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Reintegration of First- and Second-Generation Children Returned to Burundi: A Multidimensional Approach

Sonja Fransen and Melissa Siegel


After conflict ends, many former refugees return to their countries of origin. Numerous former refugees are children who either travel with their parents, extended family members, foster parents, or alone. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that approximately 40 % of all refugees worldwide are under 18 years of age. Significant proportions of those that return after conflict are consequently children as well. Nearly half of former refugees that have returned to Afghanistan after 2002, for example, were born abroad (UNHCR 2014). After Protracted Refugee Situations (PRSs), defined as situations in which refugees reside in exile for more than five years, returnee parents

S. Fransen (*)

University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands M. Siegel

Maastricht Graduate School of Governance, Maastricht University, Maastricht, Netherlands

© The Author(s) 2016

M.O. Ensor, E.M. Gozdziak (eds.), Children and Forced Migration, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-40691-6_6

often bring their children home with them—children who were born into immigrant communities abroad. These second-generation returnees are the topic of this chapter.

Voluntary return or repatriation has been the preferred durable solution of the UNHCR since the early 1990s. Ccountries recovering from conflict, however, are frequently poor, insecure, and offer few opportunities for returnees (Chimni 2002; Crisp 2000). Reintegration therefore may be a long-term process that is complicated by multiple factors. Children that return to conflict-affected countries often face reintegration challenges because schools may have been damaged during the conflict and the households they reside in may face high poverty levels, unemployment, damaged physical infrastructures, stigmatization, discrimination, or continuing insecurity. These contextual factors all render child returnees a vulnerable group that deserves special attention by local and international actors. Still, little is known about child returnees who return to their country of origin or, in case they were born abroad, to the country of their parents. Children who are part of the second generation of refugees may face additional integration challenges because they were born and raised out of the country. The sustainability of the return or repatriation of children consequently may be questioned. Few studies have, however, researched the integration of child returnees and especially those who are second generation.

This chapter studies the reintegration of child returnees to Burundi, a country in the African Great Lakes region that received more than 600,000 former refugees between 2002 and 2014 (UNHCR 2014). Most returnees arrived from neighbouring Tanzania, some after spending more than 30 years abroad. Because of the time that refugees spent in exile—the Burundi refugee population was officially classified as a PRS (UNHCR 2010)—many of the returning Burundian refugees were second generation (Fransen 2015).

The large-scale return migration to Burundi was internationally regarded as a major success. Most Burundian returnees had been repatriated in “safety and with dignity,” which are the main principles underlying the repatriation activities of the UNHCR (1996). Nevertheless, studies showed that in the Burundi context, characterized by high poverty levels, high population density, and land scarcity, returned refugees faced several challenges.

Especially vulnerable groups (e.g., widows, second-generation returnees, and child returnees) faced additional challenges (Fransen 2015; Fransen and Kuschminder 2012; Rema Ministries 2012). Child returnees reportedly have experienced difficulties reintegrating into the schooling system because of language differences (Sommers 2013). Despite providing important insights, prior studies were based on small-sample case studies in Burundi in areas of high return and yielded limited insights into the scale of the reintegration problems. In addition, few statistics are available on the demographics of the returnees such as their age, gender, and level of education.

This chapter adds to the literature by exploring the extent to which former child refugees have reintegrated into Burundian society. It relies on unique, nationally representative household and community data, collected among 1500 households that exist in 100 different communities in Burundi. The data were collected in 2011, around 10 years after the end of conflict in Burundi. By that time, most former refugees had returned to the country (UNHCR 2014). The household data contain detailed information on characteristics of the household members, including their age, education, and gender, as well as various measures of household well-being and the migration history of them. These data provide a unique opportunity to compare the socioeconomic living conditions of both first- and second-generation child returnees to those of children who have not lived abroad.

Comparing these variables across diverse groups provides insights into the reintegration challenges that returning refugees, and the second- generation returnees, face on return and, consequently, into the sustainability of the return of this group. This chapter uses the concepts of “return” and “reintegration” in reference to both first- and second- generation returnees. The authors acknowledge that these concepts are not relevant to the second-generation returnees because they were born abroad and as such do not return to their country of origin but migrate to a country that is new to them. In a similar vein, second-generation returnees cannot “reintegrate,” but rather integrate into the country of their parents. Nevertheless, these concepts are applied throughout this chapter for reasons of consistency and brevity.

A multidimensional framework for measuring refugee reintegration and the UNHCR definition of reintegration are used as the “absence of difference between groups.”[1] We apply this definition by looking at differences between first-generation returnees, second-generation returnees, and non-migrant children with regard to their multidimensional well-being. Specifically, six dimensions of reintegration are explored: living conditions, education, health, economic circumstances, inclusion, and security. By doing so, this chapter builds on the sparse literature on the migration of returnees after conflict, as well as the scant literature on reintegration and multidimensional well-being in the context of the migration of returnees.[2] Further, this chapter adds to the literature because there is even less information about young refugees or returnees, their living conditions, and the sustainability of their return.

  • [1] “Reintegration is a process that should result in the disappearance of differences in legal rights andduties between returnees and their compatriots and the equal access of returnees to services, productive assets and opportunities” (UNHCR 2004, 7).
  • [2] A notable exception is the work coming out of the Maastricht Graduate School of Governance. See: Gassmann et al. (2012, 2013); Siegel and Waidler (2012).
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