Voluntary return

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Voluntary return or voluntary repatriation is usually the return of an illegal immigrant or over-stayer, a rejected asylum seeker, a refugee or displaced person, an unaccompanied minor, and sometimes a second-generation immigrant,[1] who is unable or unwilling to remain in the host country and who volunteers to return to their country of origin, or that of their ancestors.

Overview[edit]

The terms are used in slightly different contexts and can refer to:

  • The voluntary return of asylum seekers who no longer want to wait for a decision on their asylum application or who have changed their mind about the application and rather want to go back to their country of origin.
  • Destitute migrants, such as homeless people, who cannot afford the journey back home. Some homelessness charities provide funding for these journeys.
  • The "voluntary" return of rejected asylum seekers or irregular migrants to their countries of origin. Leaving voluntarily in this context can be somewhat euphemistic, as the alternative is often immigration detention and eventual deportation.
  • The most preferred of the UNHCR's three durable solutions for refugees because it is what most refugees seek.[2] Once the reasons for being displaced or having fled have disappeared and it is safe again to live in this country refugees are free to go back to their country of origin. The so-called returnees are still people of concern to the UNHCR and are as such under their legal protection. The UNHCR is monitoring returnee operations and offers support to returnees even after they have arrived in their countries of origin.

Some voluntary return programmes offer assisted voluntary return (AVR) and some voluntary return is spontaneous and independent without assistance.

Voluntary return of refugees[edit]

Legal basis[edit]

The concept of voluntary repatriation was first developed in the 1969 Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa. It was agreed that:

"The sending state, in collaboration with the receiving state, must make adequate arrangements for the safe return of refugees who request repatriation, while the country of origin must facilitate their resettlement and grant them the full rights and privileges of nationals of the country, and subject them to the same obligations."[3]

Controversies[edit]

  • The UNHCR and the hosting countries usually encourage the refugees to return voluntarily. The 1969 Refugee Convention expects states of origin to advertise repatriation, by using the news and media as well as Organisation of African Unity, in order to invite refugees back home. Equally the host countries are expected to spread such information and to ensure it is received. [4] However, the information that is spread about the improved and safer situation in the country of origin may be exaggerated, blurred or untrue and refugees may be encouraged to return home before the dangers and risks are fully removed.
  • As refugees are protected from deportation (or refoulement) by the 1951 Refugee Convention some host countries may indirectly force them to leave by gradually decreasing refugees' living standards and living conditions or by spreading lies about them to make them feel less welcome. This is similar to self-deportation.
  • Some countries offer financial support to refugees and rejected asylum seekers in order to facilitate the process of starting a new life in their country of origin. This could be considered as residency buyouts.

Support offered[edit]

The UNHCR and the IOM offer assistance to refugees who want to return voluntarily and to other people in need of support for returning to their home countries. This includes administrative, logistical, financial and reintegration support. Many developed countries also provide assistance and voluntary return programmes independent from the IOM and the UNHCR. Support includes making travel arrangements and paying for the journey. Support may also include financial support so that returnees can make sustainable investments and can build their lives again. Connecting people with networks and groups in the country of origin so that they will get support from local organisations.[citation needed]

When one takes part in assisted voluntary return programs (AVR), the applicant is giving up their claim as a refugee or asylum-seeker. Many times this includes a five year travel ban restricting the individual from returning to the host country [5], similar to deportation. According to interviews with IOM workers and files on return migrants who took part in their program, it is not uncommon for return migrants to feel pressured into applying to AVR programs due to financial hardships, lack of employment, fear of deportation, etc. [6].

Government policies and incentives[edit]

Europe[edit]

 Belgium – Return and Emigration of Asylum Seekers Ex Belgium programme: This program is open to asylum seekers and third country nationals who want to return to their country of origin or to voluntarily emigrate to a third world country. As this program is voluntary, one can retract their application if ever they change their mind. Applicants are offered travel support, including counselling prior to departure, assistance during their flight and travel cost. Applicants are also offered some monetary compensation to get them to their home from the airport. Financial support is also offered to aid in the reintegration process, partially funded by the European Return Fund [7].

