Monday, August 28, 2006

Is the Right to Return a Symbolic Right?

Shreyashi Chaudhuri

The term Right to return reflects a belief that members of an ethnic or national group have a right to immigration and naturalization into the country that they, the country, or both consider to be that group's homeland, without prior personal citizenship in that country. This belief is sometimes reflected in special consideration in a country's immigration laws which facilitate or encourage the reunion of a diaspora or dispersed ethnic population.
The phrase right to return has several dimensions. The right to return seems to be very elementary and simple. But when the specific context and specific groups are considered it becomes important to think whether this right to return is applicable or should be applicable. The question of right to return in Sri Lanka and in many countries evolves from the perspective of national security and economic burden. Till the 1960s the uprooted people from East Pakistan dreamt that one day they would go back. But they cold never do so and their vulnerability remained. Therefore along with the right to return unless and until the security of life is ensured the right to return cannot b exercised. Once a group of people is displaced from a place the place does not remain unoccupied. This also restricts the right to return. Seroius problems can arise when internally displaced persons are compelled to return to unsafe areas or to areas where they do not wish to reside. Sudan offers an example: the government has forcibly moved the displaced from Khartoum to outlying areas where they are neither part of the urban community nor in their own natural setting. In Peru the government provides assistance only to those internally displaced persons who return to their original homes. In Sri Lanka assistance has been used to induce returns, but to its credit the government has adopted guidelines against physical coercion.
The provision of protection upon return also requires special attention. They may find their homes, land and personal property taken by others and no functioning judicial system to resolve disputes. Another problem returnees may face are land mines. In Mozambique these have killed more than 10,000 displaced persons over the course of the return and resettlement program. The Guiding Principles prohibit the deployment of land mines owing to the danger they pose to internally displaced and other civilians both during hostilities and after their conclusion.

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