Community (Economic) Reintegration: Activities

An effective reintegration process starts with good planning. According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) reintegration planning should start early in the countries of asylum and origin and be based on an integrated, area-based and participatory approach in partnership with all relevant stakeholders. These include beneficiary communities, government, UN agencies, donors, civil society organizations and the private sector. Reintegration planning should deal with beneficiary communities in areas of return (i.e. refugees/returnees, local communities, IDPs, ex-combatants, etc.) in a "holistic manner and link all phases of the post-conflict recovery process with development."1 Go to Strategies

The reintegration process itself should occur after the end of violence, so that Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and refugees return to secure and stable areas,2 although recent history illustrates that this principle is not always respected. It is also vital that reintegration strategies be developed to equally support both returnees, IDPs and their communities to minimize feelings of discrimination or unequal benefits from post-conflict services. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) articulates this point further: "The notion of reintegration also entails the erosion (and ultimately the disappearance) of any differentials that set returnees apart from other members of their community, in terms of both their legal and socio-economic status."3

"Durable solutions" is the term often used to describe the ideal end state, and therefore primary objectives, for refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). The Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) considers the following durable solutions for refugees:

  • Repatriation to the country of origin;
  • Local integration in the country of asylum. The "Development through Local Integration" (DLI) framework is "based on the understanding that those refugees, who are unable to repatriate and are willing to integrate locally, will find a solution to their plight in their country of asylum." Go to Strategic Frameworks and Institutional Mechanisms
  • Resettlement to a third country.4
It is assumed that the sustainable return and reintegration of displaced populations "brings lasting benefits to all of the stakeholders concerned: countries of origin, donor States and, most important of all, returnees, IDPs, and their communities."5 For the vast majority of refugees in particular, voluntary repatriation and reintegration are considered to be the preferred and most viable durable solution.6 While there are not fixed indicators as to what reintegration should entail, UNHCR has suggested that its realization could best be measured "by comparing IDPs circumstances with those of members of the local community and in particular by considering three types of integration legal, social and economic."7 The Brookings Institute has identified the end of displacement "when the persons concerned no longer have specific protection and assistance needs related to their having been displaced, and thus can enjoy their human rights in a non-discriminatory manner vis--vis citizens who were never displaced."8

This section discusses key components of reintegration, including 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). While not wholly representative of all activities that are implemented during the return process, these activities were chosen based on their explicit relevance to community reintegration as an important component of the broader economic recovery process. Economic activities are discussed in greater depth, although psycho-social benefits of economic recovery are highlighted, while the broader psycho-social aspects of reintegration are discussed extensively in the section on DDR and psycho-social recovery. Repatriation is also considered as an activity here, although it is more a precondition for reintegration than a particular activity of reintegration. The activities that comprise each are often overlapping.

Reintegration pillars and components

UNHCR identified the following components of reintegration:

  • The legal component of reintegration involves access to legal processes and mechanisms to support the resolution of property, land and housing ownership issues;
  • The political agenda is comprised of full and equitable participation in the political process, the establishment of a stable government and freedom of thought and expression;
  • The economic aspect of reintegration should ensure that all returnees, IDPs and members of their communities have equitable access to productive resources (e.g. land, agricultural inputs and livestock);
  • The social component emphasizes non-discriminatory access to services, the establishment of security and avenues for community-level dispute resolution.9
Additionally, a number of issues are considered a high priority in formulating reintegration projects: protection, non-discrimination and gender equity, minority rights, access to justice and the rule of law, recognition of land ownership and property rights.10

The Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID) have identified four similar pillars of a reintegration framework social, cultural, economic and political reintegration. However, the ODI/DFID pillars focus more on the resolution of unique post-conflict interpersonal relationships affecting reintegration. For example, the rekindling of familial relationships between returnees, IDPs and those that stayed behind, which can serve as a major determinant of successful reintegration and acceptance.11

