Briefing: The increasing squeeze on refugees to go home

‘All the key stakeholders have an interest in pushing for repatriation except the refugees themselves.’

The New Humanitarian
7 min readDec 17, 2019


Syrian refugees, Um Abdullah and her daugther Maysaa, 13, pack a suitcase in preparation for their journey to Germany from Lebanon (Andrew McConnell/UNHCR)

By Tania Karas & Charlotte Afred

After being forced into exile, going back home is often an agonising decision for refugees. Can they rebuild their lives? Will it really be safe?

As delegates aim for progress on so-called “burden-sharing” at this week’s inaugural Global Refugee Forum, the reality facing hundreds of thousands of refugees — from Burundians in Tanzania to Syrians in Lebanon — is that they are increasingly feeling the squeeze.

Many refugees are not given much of a choice about when and how they return. As governments around the world try to reduce the number of refugees in their countries, they are often putting pressure on refugees to leave — whether they’re ready or not.

This pressure comes in a variety of forms. In many wealthy Western nations, governments have limited who is eligible for asylum and expanded efforts to return those who do not qualify. The United States, for example, is trying to return more asylum seekers who try to cross its southern border. Meanwhile, Europe is pouring funds into the European border agency, Frontex, to step up deportation of people without legal status.

In developing countries, which shelter the vast majority of the world’s refugees, some governments look at Western policies and smell hypocrisy. Why shouldn’t they send more people home too?

In recent months, Tanzania began the planned repatriation of over 100,000 Burundian refugees and Turkey — the world’s top refugee-hosting country — said it plans to step up the deportation of Syrian refugees, transporting them to what it describes as a “safe zone” under its control in northeastern Syria. Earlier this year, Kenya renewed its repeated threat to close Dadaab refugee camp, currently housing over 200,000 mostly Somali refugees. Meanwhile, more than three million Afghans have returned from Pakistan and Iran in the past five years.

This briefing explores the trend, the dangers, and the alternatives.

Isn’t returning home the best outcome for…



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