Picking up the Pieces: Realities of Return and Reintegration in North-East Syria

IMPACT Initiatives, November 2018



From January to June 2018, an estimated 745,000 IDPs and 16,000 refugees returned to their areas of origin in Syria; the majority of returned IDPs had been displaced within their governates. Drawing on data collected from IDP returnees, refugee returnees, IDPs and non-displaced in areas under self-administration in Hasakeh and Raqqa governorates in north-east Syria (NES), the study examines: (a) push and pull factors in decisions to return; (b) returnees’ preparations and journey of return; and (c) returnees’ progress towards reintegration according to the IASC criteria of durable solutions. The study focused on households living in urban areas only and did not cover households living in IDP camps. Key findings:

  • The primary pull factor for return was improved safety at the community of origin (66 percent of refugee returnees and 72 percent of IDP returnees). Homesickness and nostalgia were also significant pull factors, especially for refugee returnees.
  • The primary push factors for return were lack of employment opportunities, lack of services and lack of security at the displacement location. For refugee returnees, the most common primary push factors were lack of economic opportunities (39 percent) and lack of services (25 percent). For IDP returnees, the most common primary push factors were lack of services (39 percent) and lack of security (34 percent). The level of humanitarian assistance at the community of origin was not a significant pull factor.
  • Community network and resources (e.g. relatives, friends, neighbors) played an important role in facilitating returns and reintegration. This included: (a) influencing returnees’ motivation to return to unite with them; (bi) providing information and assurance that return area was safe; and (c) providing reintegration support (e.g. restoring homes, providing loans). 34 percent of refugee returnees and 19 percent of IDP returnees reported the situation at their community of origin to be worse than they had expected. Returnees’ threshold for return was extremely low—some households were returning despite knowing their homes were damaged, and basic services and economic opportunities were lacking.
  • 38 percent of IDPs considered conditions to be unsafe to return and 25 percent of IDPs did not have the money to move. Rather than a desire to stay and integrate, IDPs do not have the option to return or move elsewhere even if conditions at the place of displacement continue to deteriorate.

Returnees do not appear to face higher levels of vulnerability (based on IASC criteria) compared to the non-displaced. IDPs scored lowest in progress towards durable solutions, compared to returnees and the non-displaced.

  • Although improved safety was the primary pull factor for return, returnees feared explosive remnants of war (ERW), kidnappings, gun shootings and harassment, and feared renewed conflict that would force them to be displaced again.
  • Only 30 percent of refugee returnee households and 40 percent of IDP households reported sufficient and regular access to drinking water. Returnees and IDPs highlighted high living costs and the need for assistance.
  • 67 percent of IDPs, 76 percent of IDP returnees, 76 percent of the non-displaced and 78 percent of refugee returnee households reported having access to income-generating opportunities. A considerable proportion of refugee returnees (25 percent), IDP returnees (31 percent), IDPs (53 percent) and the non-displaced (23 percent) perceived unequal access to employment opportunities.
  • 30 percent of IDP returnees and 29 percent of refugee returnees reported their home to be damaged.
  • High proportion of households reported having access to documentation, however percentages are likely to be significantly lower for households in camps (not covered in this study).
  • Refugee returnees (25 percent) had the highest proportion of households reporting family separation; compared to the non-displaced (7 percent), IDPs (9 percent) and IDP returnees (9 percent). A majority of respondents (67 percent) were reunited with all family members that were separated during displacement.
  • A higher proportion of IDPs reported having access to humanitarian assistance (45 percent) compared to returnees and non-displaced (23 percent combined). A high proportion of refugee returnees (43 percent), IDP returnees (59 percent), IDPs (58 percent) and the non-displaced (67 percent) perceived their household to have unequal access to humanitarian assistance. This could have implications for community tensions.