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close this bookResettlement of Displaced Population - 1st Edition (DHA/UNDRO - DMTP - UNDP, 1995, 60 p.)
close this folderPart 4: Options of place
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentReturn to residence or area from which displacement occurred
View the documentSpontaneous repatriation
View the documentOrganized repatriation
View the documentIntegration into the host community
View the documentRelocation
View the documentCASE STUDY: Planned Secondary Resettlement (PSR)
View the documentCASE STUDY: Land tenure issues in resettlement: Repatriation to Tigray region of Ethiopia



In this part of the module you will learn about:

· the importance of place
· spontaneous and organized repatriation
· integration into the host community
· self-initiated, aided and organized relocation


All persons who have been displaced from their homes theoretically have three options for a resettlement location:

1) They may return to the residence or area from which displacement occurred.
2) They may integrate into the host community.
3) They may relocate to a third site.

In reality, all options may not be available. Some displaced persons have no choice except to relocate. Returning "home" or remaining in the country of refuge may be impossible. The choice of location made by displaced families is not always the option preferred by planners, officials or assistance agencies. National and international agencies, however, may be required to assist displaced persons in all of these circumstances.

"Place" is for most people much more than a geographic location or an economic asset easily substituted or replaced. Forests, farmlands, worship and burial sites, physical surroundings, and the landmarks of community may have deep social, psychological and cultural significance. "Place" to residents is not just a location but a way of life. "Place" includes the social organizations and living arrangements people have tailored over time. In general, the longer a community has lived in an area the more deeply the significance of "place." Where people have lived in an area for centuries or millennia, as with many indigenous groups, their integration with "place" is so complete that displacement is often no less than disastrous. The significance of "place" is an important factor for displaced people in deciding where they will "settle" after their displacement.

Q. What are some of the characteristics of "place"?

A. __________________________________________________


A way of life, preferred social structure and lifestyle, social and cultural attachments, landmarks in the community with deep significance.

Return to residence or area from which displacement occurred

Repatriation to the place of origin is stereotypically perceived as the solution of choice. Many displaced persons are indeed able to return home, some within a short time. For example, in some conflict situations people flee their villages when there is an active threat but return home again immediately when it seems safe. The same is true for situations involving natural disasters. Villagers in the Philippines, living in an area persistently affected by armed conflict, built evacuation houses at the foot of the mountain for occasions when they were displaced.

In disaster situations and in many refugee generating emergencies, people may evacuate hurriedly in the face of danger, intending to be gone a short time, but encounter circumstances which prevent their return. Many displaced people are only able to return home after being away months or years. Refugee camps were established for Cambodians fleeing into Thailand on the assumption they would return to Cambodia within 6 months; they remained in the camps for 10 years before they were able to repatriate.

Spontaneous repatriation

Repatriation can occur under a variety of conditions. Many displaced families arrange and return to their place of origin through self-initiated, individual efforts, sometimes referred to as spontaneous repatriation. On the basis of personal perceptions of necessity, safety and risk, people are often motivated to return home and organize their own repatriation. They may return to join family members, protect property, begin rehabilitation or to plant crops.

The movement of displaced persons from places of refuge to permanent residences is usually continuous during an emergency. Families may take independent action to move based on the options open to them. Various observers have noted that repatriation is not simply an activity that begins at the end of a crisis (Larkin et al, 1991). Aid to resettling individuals can include transportation, protection, and financial assistance. When appropriate, emergency services should be reduced and emergency and temporary shelters closed.

It is critical to note that self-initiated repatriation can also be motivated by violation of basic human rights while in refuge. Not infrequently, the desire of governments to rid themselves of the responsibility for displaced persons leads to reductions in services, lack of protection and harassment. In some situations such courses of action have led to extreme hardships and the death of large numbers of people. In such situations the need to defend the rights of displaced people to remain in their place of refuge and to be treated humanely must be pursued.

Displaced people are sometimes used as political pawns, recruited for the military, exploited commercially, or used to justify large international aid programs.

Conversely, displaced people who could repatriate may be discouraged or prevented from returning home by national governments or other parties because it is to their advantage. Displaced people are sometimes used as political pawns, recruited for the military, exploited commercially, or used to justify large international aid programs. In such situations it may be necessary to defend the right of people to return home. Relief organizations must be cautious that their assistance does not contribute to the entrapment or abuse of displaced people.

