Drawing on the experiences of men born in Southern Sudan in the 1980s, grew up in a refugee camp in Kenya and later returned to Southern Sudan after the 2005 peace agreement, this article explores the social implications of experiences during displacement when people subsequently return. Periods of displacement and return are characterised by both social rupture and continuity, for example engaging in strategies to maintain certain customs. Access to symbolic or economic capital while displaced differ markedly from those offered by social relations prior to displacement.

The authors argue that returning home can be far from an easy process. Assumptions that forced displacement ensures complete social rupture, or that ‘home’ remains unchanged, may blind humanitarian actors to social shifts and power struggles that will shape how their policies are experienced and implemented.