In 2015, the United Nations Refugee agency (UNCHR) reported that world-wide displacement hit an 'all time high' as conflict-related violence and persecution increased and threat environments become more diffuse and complex.
Quite shockingly, it was calculated that today, one in every 122 people is either a refugee, displaced or seeking asylum. Across huge swathes of the globe, people are uprooted as they try to negotiate profoundly difficult conflict circumstances, involving not only state armies, but non-state armed groups, criminal gangs, drug traffickers, and jihadists. To make matters more complex, individuals often occupy ambiguous victim-perpetrator statuses, moving between combatant and civilian roles,either through coercion or through choice.
Central Africa has witnessed prolonged and repetitive forms of displacement for many, many years. In 2015, the UNHCR described forced displacement figures related to this region as 'immense'. To date, international organisations have prioritised 'going home' as the most durable solution to this crisis. Processes of 'return and reintegration' represent a huge practical and policy challenge for world governments and are therefore a critical international policy issue. The Politics of Return research project, funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council, aims to study precisely these dynamics in the central and eastern African countries of Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and South Sudan through an inter-disciplinary, multi-sited ethnography of 'return'.
By analysing how refugees, internally-displaced persons and former combatants negotiate and experience 'return', we aim to fill a large gap in current knowledge on the 'lifecycle' of conflicts in some of the world's most difficult places. Drawing on anthropology, comic journalism, history, heritage studies and political science, we will focus on the everyday experiences of those attempting to build or re-build communities in central Africa, contributing to a better understanding of how conflict-affected societies constitute or re-constitute themselves.
The Politics of Return is a three-year project, running from 2017 to 2019 and hosted at the Firoz Lalji Centre for Africa at the London School of Economics and Political Science.