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.




The newly independent Republic of South Sudan entered the international stage on 9 July 2011 amid jubilant celebration, but also as one of the least developed countries in the world. Supporting the sustainable return and reintegration of vast numbers of returning refugees and IDPs is one of the most pressing challenges facing the new African country. More than 2 million displaced Southerners have returned to South Sudan since the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), an internationally mediated accord that paved the way for the secession of what is now South Sudan from the Khartoum-based Northern Government. The end of the North–South war, Africa’s longest running civil war is recent history, also made possible the return of a vast array of displaced individuals. For many among the youngest generations, the terms “return” and “reintegration” would both be misnomers, as the move to the new county for them involves settling in the land of their elders for the first time, and adopting unaccustomed lifestyles which do not often meet their expectations.


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