 Denmark – with a history of financially incentivising the voluntary return of immigrants,[8] Denmark raised the amount to 100,000 kroner per person (around €13,000 EUR or $20,000 USD[9]) in 2009.[10] Peter Skaarup, deputy leader of the Danish People's Party, explained the scheme was aimed at immigrants from outside the EU and non-Nordic nations, targeting "nationals from non-Western countries who are struggling to adapt to Danish society". The Danish government also allocated 20 million kroner for city councils, to "motivate foreigners to return home".[11]

 France – from 2005 around 3,000 immigrant families were paid to voluntarily leave France. By 2007, under newly elected President Nicolas Sarkozy, the French government started an enhanced scheme offering €6,000 per immigrant family to return to their country of origin. Brice Hortefeux, Immigration Minister, stated that France "must increase this measure to help voluntary return".[12] In 2016, in response to the European migrant crisis, the government had rapidly risen the offer from €350 to €2,500 per individual.[13] In 2017, Interior Minister Gerard Collomb reconfirmed the commitment to raise the monetary offer for immigrants to leave France.[14]

 Germany – with 35,000 voluntary returns in 2015, Germany allocated an extra €150 million over three years for migrants willing to return to their homelands.[15] The policy saw an increase to 55,000 repatriations in the first year.[16] In February 2017, under the 'Starthilfe Plus' scheme, immigrants were offered up to €1,000 each, or €3,000 to families, to leave the country and withdraw applications for asylum or residency.[17] As of October 2017, 8,639 immigrants had returned home via the government program.[18][19] In December 2017, under the slogan "Your country. Your future. Now!",[20] the German government began offering grants for new kitchens and bathrooms, as well as one year's worth of paid rent, in the country of origin of an immigrant choosing to return home.[21]

 Ireland – in 2009, the Republic of Ireland government began offering repatriations grants to immigrants from nations outside the European Union to return home. The move was motivated by the Irish economic recession, with the EU-funded project attempting to "persuade foreign workers and asylum seekers to return to their country of origin".[22]

 Italy – in 2013, it was reported that the Italian government were offering African migrants, mainly from Ghana, Libya and Togo, up to €500 to leave the country and travel onwards to Germany, France or northern European nations.[23] Detlef Scheele, Hamburgs social affairs minister, dealing with multiple arrivals from Italy, declared that the immigrants had "no legal right to stay" and would return to Italy or back to their home countries.[24][25]

 Norway – launching a 6-week scheme on a first-come, first-served basis, in 2016 the Norwegian government offered the first 500 asylum seekers to take part a 10,000 kroner (around £1,000) "bonus" to leave the country voluntarily, in addition to the 20,000 kroner already offered per person.[26] Sylvi Listhaug, Integration Minister of Norway, claimed the move might "entice" immigrants to "voluntarily travel back by giving them a bit more money on their way out".[27]

 Spain – in 2008, struggling from recession and with unemployment towards 30%, the Spanish government proposed a 'Voluntary Return Plan'. Mainly targeting immigrants from South America, the Spanish labour ministry identified around 100,000 individuals from 19 countries which would be eligible for the scheme.[28] In 2011, Anna Terrón, Secretary of State for Immigration, claimed the scheme "helps everyone if those who want to return to their country of origin are able to."[29]

 Sweden – in August 2007, the Swedish government began offering asylum seekers who were rejected permanent residency the equivalent of £3,500 per immigrant for a voluntary return to their country of origin.[30][31] This resulted in a record 4,542 immigrants taking part in the scheme, and returning home in the first 8 months of 2016.[32]

  Switzerland – the Swiss government, following in the footsteps of Denmark, began a policy of confiscating any property of illegal immigrants with a value over 1,000 Swiss francs. However, the 2016 policy included an incentive for migrants to return to their country of origin, with the SEM stating that "if someone leaves voluntarily within seven months this person can get the money back and take it with them."[33][34]

