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The Peasant Economy of Refugee Resettlement in Eastern Sudan

Johnathan Bascom
Annals of the Association of American Geographers
Vol. 83, No. 2 (Jun., 1993), pp. 320-346
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2563498
Page Count: 27
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The Peasant Economy of Refugee Resettlement in Eastern Sudan
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Abstract

This study seeks to contribute to the growing literature on migration in developing countries by placing refugee resettlement into the larger context of social transformation in agrarian societies. Eastern Sudan has experienced a massive influx of refugees during the last twenty-five years as a consequence of the longest war in postcolonial Africa. This case study examines the process of resettlement by conceptualizing the mechanisms of accumulation and impoverishment that structure the economy into which refugees have moved from Eritrea. The socioeconomic processes of differentiation and commoditization associated with agrarian change are important mediators of the interaction between incoming refugees and the host community. I argue that it is in explicating the position of refugees in the social relations of production that one can understand why some refugees become markedly better off during exile while others remain destitute. Most Eritreans are forced to survive at the bottom of a new social and economic hierarchy. Faced with debilitating tenure relations, their main asset is their labor, but rigid agricultural wages have brought them decreasing returns over time. Added pressure exerted by the environment is apt to hasten the marginalization of refugees in Sudan and mitigate against a large-scale, spontaneous repatriation back to Eritrea. Data collected during 1986-87 and 1992 include survey research questionnaires, pastoral and scheme management studies, participant observation, and interviews with key actors and informants on-site as well as with members of the institutional hierarchy outside the immediate field site.

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