Return aspirations and coerced return: A case study on Syrian refugees in Turkey and Lebanon
Lea Müller-Funk, Sonja Fransen
This paper studies return aspirations and current return movements of Syrian refugees residing in Turkey and Lebanon to understand who aspires to return after the end of the war, and why and when refugees return with the conflict still ongoing. To do so, we embed future return aspirations into refugees’ broader life aspirations and study how these interact with perceived opportunities (capabilities) in the home and host countries in shaping those aspirations to return. Drawing on 757 survey interviews we present, first, quantitative analyses of the factors underlying current return reflections and future return aspirations. They differ significantly across individuals, and more refugees residing in Lebanon consider to return currently and in the future. Second, we analyse information from 41 in-depth interviews and show how life aspirations (i) are a crucial element in shaping return aspirations and (ii) interact particularly with social, professional and political aspects in home and host countries in shaping return aspirations. The paper also highlights that while most refugees retain a profound belief in return, there is a strong mismatch between aspiring to return and realising it. While return after the war’s end is driven by a wish to realise broader life goals, current return migration is driven by legal, medical and financial vulnerability, family obligations and discrimination in the host country.