FY 14: Strengthening Evidence-Based Humanitarian Decision-Making: Understanding Refugee Returns to Urban Areas (Church World Service)

Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration
October 15, 2014

This research is ongoing. The final reports will be posted upon completion.


There are three generally accepted durable solutions for refugee populations: (1) safe and voluntary return to the refugee’s country of origin; (2) local integration in the refugee’s country of asylum; and (3) resettlement to a third country. For most refugees, voluntary repatriation is the most desirable of these three solutions. With more than half of all refugees living in cities while in exile, many may choose to return to cities in their country of origin, even if they fled originally from rural communities. Little research has been conducted on factors refugees take into account when deciding whether to return to urban areas in their country of origin and the best ways for UNHCR and its partners to assist them in doing so safely and voluntarily. To that end, PRM is funding Church World Service to conduct research that will develop findings and recommendations to improve protection and voluntary repatriation support for refugees who decide to return to cities.


  • Identify key factors in refugee decision-making regarding return to urban areas, including differences related to socio-economic characteristics, flight experiences, family and social networks, and access to protection in countries of asylum;
  • Identify project design, implementation and/or monitoring and evaluation tools that could be applied to working with urban returnees, in the context of sustainable voluntary return processes; and
  • Inform discussion of policy and operational practices related to voluntary return, based on the findings of the study.

The project will produce a final report that includes a policy review, detailed case studies from Cote d’Ivoire and Rwanda, recommendations for humanitarian actors operating in urban settings, and a monitoring tool with indicator template for identifying and working with vulnerable urban refugees. The research is scheduled for completion in summer 2015.