The Impacts of Refugee Repatriation on Receiving Communities

Isabel Ruiz and Carlos Vargas-Silva

Paper presented at the Research Conference on Forced Displacement 2020, co-organized by the Joint Data Center on Forced Displacement.

Review

Between 2000 and 2016 around 600,000 Burundian refugees returned from Tanzania, the majority before 2010, and most settling in communities of origin. This paper examines the consequences of refugee repatriation for communities of return in Burundi, in a context in which refugees faced tight restrictions on economic activities and mobility while residing in refugee camps abroad. The authors analyze the impact of repatriation on ‘stayees’ (in terms of livestock levels, land access, subjective wellbeing, food security, health and crime) and adjustments they make in response to returning refugees (e.g. out migration, and redistribution of workers across economic activities). The analysis is based on longitudinal data collected between 2011 and 2015. The authors use an instrumental variable approach (based on geographical features of communities, such as altitude and proximity to the border) to address the potential source of endogeneity due to wealthier communities being more likely to seek asylum abroad.

Key results:

  • A greater share of returnees in a community is associated with less livestock ownership for stayees; the negative effect becomes stronger over time. A one percentage point increase in the share of the population accounted for by returnees leads to a reduction in the livestock of stayee households which is equivalent to one fowl per adult member or about 5 percent with respect to the mean.
  • Refugee repatriation has a negative impact on land access; the negative effect becomes stronger over time. A one percentage point increase in the share of returnees in the population leads on average to a 0.05 hectare reduction in the land holding of stayee households, which is close to a 4 percent reduction with respect to the mean land holding.
  • Repatriation has a negative impact on subjective wellbeing for stayees, at least in the short term. This impact disappears across rounds of the survey.
  • Repatriation has a negative impact on food security for stayees, at least in the short term. A one percentage point increase in the share of returnees in the community leads to a one percentage point increase in the likelihood of experiencing food difficulties on a daily basis. This impact disappears across rounds of the survey.
  • The presence of returnees has no statistically significant effect on health outcomes or the likelihood of being a victim of theft.
  • Households adjust to the presence of returnees by changing income generating activities and relying less on land harvesting to produce food for household consumption.
  • The presence of returnees had no impact on out-migration of stayees.

The results suggest that refugee return can lead to hardship for communities experiencing return. The authors conclude that “promoting (or forcing) large-scale repatriation at times may not provide a sustainable solution to the ‘problem’, but may simply relocate it.”

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