Return and Retreat in a Transnational World: Insights from Eritrea
Keywords: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.
Ajibade, I., Sullivan, M., & Haeffner, M. (2020). Why climate migration is not managed retreat: Six justifications. Global Environmental Change, 65, Article 102187. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2020.102187
Al-Ali, N., Black, R., & Koser, K. (2001). Refugees and transnationalism: The experience of Bosnians and Eritreans in Europe. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 27(4), 615–634. https://doi.org/10.1080/13691830120090412
Amnesty International. (2015, December 2). Just deserters: Why indefinite national service in Eritrea has created a generation of refugees. https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/afr64/2930/2015/en/
Arnone, A. (2011). Tourism and the Eritrean diaspora. Journal of Contemporary African Studies, 29(4), 441–454. https://doi.org/10.1080/02589001.2011.603211
Bakewell, O. (2002). Returning refugees or migrating villagers? Voluntary repatriation programmes in Africa reconsidered. Refugee Survey Quarterly, 21(1/2), 42–73. https://doi.org/10.1093/rsq/21.1_and_2.42
Banks, R. (2015). The potential and limitations of the Court of Justice of the European Union in shaping international refugee law. International Journal of Refugee Law, 27(2), 213–244. https://doi.org/10.1093/ijrl/eev020
Barry, K. (2006). Home and away: The construction of citizenship in an emigration context. New York University Law Review, 81(1), 11–59. https://www.nyulawreview.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/6_1.pdf
Bascom, J. (2005). The long, “last step”? Reintegration of repatriates in Eritrea. Journal of Refugee Studies, 18(2), 165–180. https://doi.org/10.1093/refuge/fei019
Bauböck, R. (2009). The rights and duties of external citizenship. Citizenship Studies, 13(5), 475–499. https://doi.org/10.1080/13621020903174647
Bauböck, R. (2010). Studying citizenship constellations. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 36(5), 847–859. https://doi.org/10.1080/13691831003764375
Belloni, M. (2019). The big gamble: The migration of Eritreans to Europe. University of California Press.
Belloni, M. (2021). Remittance houses and transnational citizenship: Mapping Eritrea’s diaspora–state relationships. Africa Spectrum, 56(1), 59–80. https://doi.org/10.1177/00020397211003101
Bereketeab, R. (2007). The Eritrean diaspora: Myth and reality. In U. Johansson Dahre (Ed.), The role of diasporas in peace, democracy and development in the Horn of Africa (pp. 79–108). Lund University Press. http://sirclund.se/wp/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/conference-report-2006.pdf
Black, R. (2002). Conceptions of “home” and the political geography of refugee repatriation: Between assumption and contested reality in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Applied Geography, 22(2), 123–138. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0143-6228(02)00003-6
Black, R., & Koser, K. (Eds.). (1999). The end of the refugee cycle? Refugee repatriation and reconstruction. Berghahn Books.
Bozzini, D. M. (2013). The catch-22 of resistance: Jokes and the political imagination of Eritrean conscripts. Africa Today, 60(2), 39–64. https://doi.org/10.2979/africatoday.60.2.39
Bradley, M. (2013). Refugee repatriation: Justice, responsibility and redress. Cambridge University Press.
Brighenti, A. M. (2016). Urban interstices: The aesthetics and the politics of the in-between. Routledge.
Choo, H. Y. (2006). Gendered modernity and ethnicized citizenship: North Korean settlers in contemporary South Korea. Gender & Society, 20(5), 576–604. https://doi.org/10.1177/0891243206291412
Cole, G. (2016). Beyond the politics of labelling: Exploring the cessation clauses for Rwandan and Eritrean refugees through semiotics [Doctoral dissertation]. University of Oxford.
Cole, G. (2018). Questioning the value of “refugee” status and its primary vanguard: The case of Eritreans in Uganda (RSC Working Paper Series 124). University of Oxford Refugee Studies Centre. https://www.rsc.ox.ac.uk/publications/questioning-the-value-of-refugee-status-and-its-primary-vanguard-the-case-of-eritreans-in-uganda
Cole, G. (2019a). Systemic ambivalence in authoritarian contexts: The case of opinion formation in Eritrea. Political Geography, 73, 28–37. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.polgeo.2019.05.003
Cole, G. (2019b). Working with “stayee” communities: Learning from Eritrea. Forced Migration Review, 62, 17–19. https://www.fmreview.org/fr/node/5088
Cole, G. (2020). Choiceless Departments and Involuntary Immobility: Forced Migration from the Gulf States to Africa (IRRI Policy Paper Series). http://refugee-rights.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/IRRI-Policy-Paper-Series-Forced-Migration-Gulf-to-Africa-Sept-2020.pdf
Collyer, M., & King, R. (2015). Producing transnational space: International migration and the extra-territorial reach of state power. Progress in Human Geography, 39(2), 185–204. https://doi.org/10.1177/0309132514521479
De Certeau, M., Jameson, F., & Lovitt, C. (1980). On the oppositional practices of everyday life. Social Text, 3, 3–43. https://doi.org/10.2307/466341
Faist, T. (2000). Transnationalization in international migration: Implications for the study of citizenship and culture. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 23(2), 189–222. https://doi.org/10.1080/014198700329024
Fox, J. (2005). Unpacking “transnational citizenship.” Annual Review of Political Science, 8, 171–201. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.polisci.7.012003.104851
Fresia, M. (2014). Performing repatriation? The role of refugee aid in shaping new beginnings in Mauritania. Development and Change, 45(3), 434–457. https://doi.org/10.1111/dech.12086
Glasius, M. (2018). Extraterritorial authoritarian practices: A framework. Globalizations, 15(2), 179–197. https://doi.org/10.1080/14747731.2017.1403781
Hammersley, M., & Atkinson, P. (2019). Ethnography: Principles in practice. Routledge.
