Event Host/Institute: Refugee Law Initiative
Event date and time: April 19, 2023, 6:00PM – 8:00PM BST
Event location/venue: IALS Council Chamber, Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, 17 Russell Square, London
Event type: Seminar
Speaker: Katie Tong, Independent Humanitarian Consultant
Description from Hosts: Increasingly protracted crises have made it difficult for many refugees to envision repatriation as a feasible or desirable option. In this ever more complex environment, voluntary repatriation and reintegration support require a level of adaptiveness to context which UNHCR’s set approaches do not readily provide. As a result, facilitated returns have become the default model for UNHCR’s repatriation operations, whilst promoted returns are rarely used now. At the same time, significant obstacles to local integration in countries of asylum mean that voluntariness from a refugee perspective appears merely as a set of imperfect options in an environment of constrained choice. In this regard, the tension between UNHCR’s role in repatriation as part of a political process of transition and its protection objective of ensuring that refugee returns are voluntary, safe and dignified hampers an operational understanding of voluntariness that fully captures the complexity of choices made by returnees and the constraints that come to bear on these decisions.
This presentation draws on an evaluation of UNHCR’s repatriation programmes and activities in six countries across the period 2015–2021, on which the speaker was lead author.