 United Kingdom – in 2006, asylum seekers and illegal immigrants were offered up to £3,000 per individual to leave the country. Job training, education as well as travel costs were included in the scheme, with an expected uptake of 3,000 people, costing the British taxpayer an estimated £6.2 million.[35] By 2010, the annual cost had risen to £16 million, with Immigration Minister Damian Green announcing a reduction from the 5-year delay on re-entry applications, to further incentivise quick voluntary repatriations.[36]

  • Assisted Voluntary Return for Families and Children: This program is open to non-European people with children and lone migrant children. They are given a cash grant of ₤500 to relocate and ₤2,000 to reintegrate to their communities per person [37]. One can apply to this scheme before their asylum claim has been rejected [5].
  • Assisted Voluntary Return of Irregular Migrants: This program provides help to illegal immigrants and immigrants who have overstayed to return to their country of origin. They are not offered monetary assistance [37].
  • Facilitated Returns Scheme: This aids foreign national prisoners, once they have completed their sentence they are given ₤500 cash and a reintegration package of ₤3,000. If they leave before the end of their sentence they can receive  up to ₤2,000 more [37].
  • Positive Futures Project: This project is offered to young unaccompanied adults. After applying to an assisted voluntary return program, they can receive training to develop skills and gain additional education to help them build a home and have a career in the country they are returning to [38].
  • Voluntary Assisted Return and Reintegration Programme: One can receive maximum ₤1,500 per person relocating to their home country. This program aids applicants with travel documents and booking flight [37].

North America[edit]

 Canada – the Canadian government opted to not renew their 'Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration' pilot program in early 2015, after an evaluation by the Canada Border Services Agency. The program sought to reduce the number of failed asylum appeals and incentivize voluntarily leaving the country, but didn't achieve all it's objectives.[39]

 United States – in 2018, the American government announced the end of temporary protected status (TPS) for 200,000 Salvadoran immigrants. The decision, implemented by President Donald Trump, gave an 18-month period for immigrants to find a legal route to staying in the U.S. or to return to their country of origin. The termination of TPS comes into effect on September 9, 2019, granting immigrants a grace period for voluntarily repatriation, before facing deportation beyond that date.[40]

Rest of world[edit]

 Israel – the Israeli government withhold 20 percent of asylum seekers' wages, in an attempt to encourage individuals to leave the country, where they will have access to the funds upon return to their homeland. The scheme was launched from May 2016, and currently applies to asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea.[41]

 Japan – after the 2008 recession, Japan initiated a policy of paying unemployed workers to leave the country, mainly targeting the Latin American Dekasegi population for voluntary return.[42] The incentivised scheme offered $3,000 (USD), plus $2,000 per dependent, and came with additional clauses that children of the returnee (second-generation immigrants) would not be able to later emigrate to Japan regardless of circumstance.[1]

UNHCR refugee return statistics[edit]

