Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Resettlement in the Twenty-First Century

Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Resettlement in the Twenty-First Century

Article excerpt

Anticipating that there will be an increase in involuntary population displacements in this century, some have called for greater attention to organised resettlement or planned relocation as possible responses. On the positive side, relocation potentially represents an important protection for vulnerable communities that would otherwise receive no assistance or support. On the negative side, the track record of resettlement associated with large infrastructure and development projects has been poor. The fact, however, that results for disaster-induced displacement and resettlement have been marginally better suggests that there is hope.

There appear to be two broad explanations for why resettlement so often goes wrong. The first is a lack of appropriate inputs such as legal frameworks and policies, funding and care in implementation. The other is that the resettlement process emerges out of the complex interaction of many cultural, social, environmental, economic, institutional and political factors in ways that are not predictable and that are not amenable to a rational planning approach. This in fact may create a space for resettlers to take greater control over the process.1

Formal development-forced displacement and resettlement (DFDR) projects require adequate material inputs up front and, since adjustment to resettlement transpires through multiple stages and over extended periods of time, eventually resettled communities themselves must also mobilise social and cultural resources in their efforts to re-establish viable social groups and communities and to restore adequate levels of material and cultural life.

Resettlement has actually been employed by responsible authorities in disaster recovery for centuries. In some cases, disasters and other environmental disruptions will force people to migrate as individuals and families, similarly to political refugees, with little communitybased resettlement efforts on their behalf. However, in other cases community-based resettlement has been undertaken for disasteraffected people in projects that involved planning processes - but usually only when no risk mitigation was possible. However, such efforts have rarely met with success.

Post-disaster resettled populations often abandon the new settlements and return to previous home sites for a wide variety of environmental, economic, social and psychological motives. Part of the blame for these failures has been due to failures in design, construction, implementation and delivery of the resettlement project itself, and these problems generally derive from a lack of consultation with, and participation by, the affected people. This lack is generally due to a disparagement of local knowledge and culture on the part of policymakers and planners.

Understanding the role of social institutional processes, such as governance or social networks, in resettlers' adaptive strategies is crucial for identifying the socio-culturally specific nature of the impoverishment risks, thus helping to explain why displacement and resettlement so often result in greater impoverishment of affected households. People who move to escape persecution or death, or who are displaced by disasters or by development projects, share many similar challenges and may generate similar responses over the long term in affected peoples.

Gender, age, class and ethnicity have been clearly identified as key markers of vulnerability. Systemic forms of vulnerability and exposure and their tragic outcomes are frequently linked to unresolved problems of development. Since resettlement should focus on durable solutions, to ensure successful resettlement outcomes resettlement projects must be configured as development projects.

Existing and emerging guidelines

In recent years the Inter-Agency Standing Committee's (IASC) Operational Guidelines on the Protection of Persons in Situations of Natural Disasters2, and the World Bank's Populations at Risk of Disaster: A Resettlement Guide and Preventive Resettlement of Populations at Risk of Disaster: Experiences from Latin America3 have attempted to address the issue of disaster-related resettlement in terms of human rights and good practice guidelines. …

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