Kara Ross Camarena

Repatriation During Conflict: A Signaling Analysis

More than 28 million refugees have repatriated to their countries of origin since 1990. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) often organizes repatriation under Tripartite Repatriation Agreements (TRAs) and uses these agreements to raise funds to help refugees return. Human rights organizations often view these agreements as signals about forced repatriation and campaign against funding repatriation. Scholars explain these TRAs as part of a broader problem with the global focus on repatriation at the expense of refugee rights. With these arguments it is impossible to distinguish when it is time to support repatriation and when an agreement is premature and would promote unsafe return. Yet, sometimes countries do not sign repatriation agreements at all. Other times repatriation agreements occur when safety in the origin country is on the horizon. Still other times these agreements are signed, and there is little evidence that the origin country is safe from violence. Under what conditions do TRAs signal that it is safer in a country of origin? I develop a signaling model of negotiated repatriation and discuss cases studies that exemplify the equilibria. I theorize repatriation agreements arise out of a bilateral negotiation where the refugee-hosting country needs information and the refugee-sending country must signal capacity. A costly signal convinces the refugee-hosting country that the sending country can provide stability and that refugees will not flee again. Within-country quantitative analysis shows that host countries with leverage over countries of origin can elicit credible signals about violence. Host country leverage, measured by share of trade, is associated with waiting to sign repatriation agreements until violence is low. Donor countries should be skeptical of repatriation agreements signed when origin countries have leverage and forced repatriation is more likely. As the number of refugees in the world grows, pressure to repatriate refugees increases. Interstate relationships can help to distinguish among repatriation agreements, and the international community can use these differences to identify when refugee return is more likely to be safe and sustainable.

World Development

The University of Chicago