What is Reintegration? An initial starting point for defining a complex phenomenon

At first glance, understanding reintegration seems quite intuitive of the process of returning to one’s country and readjusting. However, there many different definitions of reintegration that have emerged in the literature in recent years. This post highlights a few of these definitions and conceptual considerations that are guiding the thinking of the Reintegrate project.

Reintegration is often considered differently for different types of return migrants, such as repatriating refugees, deportees, or so-called assisted voluntary returnees. On the one hand this is logical as different types of return migrants have different needs and entitlements upon return, but, on the other hand, it makes it difficult to unify terminology and draw comparisons across different definitions.

The most commonly used definition in the academic literature is from Jean-Pierre Cassarino:

“the process through which a return migrant participates in the social, cultural, economic and political life in the country of origin” (Cassarino, 2008, p.134).

In my own PhD research on reintegration in Ethiopia, I proposed a new definition for reintegration as “the process in which return migrants are supported in maintaining their cultural and social identities by the host society and the whole population acquires equal civil, social, political, human and cultural rights (Kuschminder, 2017, p.43). The central goal of this definition was an effort to recognize the bidirectional responsibility between the community of return and the return migrant and arguing for further recognition of the process of reintegration.

The latest definition from IOM (2019), which was updated from the 2004 definition, recognizes the process of reintegration: “A process which enables individuals to re-establish the economic, social and psychosocial relationships needed to maintain life, livelihood and dignity and inclusion in civic life” (IOM, 2019). This definition is; however, limiting is focusing on the individual to re-establish themselves.

Defining reintegration is thus no easy task. Multiple components and conceptual issues need to be addressed in one single definition.

In considering reintegration processes, Ine Lietaert and I summarized five key conceptual components of reintegration in a 2021 special issue of International Migration.

  1. Spatial component – Reintegration requires a movement back to a previous society. However, re-‘integration’ implies that there was a previous ‘integration’ into the society that may have not existed prior to the migration. This, therefore, questions the legitimacy of the concept.
  2. Temporal component – Reintegration changes across time and space. There is a frequent question of ‘when does reintegration end?’ or ‘how long does the process take?’. There are no set answers, and the process is unique to the individual. Reintegration should thus be considered as a trajectory occurring over time and space.
  3. Social component – Family and community are essential in the reintegration process. This includes both positive and negative expectations of returnees from their families and communities and their influencing roles in reintegration process and returnees’ experiences.
  4. Structural component – Conditions in the country of origin play a vital role in reintegration, and this is where the role of national policies for reintegration governance are important. In addition, geopolitics influences the structural component through readmission agreements, but also through donor investment into reintegration. Donors might only support reintegration processes in countries where they have geopolitical interests. This stresses the role of migration diplomacy in reintegration processes.
  5. Multidimensionality – Reintegration cannot be considered by only one measurement, such as economic wellbeing, it is a holistic process that encapsulates multiple components of an individuals’ life. This makes reintegration particularly difficult to measure.

In the Reintegrate project we consider reintegration as a larger process and account within the project for the conceptual issues noted above. We take a wide perspective to the issue and will continue to discuss definitions and approaches to reintegration in blog posts throughout this project, sharing different perspectives and approaches from each of our field sites.


Cassarino, J.P. (2008) Return Migrants to the Maghreb, Reintegration and Development Challenges, San Domenico di Fiesole: European University Institute (EUI), Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies.

Kuschminder, K. (2017) Reintegration Strategies: Conceptualizing How Return Migrants Reintegrate, Chur: Palgrave Macmillian.

Lietaert, I. and Kuschminder, K. (2021) ‘Contextualizing and conceptualizing reintegration processes in the context of return’, International Migration, 59(2), pp. 140–147. doi:https://doi.org/10.1111/imig.12830.

IOM. (2019). Glossary on Migration. Geneva: International Organization for Migration. Retrieved from https://publications.iom.int/books/international-migration-law-ndeg34-glossary-migration

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