Hammond, L. (1999). Examining the discourse of repatriation: Towards a more proactive theory of return migration. In R. Black & K. Koser (Eds.), The end of the refugee cycle? Refugee repatriation and reconstruction (pp. 227–244). Berghahn Books.
Hammond, L. C. (2018). This place will become home: Refugee repatriation to Ethiopia. Cornell University Press.
Hansen, P. (2007). Revolving returnees: Meanings and practices of transnational return among Somalilanders [Doctoral dissertation]. University of Copenhagen.
Harild, N. V., Christensen, A., & Zetter, R. W. (2015). Sustainable refugee return: Triggers, constraints, and lessons on addressing the development challenges of forced displacement (GPFD Issue Note Series No. 99618). World Bank. http://hdl.handle.net/10986/22751
Hathaway, J. C. (2007). Refugee solutions, or solutions to refugeehood? Refuge: Canada’s Journal on Refugees, 24(2), 3–10. https://doi.org/10.25071/1920-7336.21378
Hepner, T. M. R. (2009). Soldiers, martyrs, traitors, and exiles: Political conflict in Eritrea and the diaspora. University of Pennsylvania Press.
Hepner, T. R. (2015). Generation nationalism and generation asylum: Eritrean migrants, the global diaspora, and the transnational nation-state. Diaspora: A Journal of Transnational Studies, 18(1-2), 184–207. https://doi.org/10.3138/diaspora.18.1-2.184
Hirt, N., & Saleh Mohammad, A. (2018). By way of patriotism, coercion, or instrumentalization: How the Eritrean regime makes use of the diaspora to stabilize its rule. Globalizations, 15(2), 232–247. https://doi.org/10.1080/14747731.2017.1294752
Janoski, T., & Gran, B. (2002). Political citizenship: Foundations of rights. In E. Isin & B. Turner (Eds.), Handbook of citizenship studies (pp. 13–53). Sage Publications.
Kibreab, G. (2003). Citizenship rights and repatriation of refugees. International Migration Review, 37(1), 24–73. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1747-7379.2003.tb00129.x
Kivisto, P., & Faist, T. (2007). Citizenship: Discourse, theory, and transnational prospects. Blackwell Publishing.
Klekowski von Koppenfels, A. (2019). The disinterested state: Negative diasporic policy as an expression of state inclusion and national exclusion. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 45(4), 595–612. https://doi.org/10.1080/1369183X.2017.1409173
Kusenbach, M. (2003). Street phenomenology: The go-along as ethnographic research tool. Ethnography, 4(3), 455–485. https://doi.org/10.1177/146613810343007
Ley, D., & Kobayashi, A. (2005). Back to Hong Kong: Return migration or transnational sojourn? Global Networks, 5(2), 111–127. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1471-0374.2005.00110.x
Long, K. (2013). The point of no return: Refugees, rights, and repatriation. Oxford University Press.
Long, K. (2016). Rethinking “durable” solutions. In E. Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, G. Loescher, K. Long, & N. Sigona (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of refugee and forced migration studies (pp. 475–488). Oxford University Press.
