Many former refugees in Africa that return to their country of origin face challenges of (re-)gaining access to land and other assets that are a necessity for building sustainable livelihoods. A policy approach that has often been adopted to solve landlessness for returnees is the concept of villagisation. This article provides an in-depth analysis of Burundi’s Rural Integrated Villages project, which has recently been implemented as an emergency approach to accommodate landless 1972 caseload refugees and other vulnerable populations. By comparing the Rural Integrated Villages project to other villagisation policies in Africa, and the Imidugudu policy that was implemented in Rwanda in the 1990s in particular, this article demonstrates that to date no villagisation policy has been successful in providing long-term, sustainable solutions for landless returnee populations. A successful implementation model for return villages is lacking and long-term evaluations on return villages are scarce, which hampers institutional learning. The article concludes by exploring alternatives to villagisation for returnees and presenting lessons learned for future cases of refugee return.
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