Organized repatriation


In many repatriation exercises, displaced persons are aided by repatriation programs organized by governments and aid agencies. Agency-implemented repatriation programs are sometimes referred to as organized repatriation programs. (The terms spontaneous and organized are misleading, however, because family moves are usually planned rather than spontaneous and organized rather than ad hoc, an observation noted by Larkin, et al, 1991.) These agencies may arrange the return transportation, negotiate protection and provide entitlements for returning families during the early period of reintegration.

Agency-implemented repatriation programs have the advantage of being able to facilitate the movement of large numbers of people, and through negotiation, assure the availability of needed protection and assistance. Particularly when people are displaced outside their own country or displaced in large groups within their own country, "organized" repatriation programs are often essential and third parties, such as United Nations agencies, can play highly important roles.

Organized repatriation programs also have distinct disadvantages and risks. Through their reliance on implementing agencies, returnees are subjected to all the variables of management, politics and finance that influence agency action. It is also vital to note that involved organizations may foster dependency. The risk of dependency is related to the degree to which implementing agencies assume roles and make decisions that should be made by the returnees themselves. Another complicating factor concerns decisions made in the general interest of large groups which do not meet the needs of individual families. Whether or not dependency-related problems occur depends on the way repatriation programs are planned and implemented.

Q. Discuss the difference between "spontaneous" and "organized" repatriation.

A. __________________________________________________


Spontaneous repatriation occurs through self-initiated efforts while organized repatriations are agency-implemented.

Integration into the host community

The longer that displaced families are away from their original place of residence the less likely they are to return.

Some displaced people are unable or unwilling to return to their former place of residence for security reasons or due to loss of land and other resources. If refuge is sought in another location, many consider the move permanent, particularly families without land holdings, such as laborers, renters, or migrant workers. Some people cannot face returning to their homes due to traumas experienced in the displacement generating circumstances.

In general, the longer that displaced families are away from their original place of residence the less likely they are to return particularly if they have re-established themselves. Many displaced adults strive to integrate into the local community where they have re-established themselves, and children quickly adapt to a new home. Families may resist further disruption after establishing new living arrangements.

The decision of whether or not to return to place of origin may also depend upon the extent or perception of the value of what was lost or left behind. Return to original places of residence may be particularly unlikely for the poorest people and those who perceive their new environment to be richer in basic services and goods. This is typical for persons moving from rural to urban centers. Displaced persons often live on the fringes of urban areas and are indistinguishable from the local people. They may have taken refuge in homes of others or found or constructed shelters in "slum" or marginal communities or perhaps settled as "squatters" on unused land. Despite their resource-rich environment, they may be without services and employment.

In Peru, as in many countries, tens of thousands of people have fled conflict areas and have taken up residency on the periphery of urban centers. Humanitarian assistance to displaced families and other families in dire need is often required. The sudden influx of large numbers of people often overtaxes local systems. Settlements expanding without water and sanitation pose serious health risks. Most importantly, large numbers of people are often in need of some way to secure employment, food and basic essentials. Where needs cannot be met through gainful employment, people may be forced into prostitution or other degrading means of surviving. Sometimes it is possible to target assistance exclusively to displaced families in such conditions. More commonly, it is necessary to adopt area-based strategies to reach all in need irrespective of whether or not they are displaced.


At least three alternate types of relocation for displaced persons may be considered. The first may be thought of as self-initiated relocation. Many families initiate achieving "settledness" after being displaced. For others, a series of moves is required to locate the appropriate place. It is common, for example, for refugees repatriating to their own country or resettling to a third country to settle initially in one place but subsequently to move again in pursuit of more satisfactory social and economic arrangements. In the repatriation of the Cambodian people from the displaced persons camps in Thailand, some 20 percent of the people who were repatriated chose a secondary site rather than the place they were from. The international assistance provided to help people settle in whatever site they choose was considered very positive to reintegration.