Lucht, H., & Mengiste, T. A. (2020, November 6). Eritrean refugees struggle after the peace agreement with Ethiopia. DIIS Policy Brief. https://www.diis.dk/en/research/eritrean-refugees-struggle-after-the-peace-agreement-with-ethiopia
Mohammad, A. S. (2021). The resurgence of religious and ethnic identities among Eritrean refugees: A response to the government’s nationalist ideology. Africa Spectrum, 56(1), 39–58. https://doi.org/10.1177/0002039720963287
Muggeridge, H., & Doná, G. (2006). Back home? Refugees’ experiences of their first visit back to their country of origin. Journal of Refugee Studies, 19(4), 415–432. https://doi.org/10.1093/refuge/fel020
Poole, A. (2013). Ransoms, remittances, and refugees: The gatekeeper state in Eritrea. Africa Today, 60(2), 67–82. https://doi.org/10.2979/africatoday.60.2.67
Riggan, J. (2013a). Imagining emigration: Debating national duty in Eritrean classrooms. Africa Today, 60(2), 85–106. https://doi.org/10.2979/africatoday.60.2.85
Riggan, J. (2013b). “It seemed like a punishment”: Teacher transfers, hollow nationalism, and the intimate state in Eritrea. American Ethnologist, 40(4), 749–763. https://doi.org/10.1111/amet.12052
Riggan, J. (2016). The struggling state. Temple University Press.
Sayad, A. (1999). La double absence. Des illusions de l’émigré aux souffrances de l’immigré. Le Seuil.
Steputat, F. (2004). Dynamics of return and sustainable reintegration in a “mobile livelihoods” perspective (DIIS Working Paper). https://www.econstor.eu/bitstream/10419/84509/1/DIIS2004-10.pdf
Stokke, K. (2017). Politics of citizenship: Towards an analytical framework. Norsk Geografisk Tidsskrift—Norwegian Journal of Geography, 71(4), 193–207. https://doi.org/10.1080/00291951.2017.1369454
SwissInfo. (2018, December 12). Swiss change policy for returning refugees. https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/politics/migration_swiss-change-policy-for-returning-refugees/44613688
Takahashi, S. (1997). The UNHCR Handbook on Voluntary Repatriation: The emphasis of return over protection. International Journal of Refugee Law, 9(4), 593–612. https://doi.org/10.1093/ijrl/9.4.593
Tesfagiorgis, P. (1998). The challenge of reintegration into Africa: The case of Eritrea. Eritrea Profile, 5(7).
United Nations. (2021, January 14). Ethiopia: Safe access and swift action needed for refugees in Tigray. UN News. https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/01/1082162
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. (n.d.). Refugee data finder. Retrieved October 22, 2021, from https://www.unhcr.org/refugee-statistics/download/?url=Kj77yX
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. (2018, June 25). Global trends: Forced displacement in 2017. https://www.unhcr.org/5b27be547.pdf
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. (2020, December 1). Humanitarian access urgently needed to reach civilians, Eritrean refugees in Tigray. UNHCR Briefing Notes. https://www.unhcr.org/news/briefing/2020/12/5fc60e414/humanitarian-access-urgently-needed-reach-civilians-eritrean-refugees-tigray.html
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. (2021a, January 14). Statement attributable to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi on the situation of Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia’s Tigray region [Press release]. https://www.unhcr.org/uk/news/press/2021/1/600052064/statement-attributable-un-high-commissioner-refugees-filippo-grandi-situation.html
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. (2021b, January 19). UNHCR finds dire need in Eritrean refugee camps cut off in Tigray conflict. UNHCR Briefing Notes. https://www.unhcr.org/uk/news/briefing/2021/1/6006a31a4/unhcr-finds-dire-need-eritrean-refugee-camps-cut-tigray-conflict.html
United Nations General Assembly. (2015, June 4). Report of the commission of inquiry on human rights in Eritrea (A/HRC/29/42). United Nations Human Rights Council. https://www.ohchr.org/en/hrbodies/hrc/coieritrea/pages/reportcoieritrea.aspx
Van Hear, N. (2003). From durable solution to transnational relations: Home and exile among refugee diasporas (UNHCR New Issues in Refugee Research Working Paper Series No. 83). http://www.unhcr.org/3e71f8984.html
Vertovec, S. (2009). Transnationalism. Routledge.
Walks, F. (2018). “Every corner tells a story”: Using neighbourhood walks and GPS to understand children’s sense of place. In S. Kleinknecht, L. van den Scott, & C. Sanders (Eds.), The craft of qualitative research: A handbook (pp. 232–237). Canadian Scholars.
Warner, D. (1994). Voluntary repatriation and the meaning of return to home: A critique of liberal mathematics. Journal of Refugee Studies, 7(2–3), 160–174. https://doi.org/10.1093/jrs/7.2-3.160
Woldemikael, T. M. (2018). Conclusion: Eritrea’s state of exception and its broken mirror. In T. Woldemikael (Ed.), Postliberation Eritrea (pp. 358–372). Indiana University Press.
How to Cite
Copyright (c) 2022 Georgia Cole, Milena Belloni
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Refuge authors retain the copyright over their work, and license it to the general public under the Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial License International (CC BY-NC 4.0). This license allows for non-commercial use, reproduction and adaption of the material in any medium or format, with proper attribution. For general information on Creative Commons licences, visit the Creative Commons site. For the CC BY-NC 4.0 license, review the human readable summary.