Moving Back or Moving Forward? Return migration after conflict.

In this dissertation to obtain the degree of Doctor at Maastricht University, Marieke van Houte shows that the expectations on which migration and development policies are based only apply to a small minority of returnees, who are not the group that is targeted by these policies.

Return is neither a movement back to normal, nor is it easily a movement forward to change.

When migrants return to their country of origin, they do not automatically contribute to development and peace-building. The relationship between migration and development is too complex for easy generalizations.

By unfolding the meanings of and motivations for return migration, and comparing voluntary and involuntary returnees, this study identifies contradictions in return migration policies. By exploring the stories of return migrants and the complexity of return migration, this study contributes to the debate on the linkages between return migration, development and peace-building, and the policy implications that arise.

This thesis shows why a thorough understanding of the heterogeneity of return migrants is essential for effective policy. While the bulk of the budgets for policies promoting return, development and peace-building go to de facto involuntary returnees, this group is unable to contribute to development in any way. On the contrary, this potential is undermined by restrictive immigration and asylum policies, which damage rather than promote the conditions under which these involuntary returnees could be actors of change. On the other hand, while a proportion of voluntary returnees can potentially contribute to development and peace-building, only small shares of migration and development budgets promote the initiatives of
such returnees. 

This study focuses, to an important extent, on the case of Afghanistan. The future of the country and the consequences of this for migration are unclear, and this equally counts for other countries in the region that are currently facing severe crises. What is certain, however, is that migration will always be part of people’s survival strategies in times of conflict and crisis. Instead of trying to manage and contain these migration flows, a way forward in the migration and development debate should be how we can facilitate the resilience and determination of people to find a better life.

This publication is only available in English with a Dutch summary on page 199.

Publication Date:
do 05 mrt 2015