Following decades of civil war, a comprehensive peace agreement and the subsequent independence of South Sudan in 2011 prompted as many as two million refugees to return to the world’s youngest country. Many, however, were displaced again when internal conflict erupted in December 2013. A temporary reprieve following the signing of a peace agreement in 2015 enabled some to return to their homes, but conflict soon flared up again. A revitalised peace agreement was signed in 2018, but it is unclear whether the latest wave of returns will this time prove sustainable.
This study, which forms part of IDMC’s Invisible Majority thematic series, examines the relationship between internal displacement, cross-border movements and durable solutions in South Sudan. Based on more than 200 interviews in Bentiu and Juba, it arrives at the following key findings.
Multiple waves of violence have triggered repeated displacements
Over three-quarters of the research participants said they had been displaced more than once. Many returned to their places of origin only to be displaced again during a subsequent outbreak of violence. The lack of safe alternatives within South Sudan has forced many to seek refuge abroad, often after being internally displaced. More than 80 per cent of the returning refugees surveyed had been internally displaced people (IDPs) before they left the country.
Security improvements are not the only motive for return
Internal and cross-border returns have increased following the signing of the revitalised peace agreement. Security has improved somewhat, but this is not the only motive for return. Some refugees have returned because of recent political instability in Sudan. Poor living conditions in displacement are an important secondary motive. Many are hoping to regain their livelihoods, finding themselves unable to survive in displacement.
Many refugees return to a life of internal displacement
Around 85 per cent of returning refugees live in situations of internal displacement. Predominantly because of insecurity, two-thirds of those who participated in this study were living outside their area of origin, including in protection of civilians sites (POCs). Others, along with many “returning” IDPs, live in temporary shelters because their homes have been destroyed.
POC sites provide essential protection, but more support is needed for those who return
Eighty per cent of the IDPs surveyed want to return to their area of origin, but only half think they will be able to within a year. Many are unwilling to return because they do not trust the revitalised peace agreement. POCs provide essential protection for those afraid of being targeted on ethnic grounds. Those who do choose to return are in significant need of support, which so far has not been forthcoming