Return and Retreat in a Transnational World: Insights from Eritrea




return, repatriation, Eritrea, refugees, disaspora, citizenship, transnational livelihoods


When refugees’ access to economic, political, and social rights cannot be guaranteed in one locale, individuals make pragmatic choices about what relationships to sustain with authorities elsewhere, even with those that caused their flight in the first place. This process of return is rarely akin to conventional repatriation, understood as the full re-establishment of the rights and responsibilities associated with citizenship (Bradley, 2013). In this paper, the authors instead propose the concept of retreat to capture the process initiated by those who are seeking to escape protracted displacement through a partial return to their country of origin, and through which individuals hope that they can assemble multiple sources of rights across several locations. Drawing from recent ethnographic research in Eritrea, the authors analyze the stories of individuals, mostly refugees, who have decided to retreat despite the lack of political change. Neither exclusively citizens nor refugees in countries of origin or asylum, research participants’ “dually absent” socio-legal position is analyzed in this article. The authors show that this rests on stratified forms of citizenship and the relational nature of different rights and statuses and argue that this position should be recognized as an additional dynamic in the literature on flight, return, and transnational citizenship.


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Author Biographies

Georgia Cole, University of Edinburgh

Georgia Cole is a Chancellor's Fellow in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Edinburgh. She can be reached at

Milena Belloni, University of Antwerp and Ghent, Belgium

Milena Belloni is a FWO Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Antwerp and University of Ghent (Belgium). She can be reached at


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How to Cite

Cole, G., & Belloni, M. (2022). Return and Retreat in a Transnational World: Insights from Eritrea. Refuge: Canada’s Journal on Refugees, 38(1), 126–144.

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