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This paper offers a historical contextualisation of the political concepts underpinning repatriation. It demonstrates that the difficulty in understanding repatriation as a “solution” to displacement results from attempting to reconcile a political philosophy of universal human rights with the principle of nation-state sovereignty. The paper argues that post-1985 attempts to reconceptualise repatriation were flawed largely because repatriation was depoliticised into “return”, reducing the likelihood of durable solutions based on citizenship and the remaking of state-citizen bonds. Using empirical evidence from the case of Guatemalan return from January 1993, this paper argues that recognition of more direct and politicised refugee engagement in displacement resolution offers an opportunity to strengthen concepts of refugee dignity and the durability of return. Moreover, it suggests a community-based approach that recognises the collective political identities of refugee groups may offer greater possibility for state transformation through repatriation than individually-based return, as well as greater possibility for the expression of “dignity” than that of “voluntariness”.

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Working paper


Refugee Studies Centre

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