Voluntary return movements of refugees between 2014 and 1998[43]
End-year 1998 2000 2002 2004 2006 2008 2010 2012 2014
Returned refugees 1,016,400 767,500 2,426,000 1,434,400 733,700 603,800 197,700 525,900 126,800
Voluntary return movements of refugees by country between 2014 and 2010
Returning from Returning to 2014 2013[44] 2012[45] 2011[46] 2010[47]
Total UNHCR assisted Total UNHCR assisted Total UNHCR assisted Total UNHCR assisted Total UNHCR assisted
Afghanistan India 210 160 120 70 110 50
Afghanistan Iran 4,510 4,510 8,250 8,250 15,040 15,040 18,850 18,850 8,490 8,490
Afghanistan Pakistan 12,990 12,260 31,220 30,390 83,420 80,000 52,100 49,160 109,380 109,380
Angola Botswana 430 430
Angola Congo 180 180 190 190
Angola DRC 12,480 12,480 15,570 15,570 1,540 1,540
Angola Namibia 2,810 2,810
Angola Zambia 1,620 1,620 1,160 1,160 1,090 980 2,370 2,370 400 400
Bosnia Germany 180 0
Bosnia Sweden 200 0
Burundi DRC 900 900 1,500 1,500 480 480 3,940 3,940 3,640 3,640
Burundi Kenya 290 290
Burundi Tanzania 510 510 35,200 35,200 340 340 1,010 1,010
Cameroon Nigeria 390 390
CAR Cameroon 350 350 2,500 2,500
CAR Chad 1,970 1,970 6,470 6,470
Chad Cameroon 380 380 1,710 1,710
Chad CAR 270 270
Congo Gabon 710 710
Côte d'Ivoire Benin 100 100 110 110
Côte d'Ivoire Guinea 390 390
Côte d'Ivoire Liberia 12,210 12,200 18,720 18,270 71,990 7,110 135,110 135,110
Côte d'Ivoire Mali 160 160
Côte d'Ivoire Togo 660 660 460 410
Croatia Bosnia 160 160 230 230 400 110
Croatia Serbia 120 120 410 410 200 200
DRC Burundi 290 290 260 260 490 490 1,100 1,100
DRC CAR 6,970 6,970 310 10 790 0 11,640 0
DRC Congo 10,070 10,070 62,870 62,870 46,390 46,390 760 20
DRC South Sudan 2,510 2,510
DRC Sudan 4,470 0 2,440 0
DRC Uganda 5,540 5,540 320 10 21,910 10 7,990 0 6,180 10
DRC Tanzania 100 100
DRC Zambia 130 130 9,270 9,270
Ethiopia South Sudan 440 440
Iraq Austria 360 360
Iraq Egypt 100 100
Iraq France 100 100
Iraq Germany 320 320
Iraq Greece 450 450
Iraq Indonesia 960 960
Iraq Iran 280 280
Iraq Italy 350 350
Iraq Jordan 750 750
Iraq Kazakhstan 2,310 2,310
Iraq Lebanon 110 110
Iraq Libya 240 240
Iraq New Zealand 370 370
Iraq Norway 250 250
Iraq Syria 1,960 1,960
Iraq Turkey 120 120
Iraq UAE 430 430
Iraq UK 740 740
Iraq various/unknown 60,880 48,190 82,270 40,460 67,090 67,090 28,820 25,180
Kenya Uganda 320 320
Liberia Côte d'Ivoire 17,590 17,590 1,170 1,170 920 920
Liberia Gambia 330 330
Liberia Ghana 4,710 4,710 470 470 180 180
Liberia Guinea 5,550 5,550 120 120
Liberia Nigeria 170 170
Liberia Sierra Leone 1,030 1,030
Libya Tunisia 1,050 0 148,950 0
Mali Algeria 2,370 2,370 920 0
Mali Burkina Faso 7,740 7,740 3,760 110
Mali Mauritania 4,550 4,550 3,900 2,050
Mali Niger 6,300 6,300 5,690 2,760
Mauritania Senegal 6,210 6,210 1,370 1,370 1,390 1,390
Myanmar Thailand 3,000 0
Pakistan Afghanistan 3,450 0
Rwanda DRC 5,650 5,650 7,200 7,200 10,780 10,780 8,350 8,350 10,810 10,810
Rwanda Uganda 410 410 380 380
Serbia Macedonia 250 210 160 150
Serbia Montenegro 130 130 120 120 200 200
Somalia Ethiopia 4,480 0
Somalia Ethiopia 490 490 28,830 0
Somalia Sudan 130 0
Somalia Yemen 1,990 0 2,620 30 110 110
South Sudan Israel 330 160
South Sudan Uganda 280 280 1,910 1,910 890 890
Sri Lanka India 500 400 910 710 1,450 1,260 2,310 1,670 5,040 5,040
Sudan Chad 13,110 13,110 16,940 16,940 17,660 17,660 30,890 14,670 4,000 0
Sudan Egypt 150 150 140 120 250 250
Sudan Ethiopia 270 270
Sudan Israel 100 100
Sudan Libya 17,820 17,820
Sudan Uganda 1,670 1,670 810 810 2,670 2,670
Syria Turkey 140,760 0 68,570 0
Togo Benin 100 100
Turkey Iraq 240 0
Zimbabwe South Africa 100 60

