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When refugees cannot return home: A conflict conundrum in Africa’s Great Lakes region

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Executive summary

The large number of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the Great Lakes region poses immense challenges to peacebuilding processes within the countries affected, as well as in that entire conflict system. An influx of refugees impacts peace and security, citizenship considerations, as well as cross-border and ethnic conflicts, among others. A case in point, confl ict is often triggered by competition for land and economic resources, and is exacerbated by the growing number of refugees in Africa’s Great Lakes region. The presence of refugees contributes to signifi cant security issue for several countries in the region.

There have been reports of some refugees joining armed groups or terrorist organisations, occupying large territories to exploit mineral resources, attacking local communities to expropriate land, and acting as cheap labour, to the detriment of locals. These factors advance the perception among original inhabitants that crime, impunity and weapons traffi cking, among other scourges, increase with the settlement of foreigners in their communities and countries. On the other side of the debate are considerations that refugees bring important skills and knowledge into host countries, participate in entrepreneurship and development projects that contribute to local economies, and boost local markets due to increased demand for products and services.

There are questions that are central to understanding the dilemma that is the ongoing refugee crisis in the Great Lakes region. How can the challenge of huge refugee numbers in the region be addressed? How best can long-term, sustainable and holistic political and humanitarian solutions be implemented to deal with the negative impacts of the refugee crisis? Why has the flood of refugees been such a long-term recurrent issue in the Great Lakes region, compared to other parts of the continent? This Policy & Practice Brief (PPB) analyses why refugees have been hesitant to return to their domiciles, even when there have been indications that relative peace had returned to their countries of origin. It also examines the impacts of refugee flows on peace and security, as well as on land and socio-economic control and access. It concludes by proffering recommendations on what can be done, from a regional perspective, to decrease the number of refugees, while simultaneously resolving the root causes of the various conflicts that the refugees have fled in the first place.