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Information gathering

Even before the repatriation and reintegration processes begin, it is important for the UN, governments and other actors to implement information-gathering strategies in order to obtain accurate information about refugee and internally displaced populations. Priority should be given to the timely collection, analysis, sharing and dissemination of information at the outset. This should include data collection on the demographic profile of the refugee, internally displaced persons (IDPs) and other populations concerned, including their skills, needs, intentions and aspirations.12 The UN and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) can offer support to local and national governments, which hold the ultimate responsibility for reintegration, for the gathering and analysis of population profiles and resource mobilization.13

According to UNHCR's Handbook for Repatriation and Reintegration Activities, a population profile should include:

  • Demographic data disaggregated by age and sex;
  • Educational background and skills profiles acquired before and during exile ("including that of women, children and adolescents, with a special focus on skills that can be repatriated to the home country and effectively used in public service sectors and/or in reintegration and rehabilitation programs") and occupational profiles in the countries of origin and asylum;
  • Areas of origin (district/village), areas of last residence in the country of origin, intended destination/return areas (if different from areas of origin);
  • Membership in social groups (e.g. ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities; separated and unaccompanied children; rape victims/survivors; members or supporters of former political and military regimes, etc.);
  • Property status in the country of origin (to determine how many people have somewhere to return).14
However, the information gathering process is not necessarily an easy undertaking, as many refugees may choose to return spontaneously outside of formal mechanisms. Additionally, IDPs are only sometimes located in camps, and this population may be scattered throughout the country in cities, the homes of relatives and other informal, un-monitored areas. Thus, it can be very difficult to register IDPs and to determine accurate information on this population. Go to Challenge: Tailoring responses to situations of spontaneous or organized return

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Repatriation programs are led by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and are initiated with a tripartite agreement between the two countries based on a security assessment to determine if refugees can return in safety and with continual monitoring by UNHCR on the security situation.15

According to UNHCR, the core components of voluntary repatriation are:16
- Physical safety: comprised of decreased violence, improved overall security, efforts to establish rule of law and judicial institutions, and the removal of mines and unexploded ordinances;
- Legal safety: including eliminating legal barriers to repatriation and return, legal mechanisms to guide issues on citizenship, amnesty, property and registration, and judicial means to address human rights abuses;
- Material safety: ensuring non-discriminatory access to basic services, such as shelter, property and health services, and the creating programs to promote livelihoods and economic self-reliance;
- Reconciliation: a process promoting measures to improve relations and coexistence between returnees, IDPs, and their communities through equitable access to services and programs.

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Broader than simply employment,17 livelihoods, also referred to as "economic opportunities" by the Womens Commission for Refugee Women and Children,18 is a key component in the successful reintegration of displaced persons and the long-term economic recovery of post-conflict countries. Scholars Robert Chambers and Gordon Conway offer a widely accepted definition for livelihoods: "A livelihood comprises people, their capabilities and their means of living, including food, income and assets. Tangible assets are resources and stores, and intangible assets are claims and access. A livelihood is environmentally sustainable when it maintains or enhances the local and global assets on which livelihoods depend, and has net beneficial effects on other livelihoods. A livelihood is socially sustainable which can cope with and recover from stress and shock, and provide for future generations."19 Put simply, livelihoods are the ability to "maintain and sustain life."20 Go to Employment and Empowerment