Repeated relocation can also be a reflection of dire need. Such movement can be an indicator of the unsettling and impoverishing effects of displacement and the inability of affected families to find suitable alternative living arrangements. For example, self-sufficient families, once displaced, can encounter difficulties in establishing satisfactory settlement arrangements and live on the move with the constant threat of eviction due to lack of land tenure rights or in search of jobs. Such is the case of many "squatters" and "homeless" families. While adequate employment is always a central issue, "settledness" of displaced people is also integrally related to land tenure issues and housing policies, as is dramatically illustrated in Central America, the Philippines and South Africa.

The second type of relocation may be considered aided relocation. Often assistance is offered to aid displaced people to find a suitable "place." As in Cambodia, Mozambique and Central America, large resettlement programs are established to transport families and help them initiate their activities in the place they have chosen to resettle. In the past, large numbers of refugees were aided in settling in a third country but in recent years this has been a declining possibility. Currently, it is an option for very few of the millions of displaced. (See Case Study on Planned Secondary Resettlement.)

The third type of relocation, organized relocation, is planned movement of communities or groups of people to new sites. Sometimes population relocation is used as a military strategy in conflict situations or as a way to expropriate properties for commercial development or industrial development. After natural disasters, proposals may be made to move communities to safer locations such as away from fault lines, flood zones, or volcanic risk zones. Governments may consider group relocation programs as solutions to political or environmental problems. Relocation of communities often becomes a consideration whenever displaced people are segregated and unsettled, such as in public shelters, camps or empty buildings.

Whatever the cause of an organized relocation, it is an issue of interest to international agencies due to increasing violations of basic rights. Such relocation efforts may be harmful because even though individuals can easily be transported to a new site, it is not easy to move a way of life. Such moves disrupt work, play, worship and the multiple integrated functions that constitute social life. They disrupt the psychological web and social networks which are the heart of social life (Quarantelli, 1986:85).

Therefore, aiding the resettlement of displaced persons may involve varying "settlement" circumstances. Aiding the return of displaced people in voluntary return to their homes is a worthy effort. However, this idealized solution should not obscure the fact that many displaced people are not able or do not choose to return to their former place of residence. Assistance may be required to aid people to settle locally or help them settle in some alternative location.

The circumstances and needs of people who have evacuated their homes for only brief periods must be considered as well as those who may return after long periods away. In some situations appropriate assistance can help persons with the initiative to return home, while in other situations group-oriented assistance strategies may be useful. International assistance may be required to facilitate the repatriation and settlement of displaced people. In the case of forced return or violations of basic rights, international assistance may protect displaced people from forced repatriation. Assisting the settlement and recovery of displaced persons is, in view of all possibilities, a multi-faceted social concern and must be directed by humanitarian concerns but determined by specific needs and circumstances.

Q. What factors may prompt displaced persons to integrate into the local community rather than repatriate?

A. __________________________________________________

Q. Why is assistance often required for integrated persons living in urban areas? How should such assistance be targeted?

A. __________________________________________________

Q. What are the potential problems regarding organized relocation?

A. __________________________________________________


It may be unsafe to return; they may have been away a long time; they may already be partially settled; they may perceive their new situation to be an improvement.

They may live in the same conditions as the very poor; they may lack resources and needed services. Large numbers of urban displaced live in need of water, sanitation and employment. The aid may be solely for the displaced or an area-based strategy.

It may be used as a military or political strategy and may violate human rights. It may prove to be harmful to the well being of the relocated people.

CASE STUDY: Planned Secondary Resettlement (PSR)

Case Study Addressing Problems in Third Country Resettlement Through Planned Secondary Resettlement (PSR)

Reference: "Planned Secondary Resettlement Program, Getting Refugees Off Public Assistance and Into Jobs", Refugee Reports, Volume XIV, Number 8, August 31,1993

Resettlement for refugees in resource-rich countries does not imply that their recovery is assured. Many refugees who came to the United States resettled in areas where relatives or others with the same nationality or customs were living. They were often unable to find steady employment and were dependent on a monthly welfare check and other types of public assistance to survive. In 1985, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in the US implemented a Planned Secondary Resettlement (PSR) Program. The goal of this program was to relocate the resettled families in another part of the country where they could become economically self-sufficient.

At first it was difficult for the ORR to find volunteers who were willing to leave familiar surroundings, but due to the success of the program, a waiting list was required. At the end of 1992, every employable adult resettled through the program was employed. In the early years of the program, however, there were many obstacles. These included the following:

· Resettlers feared leaving the security of the welfare system for the uncertainty of the job market.

