An effective and humane return policy is an integral part of a comprehensive migration and asylum policy. Ensuring the return of irregular migrants is essential to enhance the credibility of policies in the field of international protection and legal migration.
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.
Common approach to voluntary return and reintegration
Voluntary return is a crucial element of the common EU system for returns. Alongside effective reintegration measures, voluntary return offers the humane, effective and sustainable return of irregular migrants.
Reintegration involves training and/or support to create an income-generating activity, housing, health care and psychological support upon arrival to the country of return. As a key component of a common EU system for returns, reintegration can help overcome some difficulties migrants face when returning to their community and make their return more sustainable, as well as prevent irregular remigration.
The EU strategy on voluntary return and reintegration, which implements the Pact on Migration and Asylum, aims at increasing the number of voluntary returns and at improving the quality of the support provided to the returnees. In this way, it improves the overall effectiveness of the EU return system.
The strategy aims at:
- facilitating effective coordination between all stakeholders
- improving the quality and consistency of support
- supporting voluntary return and reintegration of transit migrants in third countries before arriving in Europe
- coordinating the use and maximising the impact of EU funds and
- ultimately enhancing the sustainability of return and reintegration by increasing the ownership of countries responsible for readmitting and reintegrating their citizens
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.
Operational cooperation between EU-States
The EU's return policy would not be effective without operational cooperation between EU countries. It allows them to avoid the duplication of work.
Such operational cooperation includes:
- assistance in cases of transit for the purposes of removal by air,
- organisation of joint flights for removals,
- mutual recognition of decisions on expulsion and
- implementation of guidelines on forced return.
The European Border and Coast Guard Agency (FRONTEX) plays a key role in operational cooperation in cases of return. One of its tasks is to provide assistance for joint return operations and identify best practices on the acquisition of travel documents and removal of non-EU nationals who are irregularly present on the territory of an EU country. The Agency also supports EU countries in providing voluntary return and reintegration assistance to returnees.
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