Refugee displacement is a global phenomenon that has uprooted
millions of individuals over the past century. In the 1980s,
repatriation became the preferred option for resolving the refugee
crisis. As human rights achieved global eminence, refugees' right
of return fell under its umbrella. Yet return as a right and its
practice as a rite created a radical disconnect between principle
and everyday practice, and the repatriation of refugees and
Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) remains elusive in cases of
forced displacement of victims by ethnic conflict.
Reviewing cases of ethnic displacement throughout the twentieth
century in Europe, Asia, and Africa, Howard Adelman and Elazar
Barkan juxtapose the empirical lack of repatriation in cases of
ethnic conflict, unless accompanied by coercion. The emphasis on
repatriation during the last several decades has obscured other
options, leaving refugees to spend years warehoused in camps.
Repatriation takes place when identity, defined by ethnicity or
religion, is not at the center of the displacing conflict, or when
the ethnic group to which the refugees belong are not a minority in
their original country or in the region to which they want to
return. Rather than perpetuate a ritual belief in return as a right
without the prospect of realization, Adelman and Barkan call for
solutions that bracket return as a primary focus in cases of ethnic
Subjects: Political Science, Law, History
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