Voluntary return of other migrants[edit]

Voluntary return statistics[edit]

Voluntary returns via IOM AVRR between 2014 and 2010[48]
Country/Territory departed from country/territory returned to country/territory
2011 2012 2013 2014 2011 2012 2013 2014
Afghanistan 17 834 2,019 1,624 1,304
Albania 2 85 330 326 1,239
Algeria 118 176 140 41
Angola 108 69 69 76
Antigua and Barbuda 1 1
Argentina 2 3 123 140 77 89
Armenia 504 532 448 435
Australia 478 428 699 800 2 24 2
Austria 2,880 2,601 2,896 2,299 1 1 2 7
Azerbaijan 180 220 216 249
Bahamas 5 1
Bahrain 1
Bangladesh 126 1,208 2,000 1,334
Barbados 10 1
Belarus 88 281 269 188 159
Belgium 3,358 4,694 4,388 3,459 2 5 1 1
Belize 2 1 1
Benin 200 9 3 7 19 73 19
Bermuda 4
Bhutan 2 1
Bolivia 300 256 225 183
Bosnia and Herzegovina 164 221 500 935 1,511
Botswana 1 8 12 3
Brazil 1,903 1,802 1,418 881
Bulgaria 67 51 147 330 76 90 82 75
Burkina Faso 21 46 208 91
Burundi 103 133 34 29
Cambodia 8 3 15 30 64 30
Cameroon 5 2 111 90 159 345
Canada 862 2,024 1,244 13 67 27
Cape Verde 18 19 25 25
CAR 1 1
Chad 16 94 23 15
Chile 113 183 169 120
China 1 873 674 657 519
Colombia 207 346 320 293
Comoros 5 2 6
Congo 26 14 26 74
DRC 82 187 109 96
Costa Rica 93 2 12 9 1 7
Ivory Coast 154 81 215 316
Croatia 42 76 140 120
Cuba 13 9 15 20
Czech Republic 202 223 146 173 7 60 82 64
Denmark 64 66 219 110 8 19 2 3
Dominican Republic 1,209 1 71 81 39 34
Ecuador 2 752 780 356 276
Egypt 54 296 185 173 93 221 366 501
El Salvador 2 19 47 90 79
Equatorial Guinea 4 3 1 2
Eritrea 11 13 11 13
Estonia 8 29 17 23 8 11 6 9
Ethiopia 1,127 1,515 542 1,610
Fiji 16 10 11 16
Finland 304 327 342 318 1
France 6 3 8 6 11 10 8
Gabon 2 1
Gambia 56 221 300 76
Georgia 4 595 706 1,157 1,874
Germany 6,319 7,546 10,251 13,574 16 22 9 6
Ghana 17 10 226 324 355 222
Greece 760 7,290 9,325 7,357 3 8 7 15
Grenada 2 1
Guatemala 2 19 28 28 25
Guinea 102 13 12 161 142 244 270
Guinea-Bissau 15 55 68 33
Guyana 4 1 3 2
Haiti 1,211 67 5 1
Honduras 3 35 73 95 113
Hong Kong 37 11 4 4 6 9
Hungary 365 414 353 491 30 347 1,099 517
India 68 515 415 604 530
Indonesia 297 955 561 175 145 184 139
Iran 431 550 1,346 1,219
Iraq 2,667 2,472 1,930 1,280
Ireland 402 359 340 188 10 19 15 12
Israel 39 33 64 15
Italy 506 848 993 867 26 17 7 21
Jamaica 14 17 13 17
Japan 4 7 2 4 7 2
Jordan 2 5 51 66 68 99
Kazakhstan 58 207 182 147
Kenya 543 1 53 75 68 48
Kiribati 1
South Korea 2 41 16 45 57
Kosovo 1,569 1,334 1,542 1,546
Kuwait 1 2 2
