Joanne van Selm


The central theme of this Essay is that both individuals in need of protection and governments obliged to grant protection to those in need generally hold the eventual return of citizens to their countries of origin to be the ideal scenario. However, this ideal cannot always come to fruition -- not only due to circumstances in the country of origin, but also as an unintended consequence of policy decisions taken by governments concerning the protection of refugees (or indeed internally displaced persons ("IDPs")) and the reactions of individuals to the outcomes of those policy decisions. Return, it will be suggested, takes on added "dream" like qualities because those involved know that it is probable to be something of an impossible dream. The suggestion in this Essay is that the myth of return, as envisioned in different ways by refugees and policy makers, obstructs effective policy making on refugee protection issues, and can reduce the potential for a fruitful period of refuge with at least "temporary [*1507] integration. At first sight counter-intuitive: perhaps better integration of refugees in and with the "host" society could in fact support the prospects for eventual and sustainable return. In addressing this theme, we will first look at the story of "return" in and from Europe in the 1990s and the Cold War thinking which has formed the context of protection policy that is only gradually starting to change. We then turn to the approaches of governments and of individuals sustained by the "myth" of return. Individual choices in seeking protection and migration also relate to government policies, and their attachment to the ideal of return can be influenced in reaction to their understanding of government policies. Specific attention is given to the situation of IDPs in Georgia, as an example of displaced persons clinging to the myth of return. Turning to the other side of return, the Dutch government policy on the return of rejected asylum seekers is then discussed, demonstrating that the tough language of returning rejected asylum seekers can, but does not automatically, lead to removal. Bringing the issues together, we look more broadly at the focus on readmission within a general refugee, asylum and migration policy, and the international sentiment about the conditions under which return is possible. In conclusion, we consider the policy implications of looking holistically at return, and combining the ideal of return with pragmatic approaches to integration.