According to The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), livelihood strategies should: tap private sector resources; implement cash-for-work programs; promote medium-scale enterprises and involve a wide range of international and local actors in the development of livelihoods strategies.21 There is wide recognition that livelihood programs should be implemented as early as possible, including during displacement, in order to facilitate a smooth reintegration process and self-reliance. Early interventions include education, skills training and livelihood opportunities.22 Frequently, the international community and governments utilize post-conflict public works projects as an early tool to employ citizens and simultaneously rebuild destroyed infrastructure. The Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children argues that these projects "should be considered a key livelihood strategy in post-conflict settings and should be supported well beyond the short-term emergency phase."23 However, UNHCR cautions that infrastructure projects alone are not enough to improve the livelihoods for the entire population. "While such projects do make places of return attractive to returnees, show/reflect some stability and are often popular with governments, it is important to balance such interventions with livelihood projects, which assist returnees to re-establish themselves quickly."24 Furthermore, these reconstruction programs can serve not only to provide immediate employment and possible longer-term prospects; they can serve as a cohesive bond for a community reintegrating its members after conflict, and reinforce a sense of individual and communal security.25

Access to livelihoods is often related to causes of conflict and grievances, and thus, improved livelihoods can serve as an impetus for peace. DFID also points out, "...Different types of conflicts can have profound adverse effects on the livelihoods of the poor."26 The authors of a Tufts University report point to income-generating projects as a means of promoting reconciliation following conflict. Because of the lack of economic opportunities in divided communities, income-generating projects are the most effective type of activity to foster coexistence.27 However, a study of income-generating projects found that they had not succeeded in creating long-term economic sustainability for participants, but that there were dividends in social capital.28 Go to Reconciliation

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Land, property and resources

A key issue in the reintegration of displaced persons is access to land, property and resources. Internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees frequently return to their communities with few material resources and then face further difficulty in obtaining access to resources or claiming land and property.29  Go to Natural Resources

Land and property disputes, which may involve land grabs, land mines, title disputes and conflicting or inadequate legal frameworks, threaten to undermine peace efforts. Particularly true in African conflicts (e.g. Cote d'Ivoire, Eritrea, Rwanda, Sudan), these disputes raise the stakes as a further economic incentive for violence or justification for pre-existing political motives. Starkly evident in Timor-Leste, 80% of all land records were intentionally destroyed in Dili during the fighting,30 where militias specifically targeted land title offices. In this case violence forced inhabitants to flee quickly without deed copies, if they weren't already destroyed in the destruction that accompanied the fighting, and those that returned often found new residents were illegally occupying their homes. The Timor-Leste example confirms that, "tensions between local communities and displaced persons are often related to disputes over resources and property. Lack of reconstruction of destroyed houses or non-return of property left behind - taken over by either the local population or persons who themselves have been displaced - create serious obstacles to return."31 However, it can also hold true that remainees may have lost land and property during the conflict, and therefore, also have rights to reclamation mechanisms.32 Indeed these two general property rights issues tend to be most common: human security in war-affected areas and property rights restoration to returning refugees and IDPs.33

The 2005 United Nations Pinheiro Principles provide a global standard for the shelter, land and property restitution rights of displaced people, which is a marked departure from previous practices that ignored or inadequately addressed this issue. These principles evolved from the recognition that, "Some of the most serious problems facing displaced persons around the globe are the loss of land, housing and property rights during their displacement and the consequent inability to return to their original homes and lands once they choose to voluntarily repatriate."34 Principle 2 says, "All refugees and displaced persons have the right to have restored to them any housing, land and property of which they were arbitrarily or unlawfully deprived, or to be compensated for any housing, land or property that is factually impossible to restore as determined by an independent, impartial tribunal."35 Go to Repatriation: Definition and Activities

Although, shelter is an urgent need for returnees and IDPs, long-term resolution of land and property issues is critical to self-reliance and economic recovery. "Refugee return strategies need to address both land access and the security of property rights. Such security is essential to developing peoples confidence in their future, and can make an important contribution to peace and reconciliation."36 Mechanisms for restitution or the return of land and property, whether there are formal or informal titles, are critical to successful reconciliation and reintegration.37 This right is extended to men, women and children, including "those who stand to inherit property from deceased members who were displaced."38 Women and children, in particular, may face difficulties in claiming property, especially when there are informal titles to land and property.39

