What are the durable solutions for an uncertain future? Forced migration, whether in the context of displacement or return, has become more prevalent in recent years. General trends during the first decade and a half of the new millennium suggest that the countries where the largest flows of forced migrants originate will continue to be those in the Global South. These countries also have proportionately higher numbers of children and youth among their refugee and returnee populations. Understandings of what constitutes sustainable return often differ markedly among the various stakeholders. Returnees constitute a highly heterogeneous group whose motivations and objectives vary according to a number of factors, including gender, generation, family structure, education, socioeconomic status, and conditions in exile. These factors also influence the circumstances under which repatriation would be sustainable, or even regarded as desirable. Traditionally considered the preferred of the three “durable solutions” for refugees, repatriation is increasingly acknowledged as controversial in part because of the practical difficulty of ascertaining, much less guaranteeing, the voluntariness of the process.
The case of South Sudan highlights the need to revisit traditional notions of repatriation as a durable solution for refugees and other forced migrants. It also calls for more careful reconsideration of the role of the humanitarian community in creating “refugee subjects” and shaping their visions of “return” and long-term nation-building. Moreover, findings from this study also support the premise that return and (re) integration should not be understood as incompatible with continued use of mobile and migratory livelihood strategies. Especially in fragile postconflict states with inadequate capacity to meet their citizens’ basic social and economic needs, unsupported physical return actually may harm reconstruction efforts by exacerbating state fragility, even as refugees’ political repatriation continues to be regarded as a necessary condition for recovery and state-strengthening.
It also is imperative to recognize wartime violence, displacement, and repatriation as deeply gendered and generational processes, both for those forced to flee their hometowns—even if making the (possibly constrained) choice to do so—and for those who stay behind. Dramatic changes brought about by war and long-term displacement often have a profound effect on the traditional ideas and practices surrounding girlhood and boyhood, femininity, and masculinity, and therefore influence the actual lives of girls and boys, women and men. A focus on gender and generational differences thus should be a required dimension of forced migration management at both institutional and societal levels. As this chapter’s previous discussion has illustrated, age and gender dynamics in South Sudan, where children and youth constitute the majority of the population, continue to establish powerful factors that shape the rapidly evolving and, at present, highly volatile and violent post-independence social landscape. The experiences of young South Sudanese girls and boys thus must be factored into any efforts to develop strategies aimed at overcoming the many divides that characterize their scarred society. Gender- sensitive processes that include females and males of all ages are known to be more successful than those that do not (Bloomfield et al. 2003).
Overall, the realities facing most young South Sudanese are at present fraught with seemingly insurmountable adversity. As noted, the unrelenting violence has further ravaged the population, leading to a worsening of the already dire humanitarian conditions (IDMC 2014; OCHA 2014). Some progress in the implementation of the August 2015 Peace Agreement has been made nevertheless. South Sudanese civil society groups, on the other hand, have voiced critical views of the Agreement’s basic provisions, arguing it puts too much emphasis on power-sharing among the elite, effectively fine-tuning a return to the status quo ante.
Little attention is being directed to accountability and justice, or resolving the underlying issues that caused the conflict. As the violence has remained unabated in most of the country, children and youth have come to carry the brunt of the conflict, finding themselves uprooted at a critical time in their lives. For the large numbers of girls and boys who, alone or with their families, have once again sought refuge within or across their country’s borders, displacement is likely to remain a protracted reality.
It is impossible to predict how long it will be before those who sought safety at PoC sites within the country or across international borders can return home. The humanitarian crisis facing South Sudanese refugee children and their families thus must include provisions to make their stay in exile sustainable for as long as it might take for their country to become stable (Hovil 2014, 25). Addressing the differential vulnerabilities and resiliencies, needs, and aspirations of the very young South Sudanese population is an essential prerequisite of any future repatriation and reintegration efforts if the still incipient postconflict recovery of the country is to gain momentum.