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Rethinking Return: Defining Success in Refugee Repatriation

Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013

This summer in Jordan, I met some of the individuals behind the often anonymous news accounts of refugees fleeing Syria’s civil war. In Zaatari refugee camp, I met an accountant who carried his six-day-old daughter across the border in the dead of night after his house was destroyed, and a widow who fled with little more than $11 in her pocket after her husband died. And in a hospital in Amman, I met refugees recovering from torture so brutal that even the healing wounds were painful to look at.

Despite the horrors they endured, all the Syrian refugees I met said their dream is to return to Syria. Their dream segues with their host states’ plans: More than 2.1 million Syrians have fled their country, primarily to neighboring Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. While these countries have been remarkably hospitable, there is little prospect that they will allow the permanent local integration of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees. As the conflict drags on, it is abundantly clear that large-scale returns will not happen anytime soon, but when they do, these movements will be complex humanitarian, socio-economic and security challenges, with important implications for peacebuilding and post-conflict reconciliation and development. ...

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