Khalid Koser of The Brookings Institution offers the following measures for facilitating peaceful reclamation of land and property: registering land; legal measures for the recognition of property rights for women and children; transferring informal titles to the formal system; restore collective forms of property to minorities or indigenous people; build institutions capable of processing and monitoring disputes and restitution claims, including law enforcement; develop mechanisms to assist people that are evicted from land following a property dispute.40

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Cross-cutting activities and principles

Capacity building and the social aspects of economic recovery and reintegration are recurrent in the literature on the reintegration of displaced persons. These underlie and inform the activities and strategies for finding durable solutions for displaced persons, promote ownership over the reintegration and recovery processes in a way that serves peacebuilding. Similarly, there are key principles that are considered important by different actors that should inform the reintegration process: a community development approach, self-reliance, and conflict sensitivity.

Capacity building

According to UNHCR, capacity building is more than training; it is "the creation of an enabling environment, with appropriate policy and legal frameworks, institutional development, including community participation (of women in particular), human-resources development and strengthening of managerial systems."41 Capacity building also transcends many sectors and is a long-term process. 42

Capacity building in post-conflict environments involves strengthening the capacities of both national and local institutions and individuals, although the issue of whose capacity to build is sometimes debated, and has a strong correlation to the success of reintegration. As the primary leader of reintegration activities, it is critical for state governments to have the capacity to support reintegration and recovery efforts.43 "Capacity building activities are geared towards strengthening national authorities, laws and policies to ensure the proper handling of refugee and asylum issues, the reception and care of refugees, the promotion of self-reliance of refugees and the realisation of durable solutions."44 In addition, an ODI report commissioned by United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID) notes, The relative strengths and weaknesses of local governance structures to manage local affairs and disputes will be a key determinant of how integration proceeds.45 However, the report warns that there may be difficulty in getting funds to actually reach the local level.46 Go to challenges: national ownership and reintegration

Capacity building requires efforts in three main areas:47

  • Equipping individuals and communities with the understanding, skills and access to information, knowledge and training that enables them to perform effectively;
  • Developing effective management structures, processes and procedures within organizations and for managing relationships among different organizations and partners;
  • Putting in place institutional, legal and regulatory frameworks to enable organizations, institutions and agencies at all levels and in all sectors (public, private, and community) to enhance their capacities.

Social cohesion, social capital and social networks

Facilitating the establishment of community and social networks is an important component of reintegration programs.48 According to UNHCR, "Social networks refer to ties of all kinds and various people and institutions and kinship which provide social, financial and political support in order to facilitate development of their members."49 Social networks are dynamic, informal or formal, and exist before, during and after conflicts.50 "In the absence of easily obtained employment, respondents are dependent on social networks and organization such as churches for financial and material support."51 This is especially true in post-conflict situations when returnees, IDPs, and their communities face a severe shortage of resources and economic opportunities, and social networks serve as alternative means for livelihoods. Go to Reconciliation

New research confirms that reestablishing destroyed or fractured social capital in the early recovery phase is an acute challenge. A distinction is made between the more vulnerable "bridging" social capital that easily damaged between separate groups, and the "bonding" social capital that may be retained within groups. Although the latter can manifest in damaging forms (ex. Ultra-nationalism or ethnic separatism), it is often the most basic social unit that remains after conflict the family. This new other-ness makes solidarity and collective action considerably more evasive in the post-conflict period; and social exchange in the form of hospitality or generosity for example, may become monetized, especially in the context of extreme poverty. In Afghanistan, social fragmentation continues to be severe following the return and reintegration of former fighters, refugees and war-affected populations, leaving the nuclear family as perhaps the only reliable support structure, as efforts to recreate district councils, shuras or other community groups struggle for traction.52