· Resettlers were uncertain of funding and support from agencies implementing PSR.

· Some community leaders in the original resettlement location were opposed to breakup of the resettled community.

Steps were taken to overcome these obstacles by publicizing the long-term success of the families who had relocated and by inviting community leaders to visit the new resettlement areas. The five agencies implementing PSR tried to ensure that every family who moved had a positive experience. Families who successfully relocated then referred other families from their former communities to the PSR program. The two major keys to success were the publicity generated by the success of the program and the trust generated by the implementing agencies and their staff.

Most of the resettled persons had been living in California and many were refugees from Laos and Cambodia. They were highly motivated to relocate because they had a desire to work and improve their standard of living, and they were seeking a better environment for themselves and their children. Many relocated in North Carolina, Texas or New York. One family, who fled Laos in 1975 and resettled to the US in 1980, had lived in a one room house in California for nine years, and had been supported by welfare. Members of this family heard about the PSR program through friends who had moved to North Carolina, and they also moved there within a few months. Today, the husband and wife both have full time jobs and have purchased a home. Their teenage children were also able to find jobs.

CASE STUDY: Land tenure issues in resettlement: Repatriation to Tigray region of Ethiopia

Case Study Land Tenure Issues in Resettlement: Repatriation to Tigray Region of Ethiopia

Source: Hammond, Laura, "Returnees in Humera, Situation Report", United Nations Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia, May 1994


Of Ethiopia's population of 50 million, more than 80% survive by subsistence farming. Today, Tigray region of northern Ethiopia suffers from shortages of tenable land. Many people left the country during the civil war which besieged Tigray for 18 years, ending in May of 1991. Despite this outmigration, the population continued to expand and abandoned land was reallocated by the communities. Further, due to extensive deforestation and erosion, traditionally farmed land has become less productive. Pressure on land has now increased as those who left during the war are returning to their homeland and wish to become self-sufficient.

In June of 1993,12,000 refugees returned from the Sudan and were resettled in three settlement areas near the border town of Humera in Tigray. Most of the returnees who had left Ethiopia 8-12 years before were originally from the mountainous "highlands" in Tigray region, however, land shortages in those areas precluded settlement there. The Humera area is a lowland fertile farming center which has produced sesame, sorghum and cotton for export. In April of 1994,2,200 additional returnees came to live near Humera.

In the absence of a formal land tenure policy, informal unwritten policies now direct the allocation of land. Sources of land include large tracts of idle land from state farms left over from the former regime and large tracts of uncleared but arable land. The former refugees, however, were not the only people demanding land. Some investors who had a stake in the land near Humera but left during the war, had returned to lease land from the government. Small farmers could borrow land from the investors and pay back their loans with cash or harvest. The allocation system initially worked in favor of the investors who, with their funds and mechanized systems, could profit from the large plots of cleared land.

Many of the returnee farmers had learned how to farm lowland crops in the Sudan. However, the land initially given to a large proportion of the returnees was located 50 kilometers from their village. Although it was already cleared, the great distance made it excessively time consuming for the farmers to attend their fields. They were not able to adequately guard or work the fields and many had to pay rent to store crops that could not be carried home. Other plots of allocated land were closer to the villages but uncleared, and then later claimed by the men who had worked to clear it, a labor intensive process requiring up to three months.

Women heads of households who had never owned land were given land, but most were unable to benefit as the system favored able bodied men who were able to leave their households for a week at a time to tend the fields and to clear the uncleared land. Women had never traditionally worked land but only helped in the harvesting. The elderly and other vulnerable groups were also at a disadvantage and many people remained dependent on relief assistance throughout 1994.

The local and regional governments faced difficult problems in dealing with the inequities. They took positive steps toward a solution but there was a risk that policies would be overridden by future national land legislation. Efforts were directed at providing returnees with land closer to their villages and allocating cleared land to women and vulnerable groups. The tenure situation for the area's original residents was also in question and the host community felt the pressure of the returnees on the natural resource base. Nearly a half million building poles had been harvested from the local natural forests. Due to a scarcity of land use information, the Tigray Development Association conducted a comprehensive land use study which should provide recommendations for improving land allocation and agricultural practices.