Returning to Stability? Refugee returns in the Great Lakes region

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After decades of conflict and violence, the Great Lakes region of Africa remains one of the areas of the world most affected by forced displacement. Currently, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Central African Republic (CAR), Burundi and South Sudan are among the global top ten countries of origin of refugees, but every country in the region has produced refugees, often for several decades. In addition, most countries in the Great Lakes region are not only countries of or-igin, but also host large refugee populations. Throughout the region, complex histories of conflict have created a complicated displacement landscape.

The DRC, for instance, is not only a major source of cross-border departures, but also hosts over 4.5 million internally displaced people (IDPs) and over 500,000 refugees within its territory. Burundi hosts refugees from eastern DRC, which in turn has become home to tens of thousands of Burundian refugees. The DRC hosts several hundred thousand more refugees from CAR, South Sudan and Rwanda. Rwanda hosts tens of thousands of refugees from Burundi and the DRC. Tanzania and Uganda have opened their doors to hundreds of thousands of refugees.

These protracted situations have wide-ranging effects on the areas of departure and arrival of refugees. The domestic costs and challenges for host countries of managing these refugee populations are enormous. Voluntary repatriation is generally seen by regional and international actors as the preferred solution to these displacement crises. The return of refugees has become a key element in peace negotiations and post-war peacebuilding and is considered a critical step towards national recon-ciliation, state stability and economic development. However, studies on return reviewed by researchers for this project show that contrary to previous assumptions, returnees rarely come home to political stability and security, and return migration can itself complicate security and stability in the areas to which they return. This is particularly relevant in the Great Lakes region, where cycles of displacement and return have fuelled conflict and power struggles over many years.

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International Refugee Rights Initiative

The International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI) was founded in 2004 to inform and improve responses to the cycles of violence and displacement that are at the heart of large-scale human rights violations.

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