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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.

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Displaced youth

Central to negotiating continuity and change in any context, youth represent the focal point of the profound transformations that characterize post-independence South Sudan. Interest in “youth” as a category of social, political and economic importance has become increasingly evident in scholarly and policy circles over the past few decades. Most of this focus on young people has been directed to the global south, which hosts roughly 85 per cent of the world’s youth population (Abbink, 2005; Jeffrey et al., 2008). Earlier studies of youth in conflict-affected societies tended to adopt a negative outlook, with younger children typically categorized as victims while adolescents and youth were largely perceived as a potential force for social disruption and upheaval. International attention has progressively shifted from an exclusive concern with the negative impacts of unsustainable development and/or violent conflict to a positive awareness of the creative roles that young people can play as agentive participants in the process of post-conflict reconstruction, not just passive recipients of others’ provisions (Ensor, 2012).

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