Community development approach

In line with the international transition to a more holistic view of reintegration as a community-wide issue, the Office of the United States High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) recommends the utilization of the community development approach. The community development approach seeks to unify returnees, internally displaced persons (IDPs), and their communities and to facilitate the creation of a cooperative peace. A primary component of this approach is to empower refugees, IDPs, and their communities to determine their futures through active participation in the reintegration and recovery processes from the onset of strategic planning. Community committees for planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation are one way to accomplish these goals. "The use of committees to represent all groups within the community enables everyone a voice and acts as an effective and sustainable targeting mechanism leading to self-reliance."53

When it comes to the identification, selection and initiation of reintegration projects, the need for community participation is central to developing community empowerment, creating local ownership and building sustainability.54 Ensuring continuity between projects is also critical, and this can be served by harmonizing standards and criteria between programs to establish a transitional or phased approach.55


Self-reliance for returnees and IDPs is a key goal of all sustainable reintegration strategies. The Office of the defines self-reliance as: "The social and economic ability of an individual, a household or a community to meet essential needs (including food, water, shelter, personal safety, health and education) in a sustainable manner and with dignity developing and strengthening livelihoods of persons of concern and reducing their vulnerability and long-term reliance on humanitarian assistance."56

The promotion of self-reliance can start during asylum with skills training and income-generating activities and continue after reintegration.57 Returnees that successfully make the transition from aid-dependence to self-reliance are more likely to have confidence in the peacebuilding process and achieve durable solutions.58 The benefit for peace is two-fold: refugees can have a "positive influence" in countries of asylum, easing tension with host communities, and returnees with new skills can return home with mechanisms to economically support their reintegration and rebuild their communities, which will ultimately increase peace dividends.59 In recognition of the importance of self-reliance, UNHCR has included this concept as "an integral component of [their] Framework for Durable Solutions for Displaced Persons." 60

Conflict sensitivity

Repatriation and reintegration contexts differ. As highlighted in the section on conflict sensitivity, reintegration efforts should be shaped by numerous considerations of context, including the length of time and conditions of displacement; the nature of the conflict which resulted in displacement; the degree of destruction in the area of return; the capacity of national and local authorities; the nature of the repatriation process; the presence or absence of humanitarian or development actors; and, the provisions of the peace agreement and the presence or absence of peacekeeping forces.61According to UNHCR, this necessitates: (i) a sound analysis of the environment in which reintegration takes place to formulate a strategy; (ii) the adoption of a multi-scenario planning approach; and (iii) flexibility to deal with the unexpected. Planning and implementation should not be sequential activities, but rather activities that interact in a dynamic manner.62

