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II Repatriation and (Re)Integration: Dilemmas of Sustainable Return

Refugee Girls and Boys and the Dilemmas of (Un)Sustainable Return to South Sudan

Marisa O. Ensor

Introduction: Return as a Durable Solution to Forced Displacement

This chapter discusses the repatriation, reintegration, and renewed forced displacement experienced by the young population of South Sudan in response to the successive episodes of violent conflict that continue to ravage their newly independent country. More than 2 million displaced South Sudanese returned “home” after the signing of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that marked the end of the North-South Civil War. A large number of those on the move were children and youth, given that more than half the population of South Sudan is under the age of 18, while 72 % are younger than 30 years old (Save the Children 2011, 3).

M.O. Ensor (*)

Institute for the Study of International Migration, Washington, DC, USA

© The Author(s) 2016

M.O. Ensor, E.M. Gozdziak (eds.), Children and Forced Migration, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-40691-6_5

Refugee return and reintegration efforts were implemented in a context of the fragile peace between Sudan and South Sudan—for example, the rampant insecurity; the lawlessness and disorder in some areas; the weak national economy; and the inadequate capabilities of national, state, and local government institutions to fulfill their mandates—in order to provide meaningful opportunities for the country’s very young population. The absorptive capacity of most receiving communities was quickly overwhelmed beyond sustainable limits, causing concern and increasingly violent animosity among local residents. The challenges presented by this unprecedented rate of return were differentially prioritized by the various actors involved in the reintegration process.

For the large numbers of girls and boys who, alone or with their families, sought refuge within or across their country’s borders, peacetime repatriation brought its own set of challenges and opportunities. Many repatriated girls reported struggling with the precarious local conditions and feeling more displaced and alienated in South Sudan than they did abroad (Ensor 2013, 2014). Boys often bemoaned their limited opportunities to assert their masculinity and make the transition from childhood to adulthood in locally sanctioned ways (e.g., proving their contribution to the war effort, holding a steady job, or owning enough cattle to get married), according to Ensor (2013), and Sommers and Schwartz (2011).

Even before the most recent resurgence of conflict, intergenerational tensions were deepening, largely owing to many displaced youngsters’ unmet expectations and their aspirations to a “modern”—often meaning urban—way of life that was perceived as incompatible with traditional livelihoods and social relations. “Struggling under the burden of a lack of education, relevant and marketable skills, and scarce work opportunities to apply those skills, [youth have been] prime targets for politicians searching for foot soldiers to carry out their battles to gain political influence” (MercyCorps 2014, 14-15). Often deliberately targeted by all parties to the conflict, many of the youngsters in South Sudan have been forcibly displaced anew, belying the sustainability of repatriation as a durable solution for refugees when attempted under unfavorable circumstances.

Although “return to the past” approaches are no longer perceived as not without problems, the aspirations and long-term prospects of forced migrants, especially for youth, remain underexamined and insufficiently understood. Some noteworthy exceptions notwithstanding (Black and Koser 1999; Hammond 1999; Long and Oxfeld 2004; Newhouse 2012; Warner 1994), the consequences of repatriation on returnees and receiving communities after protracted displacement have until recently received relatively little attention among scholars. The dearth of knowledge is unjustifiable, considering that repatriation continues to be promoted as the most preferable of the three “durable solutions” for refugees.[1] The situation in South Sudan is illustrative of the need to examine return conditions through a broader lens.

Drawing on fieldwork conducted primarily among South Sudanese refugees in Uganda and Egypt and returnees in South Sudan, this chapter focuses on the role played by displaced girls and boys as they find themselves differentially situated vis-a-vis the various determinants of conflict-induced mobility. Following this introduction, it presents a brief discussion of the methods and conceptual frameworks that guided the research on which this chapter is based. A summary of the main events in South Sudanese recent history helps contextualize the protracted cycles of war and displacement that have framed the living conditions of children there for generations.

The following section discusses the complex circumstances facing girls and boys during conflict, repatriation, and renewed displacement. Framed by the troubled present and uncertain futures of South Sudanese youth, the concluding section reiterates the significance of adopting an age- and gender-sensitive approach to both scholarly analyses of displaced populations and humanitarian programming seeking to advance durable solutions for refugees and other forced migrants.

  • [1] Three main options are available for the permanent resolution of the “refugee cycle”—voluntaryrepatriation, local integration in the country of first asylum, and resettlement in a third country. Allthree are regarded as “durable solutions” because they promise an end to refugees’ plight and theirneed for international protection and dependence on humanitarian assistance (Black and Koser 1999).
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