Displaced Youth’s Role in Sustainable Return

Lessons from South Sudan

image of Displaced Youth’s Role in Sustainable Return

More than 2 million Southerners have returned to South Sudan since 2005, following the end of the North–South civil war. Building on research conducted in South Sudan, as well as Egypt and northern Uganda, Ensor examines the process of reintegration of refugees and internally displaced persons returning to South Sudan since the signing of the 2005 Peace Agreement. The study focuses on the role played by displaced youth as they find themselves differentially situated vis-à-vis the various determinants of sustainable return and reintegration. The research finds that intergenerational tensions are a result of many displaced youths’ aspirations to a “modern” – often meaning urban – way of life perceived as incompatible with traditional livelihoods and social relations. In turn, these dynamics are impacting the way in which access to material assets, education, employment opportunities, political participation and other key resources is negotiated among displaced groups and those who stayed behind. The study also finds evidence of significant gender differences. As the pressures of responding to the complex needs of the vast numbers of returning individuals continue to mount, reintegration remains a loosely defined concept among government officials and external assistance agencies and, furthermore, understandings of what constitutes “sustainable return” differ markedly among the various stakeholders. Intergenerational differences regarding reintegration needs and aspirations, and even the very desirability of return, are rarely considered. This report shares primary research findings that may support return and reintegration programming so as to better respond to the age- and gender-differentiated needs and aspirations of diverse migrant groups in South Sudan.



Research frameworks on return and reintegration

Scholarly approaches to the various components of forced migration, including return and reintegration, have been traditionally dominated by research on the experiences of political refugees. Interest in environmental and development-related displacement has also gained considerable momentum in recent years, as has attention to the mass population movements associated with complex emergencies resulting from a combination of factors. A number of frameworks have been utilized, ranging from legal-normative perspectives to sociocultural approaches. Nevertheless, the impact of return on those displaced, its immediate and long-term consequences on host communities, and the broader sustainability of the return process remain inadequately understood. International agencies have far more experience restoring displaced households to rural lives than to urban settings. Understandings of what constitutes sustainable return often differ markedly among the various stakeholders. Intergenerational differences regarding reintegration needs and aspirations, as well as the desirability of return, warrant more focused consideration than has typically been the case among governmental and international entities working with refugees and migrants.


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