Refugee repatriation and socio-economic re-integration of returnees in Eritrea (the case of Proferi programme in Dige sub-zone)
Andom, Netsereab Ghebremichael.
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For decades UNHCR and refugee hosting governments have been looking for strategies to deal with the problem of mass exodus. Depending on the nature of the problem, various approaches have been exercised to address the problem of the displaced people. Recently, there has been a remarkable alteration of approaches in the way the international political community and refugee-hosting governments deal with forced migrants. Returning refugees to their "homes" has been the most favoured approach. Though voluntary repatriation as an "ideal" solution to the refugee problem has been exercised since the 1970s, it is with the end of the post-cold war era, circa 1991, that it came to be seen as the most desirable and preferred approach towards ending the plight of exilees (Winter, 1994: 159; Rogers, 1992:1112; Toft, n.d:3). For a number of reasons, the 1990s have added more colour towards adopting this approach as the most preferred "durable solution." To give more colour to voluntary repatriation as the best alternative strategy to refugee problems, the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata, has gone so far as to declare the 1992 to be "the first year in a decade of repatriation." Since then, repatriation as a desirable approach and a viable solution to the world refugee problem has gained much prominence in the UN arena, refugee hosting countries and refugee generating countries (Allen, 1996; Chimni, 1999; Barnet, 2001)' This study discusses the issue of organised voluntary repatriation in a newly-born tiny African county, Eritrea. In brief, it examines the overall process of socio-economic rehabilitation, repatriation and re-integration of refugee returnees in selected returnee resettlement sites located in the Western lowlands of Eritrea. The study is descriptive-cumanalytic in its nature and has employed a triangulation approach in its data collection (namely, open- and semi-structured interview, focus group discussion and archival documents). The aim of the analysis is to understand refugee repatriation processes by exploring how participative the returnees were in the decision-making process of reintegration that enormously impacts in their lives back at 'home.' Post-repatriation social relationships between repatriates and 'stayees/locals' as well as returnees' economic conditions are also scrupulously examined. By so doing, the study attempts to address the 'research gap' in refugee studies by shedding light regarding the complicated nature of refugee repatriation endeavour as a 'durable solution.' In investigating the socio-economic condition of Eritrean refugee returnees, the study looks at the dynamics of power-relations and variations in interests among various stakeholders (particularly between the returnees, the government of the refugees' origin and UNHCR) within the repatriation process. It asserts how home- and hosting governments as well as UNHCR operate as "technologies of power," that dictate the behaviour of their "clients." Eventually, the thesis calls for 'working with' rather than 'working for' or 'working to' the end-beneficiaries of the repatriation project that have great deal of impact in the livelihood of refugee returnees as end-beneficiaries of repatriation programs.
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