Meet Jacqueline Owigo, Migration Policy Expert and Mawazo Scholar

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Linking Return Migration and Development in Somalia

By Jacqueline Owigo

International migration is increasingly seen as a high-priority policy issue by governments, practitioners, scholars and the public at large. In recent years, there has been a significant increase in human displacement, which has resulted from conflict and environmental factors. Further, UNHCR cautions that the number of displaced people has continued to soar and it is estimated that globally, one in every 113 persons is now either a refugee, internally displaced or seeking asylum.

Return migration is a component of international migration. The main forms of return migration include voluntary return and involuntary return associated with, for example, deportation of migrants to their country of origin. Governments and international organizations have adopted policies that are aimed at improving return processes and outcomes, such as  linking return with national development. Kenya, for example, has a diaspora policy to harness the diverse skills, expertise, and potential of Kenyans living abroad. This recognizes that people who’ve spent years abroad often return with financial capital, new skills or international business connections, which can be leveraged to foster growth.

On the global policy agenda, return migration has proved problematic, as experienced in the ongoing negotiations for the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. The zero-draft  released in February, makes no commitments in relation to addressing the increasing challenge of ‘forced return’ of migrants i.e. deportation and expulsion. Equally important, the number of returning refugees and migrants is on the rise whether through voluntary repatriation, deportation, or other circumstances in which lines between forced and voluntary returns are indistinct as refugees are confronted with a choice between detention or repatriation. While acknowledging the sovereign prerogative of states to conduct removals, states are also obliged to respect the principle of non-refoulement as well as human rights during returning or removing migrants from their territories.   

My research focuses on Somalia, which is experiencing significant return migration encompassing migrants from the diaspora, deportees (failed asylum seekers) and voluntary repatriation of refugees. Somalia is also home to over 1.5 million internally displaced persons. These returns are not all voluntary, and the returnees do not have the same needs. Given the increasing number of coerced returns to Somalia, more research is needed to understand their experiences and reintegration strategies. The study will highlight the experiences Somali returnees face from their very own perspective, with a view to identify areas for policy intervention that may be effective in improving reintegration outcomes. 


Jacqueline Owigo is currently in the second year of her PhD in International Relations at the United States International University – Africa in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences. Her research interests include links between return migration and development, specifically the social inclusion of forced migrants in a community and diaspora returnees.