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Dignity in Repatriation: What does it mean for UNHCR?

Citation: Bewick, Rose (2022) Dignity in Repatriation: What does it mean for UNHCR? [Discussion or working paper]

RLI WPS No. 63.pdf

Creative Commons: Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0

As part of its mandate to protect refugees, one of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)’s principal functions is to assist in the promotion of voluntary repatriation, which has been consistently identified as the preference of States and refugees. According to UNHCR, a repatriation movement must be voluntary, safe and dignified for the organization to consider facilitating or promoting it. These three principles, essential as they are to UNHCR activities in this area, are, as Zieck puts it, “rather indeterminate”. The concept of dignity, in particular, contains within it much scope for divergent interpretations. A review of the literature on the meaning of dignity within the fields of law, humanitarianism and refugee studies testifies to the multiplicity of potential understandings of this concept. Dignity’s potential definitions, or presuppositions, are identified through a review of the literature on the meaning of ‘dignity’ as being the realisation of basic human rights, the source of human rights, or synonymous with autonomy and the capacity to make choices. Equally, the literature demonstrates how the word ‘dignity’ can be a vehicle for the insertion of disparate perspectives in a way that renders universal certain texts and assertions, particularly in the realm of international law. Dignity is thus malleable, and could serve an organisational function outside of a literal definition. This paper attempts to elucidate UNHCR’s organisational position on the meaning of dignity by considering its rhetorical treatment of repatriation and of dignity in various key publications, against a backdrop of these potential presuppositions.

Creators: Bewick, Rose and
Subjects: Human Rights & Development Studies
Sociology & Anthropology
Keywords: UNHCR, Repatriation, Dignity, Syrian Returns
Divisions: Institute of Commonwealth Studies
Collections: Refugee Law Initiative
  • 4 August 2022 (published)


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