When Refugees Won't Return Home

Among the tens of millions of refugees around the globe, a growing minority won't go home. Most would love to return to their native lands, but a significant number have come to embrace the stability of living in U.N.-funded camps. At the U.N.'s Fugnido camp, in western Ethiopia, workers say that only a quarter of its Sudanese refugees returned home in the wake of a peace accord between Khartoum and the Sudan People's Liberation Army nearly five years ago. "They're not going home because south Sudan is poor…cFugnido is like heaven for them," says Abiy Girma, a U.N. field officer at the camp.

This is a new phenomenon. Through the 1970s, most refugees were taken in by neighboring countries or by wealthy nations, as in the case of the "boat people" from Southeast Asia. But as refugee numbers grew, barriers went up. African nations shut their doors as wars for independence turned into endless internal conflicts. As U.N. refugee camps started to build schools, health clinics, and sports facilities, some refugees—particularly from poor countries like Sudan and Somalia—developed "dependency syndrome." The term "long-term refugee" is defined as those who have fled conflicts that began at least 10 years ago. The question now is how to prevent "long term" from becoming permanent.