A humane and effective return policy, following the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and based on the principle of giving preference to voluntary return, is essential to a comprehensive and sustainable migration policy.
The EU seeks to harmonise and support national efforts to manage returns based on the Return Directive (which lays down common standards and procedures for the return of non-EU nationals who are staying in the EU irregularly) in line with the EU strategy on voluntary return and reintegration. The strategy promotes voluntary returns and facilitates reintegration of irregular migrants in the country of origin, and provides financial support, including under the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund. Effective cooperation with non-EU countries, on the basis of readmission agreements, is also necessary to ensure the success of the common EU system for return as set out in the New Pact.
The communication on Enhancing cooperation on return and readmission as part of a fair, effective and comprehensive EU migration policy is an important follow-up to the Pact on Migration and Asylum. It describes how the Commission intends to build upon the annual process initiated by the first assessment of third countries’ level of cooperation on readmission (carried out under the Visa Code) to tackle challenges on return and readmission and to work closely with third countries through partnerships.
Common rules for managing the return of irregular migrants
Every year, over 300,000 foreign nationals are ordered to leave the EU because they have entered or they are staying irregularly. However, only around 21% of them return back to their home country or to the country from which they travelled to the EU.
Common EU rules on return (the Return Directive) provide for clear, transparent and fair treatment of irregularly staying migrants, while fully respecting the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the persons concerned. The Directive has been transposed into national law by all EU countries, except for Ireland, including the four Schengen associated countries: Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.
The key features of the Return Directive include:
- the requirement for a fair and transparent procedure for return decisions,
- the obligation for EU countries to either return irregular migrants or to grant them legal status, thus avoiding situations of 'legal limbo',
- the principle of voluntary departure by establishing a general rule that a "period for voluntary departure" should normally be granted,
- a minimum set of basic rights for irregularly staying migrants pending their removal, including access to basic health care and education for children,
- a limit on the use of coercive measures in connection with the removal, ensuring that such measures are not excessive or disproportionate,
- an entry ban valid throughout the EU for migrants returned by an EU country and
- a limit to the use of detention, binding it to the principle of proportionality and establishing minimum safeguards for detainees.
Additionally, the Commission has issued the following recommendations to provide further guidance to Member States for an efficient return process:
- Commission Recommendation establishing a common “Return Handbook” to be used by Member States’ competent authorities when carrying out return related tasks
- Commission Recommendation on making returns more effective when implementing the Directive 2008/115/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council
- Commission Recommendation on mutual recognition of return decisions and expediting returns when implementing Directive 2008/115/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council
While EU countries continue to support the voluntary return and reintegration of migrants, who are returning from their territory through their national budgets, the EU will consider the objectives of the strategy in EU countries’ multi-annual programmes. This will be done under the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund, as well as in the programming of the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument - Global Europe and the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance II.
Cooperation between EU-States
Establishing a common and effective EU system for returns is a shared responsibility which requires very close operational coordination and cooperation among Member States, EU institutions and agencies. This allows the multiple stakeholders involved in the return process to avoid the duplication of work and to ensure more effective cooperation with third countries. Member States regularly meet in fora at different level to discuss how to ensure seamless cooperation. Embedding return in national strategies under the common return framework results in better planning, resourcing and infrastructure for return and readmission operations at EU level.
Operational cooperation includes:
- assistance in cases of transit for the purposes of removal by air
- organisation of joint flights for removals
- legislative framework on mutual recognition of return decisions
To be effective, the EU’s return policy also needs strong governance structures to ensure a more coherent and effective approach. To this end, the Commission has appointed a Return Coordinator, whose main task is to bring together the strands of EU return policy and facilitate a seamless and interlinked implementation of the return process.
The Return Coordinator, supported by the High-Level Network for Return and assisted by Frontex and other EU agencies focuses on providing practical and operational support to Member States. Guided by an operational strategy for more effective returns, the Return Coordinator and the High Level Network also support Member States in operationalising and embedding returns in wider national strategies.
While the Return Coordinator aims to ensure the overall coherence, the High-Level Network members strive to build coherence and coordination within their Member States. High-Level Network members build on their unique position and experience to make the link between technical/operational/practitioners’ level and the policy/political level in each Member State.
The European Border and Coast Guard Agency (FRONTEX) plays a key role in operational cooperation in cases of return. Frontex provides Member States with support in all stages of the return process including, assistance for joint return operations, the acquisition of travel documents and support for voluntary return and reintegration assistance to returnees.
The EMN Return Expert Group (EMN REG) functions as a platform for practical cooperation and the sharing of good practice and expertise on return. The EMN REG provides a structure for planning, follow-up and monitoring of return activities in the EU. The EMN REG connects key stakeholders from EU countries, and representatives of EU funded programmes and when appropriate, civil society.
Cooperation with non-EU countries on readmission of irregular migrants
The EU co-operates very actively with the countries of return of irregular migrants, in particular through readmission agreements.
These set out clear obligations and procedures for the authorities of the non-EU country and of EU Member States as to when and how to readmit people who are irregularly residing.
They aim at improving cooperation between administrations and, can only be used after a return decision has been made in accordance with the procedural guarantees set by the Return Directive and the relevant EU asylum rules (Asylum Procedures Directive).
So far, the EU has concluded readmission agreements with the following countries:
In addition to these agreements, legally non-binding readmission arrangements have also been concluded with:
- The Gambia
- Ivory Coast
- EU strategy on voluntary return and reintegration
- Commission staff working document: EU framework on return counselling and the Reintegration Assistance Tool
- Common EU rules on return (Return Directive)
- Communication on Enhancing cooperation on return and readmission as part of a fair, effective and comprehensive EU migration policy
- Communication on EU Return Policy COM 2014(199)
- Asylum Procedures Directive
- Communication on more effective returns COM 2017 (200)