essentially a product of growing weariness by the West of the high numbers of asylum seekers and increasing pressure on host countries to support refugees.19


Beginning in the 1980s and accelerating in the new century, the concept of voluntary repatriation became fuzzier. As governments experienced "host country fatigue," whereby they complained that hosting refugees caused an undue economic and societal burden, they began to repatriate refugees to their country of origin, sometimes without thorough assessments of the security situation at home, as has been the case in Afghanistan,20 or even by force, as was done in Tanzania.21 Many scholars and civil society organizations argue that this movement away from the voluntary aspect of repatriation constitutes a violation of the international principle of non-refoulement.

1990s and 2000s:

In the 1990s, there was a clear shift in thinking from divided relief and development activities towards a more integrated view of reintegration as a transition period requiring early, long-term approaches to strategies.22 At the same time, UNHCR transitioned from a mainly European refugee agency into the "lead agency" for humanitarian operations and expanded the interpretation of its mandate towards more development and peacebuilding activities, in line with the transition towards relief-development thinking.23 During this time, the international community also began to view reintegration through a holistic lens, whereby DDR programs for ex-combatants, reintegration activities for displaced persons and the needs of their communities are integrated into a comprehensive strategy, commonly called community reintegration.

UNHCR and other international organization also expanded reintegration efforts beyond refugees to meet the expanding needs of IDPs, as well.24

In the 1990s the meaning of voluntary repatriation began to change, where refugee consent was no longer necessary and that the home situation need only to be better than life in exile, and appreciably improved or holding the promise of improving. Also in recent history, countries have exhibited increased reluctance to host refugees, citing undue burdens and threats to national security, especially following September 11, 2001. In 2003, the High Commissioner presented the "Framework for Durable Solutions for Refugees and Persons of Concern," which recommended three frameworks for linking development assistance with the needs of refugees and other persons of concern: Development Assistance for Refugees (DAR), Repatriation, Reintegration, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction (the "4Rs"), and Development through Local Integration (DLI).25

1. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Framework for Durable Solutions for Refugees and Persons of Concern, (Geneva: UNHCR, May 2003), 20.
2. IRIN, "The Long Journey Home: An IRIN Web Special on the Challenge of Refugee Return and Reintegration," February 2005, 4.
3. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, "Chapter 4: Return and Reintegration," in The State of the Worlds Refugees: A Humanitarian Agenda (Geneva: UNHCR, 1997), 4.1.
4. James Milner, "Sharing the Security Burden: Towards the Convergence of Refugee Protection and State Security," RSC Working Paper Number 4 (Oxford: University of Oxford, Refugee Studies Centre, May 2000), 24.
5. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee, "Policy Framework and Implementation Strategy: UNHCRs Role in Support of the Return and Reintegration of Displaced Populations" (Geneva: UNHCR, February 18, 2008), 9.
6. Ibid., 8.
7. Ibid., 4.
8. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Handbook for Repatriation and Reintegration Activities, (Geneva: UNHCR, May 2004), 3.2.
9. Ibid., 3.4.
10. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, "Quick Impact Projects (QiPs): A Provisional Guide" (Geneva: UNHCR, May 2004), 19.
11. Ibid., 19.
12. Patricia Fagen and Micah N. Bump, "Remittances in Conflict and Crises: How Remittances Sustain Livelihoods in War, Crises, and Transitions to Peace" (New York: International Peace Academy, February 2006), Preface.
13. 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" (London: Overseas Development Institute, August 2007), 3.
14. UNHCR, Policy Framework and Implementation Strategy 3.
15. UNHCR, Framework for Durable Solutions for Refugees and Persons of Concern, 4.
16. United Nations, "Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees," General Assembly Resolution 429) (Geneva: United Nations, July 28, 1951).
17. Michael Barnett, "The Best of Times, the Worse of Times: The Evolution of Humanitarianism and the UNHCR" (paper presented at annual meeting for the International Studies Association, Montreal: March 17-21, 2004), 1.
18. Ibid., 4,
19. Ibid., 29.
20. Agata Bialczyk, "'Voluntary Repatriation' and the Case of Afghanistan: A Critical Examination," Working Paper Number 46 (Oxford: University of Oxford Refugees, Studies Centre, January 2008).
21. Olivia Bueno, "Perspectives on Refoulement in Africa," (International Refugee Rights Initiative: paper originally presented at the Canadian Council for Refugees Conference, Toronto: June 17, 2006), 1.
22. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee, Policy Framework and Implementation Strategy, (Geneva: UNHCR, February 18, 2008), 5.
23. Ibid., 1, 5.
24. Kimberly Maynard, Healing Communities in Conflict (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999), 62.
25. Executive Committee of the High Commissioners Programme, "Local Integration and Self-Reliance," EC/55/SC/CRP.15 (Geneva: UNHCR, June 2, 2005), 1-2.

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