From returnees to citizens? The case of minority repatriations to Bosnia and Herzegovina
How can we explain the variation in reintegration outcomes of forced migrants at the local level after mass displacement? Examining the case of minority repatriations to Bosnia and Herzegovina, I argue that the loss of assets, such as land or housing, and some form of representation in local politics as a result of displacement are critical in answering this question. Large-scale displacement frequently entails seizing political and economic power from the displaced and concentrating it in the hands of a small elite. Based on field research in the municipality of Prijedor, I argue that reintegration thus essentially constitutes a process of redistributing political and economic power to the benefit of returnees. The key mechanisms of change facilitating reintegration that I identify in this study are intra-elite competition, international coercion, and an erosion of the dominating elite’s power base. The political-economy approach that I advance in this study has implications for both repatriation theory and policy. First, the introduction of a wider set of causal mechanisms furthers our understanding of the process of repatriation and why it takes place. Second, it cautions against assuming that eradicating the causes of flight and restoring some form of protection against their re-occurrence will suffice to facilitate reintegration after large-scale displacement.