Voluntary return is often hailed as the preferred solution to displacement. However, reasons for “preferring” return are rarely examined in detail, and given that returnees regularly face violence and impoverishment, many are understandably sceptical of this claim.
Focusing on the right of return – the key principle underpinning repatriation movements – Professor Megan Bradley identifies key obstacles to refugee repatriation. She then explores four interlinked senses in which return may be morally valuable and in some cases even normatively preferable as a durable solution for refugees: first, that the right of return may serve as a means of upholding housing, land and property rights; second, that it may affirm and advance the equal rights of all citizens; third, that it embodies opposition to ethnic cleansing; and fourth, that it may be an important form of redress for refugees. This suggests that under the right circumstances return can advance morally valuable outcomes that other approaches to resolving displacement do not. While some persuasive arguments may be made for promoting return as the preferred solution to displacement, this should not translate into restrictions on the claims of individual refugees to pursue other solutions, such as local integration in host countries. Even if refugees access other solutions, they retain a legitimate claim to return to their countries of origin. In this sense the possibility of return is essential to the resolution of refugee situations, even if it is not uniformly preferable.
Professor Megan Bradley is Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science and Associate Director of the Institute for the Study of International Development at McGill University, Montreal, Canada. She is also the Co-founder and Coordinator of the McGill Research Group and Senior Research Affiliate at the Refugee Law Initiative, University of London. Since 2015, Professor Bradley has been Associate Director at the interuniversity (University of Montreal and McGill University) Centre for International Peace and Security Studies (CIPSS).
Professor Bradley’s research and teaching focuses on refugees and internal displacement, human rights, humanitarianism, transitional justice, natural disasters, and gender. She is the author of Refugee Repatriation: Justice, Responsibility and Redress (Cambridge University Press, 2013), and the editor of Forced Migration, Reconciliation and Justice (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2015) and Refugees’ Roles in Resolving Displacement and Building Peace: Beyond Beneficiaries (Georgetown University Press, 2019). Her forthcoming book, The International Organization for Migration: Commitments, Challenges, Complexities, (Routledge, 2020), looks at the IOM’s evolution and influence, focusing on the humanitarian sector and the implications for migrants’ rights. Alongside her research and teaching, Professor Bradley has worked with a range of organizations concerned with humanitarianism, human rights and development including the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC). She served as the Cadieux-Léger Fellow in the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Professor Bradley has published numerous articles in peer-reviewed journals, written several book chapters and given keynote addresses and presentations at many conferences around the world on her areas of interest.