1. UNHCR, Handbook for Repatriation and Reintegration Activities, Part B, Overview.
2. Ibid., 1.5.
3. UNHCR, Policy Framework and Implementation Strategy, 4.
4. UNHCR, Framework for Durable Solutions for Refugees and Persons of Concern, 24.
5. UNHCR, Policy Framework and Implementation Strategy, 43.
6. UNHCR, Handbook for Repatriation and Reintegration Activities, 1.7.
7. The Brookings Institute, "When Displacement Ends: A Framework for Durable Solutions," (Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution and University of Bern Project on Internal Displacement, May 2007), 55-56.
8. Ibid., 5.
9. UNHCR, Handbook for Repatriation and Reintegration Activities, 1.5
10. UNHCR, Policy Framework and Implementation Strategy 9.
11. 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), 4.
12. UNHCR, Policy Framework and Implementation Strategy, 9.
13. Ibid., 9.
14. UNHCR, Handbook for Repatriation and Reintegration Activities, 4.3.
15. IRIN, "The Long Journey Home," 7.
16. UNHCR, Handbook for Repatriation and Reintegration Activities, 1.4.
17. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, "An Exploration of the Livelihood Strategies of Durban Congolese Refugees," Working Paper Number 123 (Geneva: UNHCR, February 2006),
18. Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children, "Build the Peace: Creating Economic Opportunities for Post-conflict Liberia" (New York: Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children, June 2007).
19. Robert Chambers and Gordon R. Conway, "Sustainable Rural Livelihoods: Practical Concepts for the 21st Century," IDS Discussion Paper 296 (Brighton: Institute of Development Studies, December 1991), 1.
20. Machtelt De Vriese, "Refugee Livelihoods: A Review of the Evidence," EPAU/2006/04 (Geneva: The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, February 2006), 1.
21. UNHCR, Handbook for Repatriation and Reintegration Activities, 1.24.
22. UNHCR, Policy Framework and Implementation Strategy, 10.
23. Women's Commission, "Build the Peace: Creating Economic Opportunities for Post-conflict Liberia," 4.
24. UNHCR, Handbook for Repatriation and Reintegration Activities, 3.11.
25. Mary Anderson, "International assistance and conflict: an exploration of negative impacts. Case studies series no. 1," (Cambridge: Local Capacities for Peace Project, 1994).
26. United Kingdom Department for International Development, "Sustainable Livelihoods Guidance Sheets," (London: DFID, 1999), Section 2, 3.
27. Eileen Babbitt et al., "Imagine Coexistence: Assessing Refugee Reintegration in Divided Communities," (Medford: Tufts University, July 2002), 8.
28. Ibid., 33.
29. IRIN, "The Long Journey Home," 8.
30. United Nations Development Programme "Post-Conflict Economic Recovery," UNDP Bureau of Crisis Prevention and Recovery, (New York: UNDP, 2008), p.79.
31. Koser, The Return of Refugees and IDPs and Sustainable Peace.
32. Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, "National Program for Landless Returnees," AFG/MoRR/1384/NP1 (Kabul: The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation, July 2005), 3.
33. United Nations Development Programme, "Post-Conflict Economic Recovery," UNDP Bureau of Crisis Prevention and Recovery, (New York: UNDP, 2008), p.80.
34. Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, "The Pinheiro Principles: United Nations Principles on Housing and Property Restitution for Refugees and Displaced Persons" (Geneva: Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, 2005), 3.
35. Ibid., 9.
36. John W. Bruce, "Returnee Land Access: Lessons from Rwanda," (London: Humanitarian Policy Group, Overseas Development Institute, June 2007), 2.
37. The Brookings Institute, When Displacement Ends, 10.
38. Ibid., 10.
39. Koser, The Return of Refugees and IDPs and Sustainable Peace.
40. Ibid.
41. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, "Handbook for the Protection of Internally Displaced Persons: Part IV: Activities and Tools for Protection. Guidance Note 4: Capacity Building," (Genvea: UNHCR, December 1, 2007), 108.
42. UNHCR, Handbook for Repatriation and Reintegration Activities, 3.12.
43. Macrae, "Aiding Peace," 28.
44. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, "Capacity-Building," UNHCR.
45. Pantuliano et al. "The Long Road Home," 9.
46. Ibid., 10.
47. UNHCR, Handbook for the Protection of Internally Displaced Persons, 108.
48. Ibid., 3, 18.
49. UNHCR, "An Exploration of the Livelihood Strategies of Durban Congolese Refugees," 26.
50. Ibid., 6, 27, 48.
51. Ibid., 26.
52. United Nations Development Programme, "Post-Conflict Economic Recovery," UNDP Bureau of Crisis Prevention and Recovery, (New York: UNDP, 2008), 81.
53. UNHCR, Handbook for Self-reliance, 2.
54. The World Bank PCF, "Workshop on Closing the Gap on Community Reintegration Activities," 2.
55. Ibid., 3,
56. UNHCR, Handbook for Self-reliance, 7.
57. Ibid., iv.
58. Ibid., iv.
59. Ibid., iv.
60. Ibid., iv.
61. UNHCR, Handbook for Repatriation and Reintegration Activities, Part B, Overview, and UNHCR, Policy Framework and Implementation Strategy, 9.
62. UNHCR, Handbook for Repatriation and Reintegration Activities, Part B, Overview.

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