"Why would we go back?"
: Refugee decision-making with regards to return

  • Chloe Anne Sydney

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Return is the international community’s preferred solution to refugee crises, but there has been surprisingly little research on what influences refugees’ decision to go back, or not, to their country of origin. This thesis examines the role of security, standards of living, attachment to people and place, and asylum policies in driving, triggering, enabling, and preventing return, and offers an essential new model of refugee decision-making. Bridging the traditional positivist-interpretivist divide, which has thus far limited knowledge creation on refugee return, this thesis draws upon a mixed methods approach including a quantitative model of refugee return at the macro-level, secondary survey data and quotes from refugees and returnees from Iraq, Colombia, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Yemen, Nigeria, and Burma, qualitative interviews conducted with refugees in France, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Jordan, and unconventional data sources such as comics and poetry. The resulting model offers a valuable analytical framework for the study of refugee decision-making with regards to return. The study finds that perceptions of insecurity in the country of origin are an important barrier to return, but that perceived security improvements rarely trigger return – rather, they enable a return which is driven and triggered by other factors. So long as refugees consider their country of origin to remain unsafe, they are unlikely
to return, even when experiencing hardship in their host country; however, even in the face of continued insecurity, return can be triggered by the illness or injury of relatives in the country of origin. Meanwhile, better standards of living in exile are unlikely to prevent returns – on the contrary, it is lack of resources to finance the return journey and subsequent reintegration which may prevent refugees from returning to their country of origin, underscoring the importance of supporting refugees’ self-sufficiency in view of enabling their future return.
Date of Award2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Aberystwyth University
SupervisorBerit Bliesemann de Guevara (Supervisor) & Gillian McFadyen (Supervisor)

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