This paper argues that the first visit ‘back home’ is important for refugees because it acts as a catalyst for renewed engagements with host country and country of origin. The study shows that conditions in both countries impact on decision-making and ultimately that integration and return can coexist. The first re-connection with ‘home’ is described as a memorable event in and of itself. Marked by an awareness of the passing of time, it provides both an end to waiting and worrying and a measure of one's progress (or lack of) in life, thus enabling participants to move on. Establishment of safety nets in both host and home countries as a condition for permanent return distinguishes the predicament of these refugees from that of other migrants. As the meeting between imagination and reality, the first visit contributes to the re-examination of the refugee cycle, the myth of return and the meaning of home in a context where return encompasses one discrete experience, the visit, and subsequent events. Overall, the paper provides a link between the literature on return as imagined while in exile and accounts of the reality of post-return.

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