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Researching Durable Solutions: Framework, Concepts, and Methods

The repatriation of refugees traditionally has been regarded as both constitutive and indicative of the reestablishment of peace and indispensable to national and regional stability and prosperity. More recent empirical findings have led a growing number of scholars to reject the “sedenta- rist analytical bias” that characterized previously dominant discourses of return predicated on the assumption that one’s homeland is one’s normal and ideal habitat (Black 2002; Ensor 2013; Malkki 1995; Newhouse 2012; Weiss Fagen 2011). Malkki, for instance, critiques the notion that refugees represent a “pathological” deviation from the ideal “national order of things” presumed to have existed prior to displacement (1992, 31). Without categorically rejecting repatriation as an often desirable alternative for displaced persons, Allen and Morsink also have called into question the primacy of return predicated on “conceptions of a homeland and shared values within a population which may or may not exist” (1994, 7).

The emphasis on anchoring returnees in their original places of residence similarly ignores the possibility of further transnational links or the establishment and maintenance of social networks elsewhere within the country or across one or more borders. Findings from research in South Sudan for this book reveal that returnees often actively seek settings other than those they left behind; this is either because their goals and aspirations changed while they were away or, in the case of the younger generations who were born or grew up abroad, because their elders’ hometowns and way of life do not actually constitute “home” for them. Many also expressed a keen interest in maintaining links with the countries that hosted them during the war.

As conflict-induced displacement once again came to characterize life in most of the country, such cross-border social networks have proven critical in maintaining the livelihoods of former returnees, with females and males and girls and boys being impacted in different ways. Framed by the context of wartime migration, return, and renewed displacement, the coping mechanisms adopted by the young South Sudanese population are markedly age- and gender-differentiated (Ensor 2013, 2014; Grabska 2013) and must be considered accordingly (Indra 1999).

The study on which this chapter is based constitutes a segment of a broader investigation of the processes of peacebuilding and nationbuilding in South Sudan’s post-independence period. The research was initiated with a review of secondary sources, a process that continues into the present. The bulk of the data were collected in the summers of 2009, 2011, 2012, December to January 2012 to 2013, and the summer of 2013. It draws on ethnographically informed qualitative research in Juba and several other South Sudan locations (i.e., Rumbek, Yei, Kajo Keji, Magwe, and Nimule) as well as in Cairo, Egypt, and in Adjumani, northern Uganda.

Participatory methods (e.g., trend lines, conflict analysis matrix, conflict and resource mapping) were combined with focus groups and semistructured interviews, disaggregated by gender and self-reported age group. Formal and informal interviews were conducted with representatives from United Nations (UN) agencies; international and national nongovernmental organizations (NGOs); community-based associations; national, state, and local government officials; donors; school teachers, headmasters, and students; and refugees. Additional interviews with internally displaced persons (IDPs), both youth and older adults, were also conducted. Project sites visited included primary and secondary schools, local markets, vocational training programs, and livelihood projects.

Conversations explored the ways in which conflict-induced displacement, repatriation, and integration efforts affected young people and their families in various ways. Questions specifically sought to elicit views on how the conditions of return impacted their ability to rebuild their own futures and contribute to the establishment of their country as a viable, newly independent African nation. Since December 2013, when full-blown armed conflict and massive displacement erupted in South Sudan once again, ongoing research has relied on phone and email conversations with former study participants with whom this author has remained in contact. Also used were interviews with youth and adult members of the South Sudanese diaspora in the USA, supplemented with a review of recent agency reports and available official documents.

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