Kyrgyzstan 80 119 123 81
Laos 1 4 1 2
Latvia 73 89 82 94 2 5 5 16
Lebanon 103 95 60 143
Liberia 19 15 34 18
Libya 172 847 218 27 50 80 82
Liechtenstein 5
Lithuania 47 65 43 66 12 11 4 15
Luxembourg 101 97 116 186
Macau 7
Macedonia 1,961 1,872 2,526 2,387
Madagascar 5 9 1 15
Malawi 38 3 15 12
Malaysia 36 23 11 44 42 20 21
Mali 21 8 7 55 32 173 126
Malta 29 39 55 72 1 3
Mauretania 1 8 18 35 14
Mauritius 23 23 77 37 58 31
Mexico 1,141 897 17 25 20 190 56 45
Moldova 38 73 10 248 199 213 149
Mongolia 1 4 632 527 458 541
Montenegro 26 127 83 174
Morocco 440 89 498 1,158 135 523 482 416
Mozambique 12 11 9 7
Myanmar 1 15 48 72 137
Namibia 2 2 34 17
Nepal 147 202 205 136
Nauru 50 17 46
Netherlands 3,473 2,905 2,489 2,269 11 10 8 5
New Zealand 2 3 3 2
Nicaragua 12 13 4 14 23 25 35
Niger 78 82 6 15 48 31 30
Nigeria 2 623 689 914 609
Norway 1,813 1,753 1,899 1,622 5 4 14
Oman 1
Pakistan 586 4,324 5,606 3,860
Palestinian territories 84 60 41 21
Panama 1 1 5 7 3 3
Papua New Guinea 5 3 177 278 31 2 2 13
Paraguay 4 74 60 49 75
Peru 2 3 149 149 183 207
Philippines 1 92 132 244 198
Poland 1,149 753 1,949 1,463 34 65 52 44
Portugal 594 753 692 412 2 3 15 16
Puerto Rico 1
Qatar 1
Réunion 1
Romania 131 312 197 113 198 168 140 776
Russia 12 117 10 2,561 2,607 5,048 4,538
Rwanda 32 40 35 21
Saint Kitts and Nevis 1
Saint Lucia 1 13 39 23
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines 52 12
Samoa 1 4 1 1
São Tomé and Príncipe 16 23 14 7
Saudi Arabia 1 4 5
Senegal 1 1 124 201 328 283
Serbia 2,921 3,917 3,933 4,570
Seychelles 1 1 1
Sierra Leone 6 25 29 37 23
Singapore 3 4 1 11
Slovakia 95 54 50 57 51 141 181 188
Slovenia 11 11 20 16 11 10 1
Solomon Islands 1 1
Somalia 990 1 1,005 14 13
South Africa 197 247 48 36 20 38
South Sudan 15 120 74
Spain 823 785 758 889 14 12 9 21
Sri Lanka 1 205 847 409 374
Sudan 66 276 161 216
Suriname 32 46 56 58
Swaziland 3 2
Sweden 78 98 98 63 8 14 12 10
Switzerland 1,130 2,289 1,655 478 5 3
Syria 77 13
Taiwan 1 4
Tajikistan 74 45 49 77
Tanzania 912 589 58 47 50 35
Thailand 49 13 25 17 24 22
East Timor 1 1
Togo 183 2 5 21 26 74 31
Tonga 6 2 1
Trinidad and Tobago 4 8 5
Tunisia 9 251 99 278 451 609 139
Turkey 200 569 618 495 384 371 256 276
Turkmenistan 18 89 74 4
Turks and Caicos 3
Uganda 47 62 51 70
Ukraine 159 72 21 699 677 789 970
UAE 7 1 8 2
UK 874 2 53 41 59 50
United States 76 137 32 41
Uruguay 107 39 42 33
Uzbekistan 148 200 159 190
Vanatu 1 5
Venezuela 34 34 45 34
Vietnam 1 371 215 251 179
Yemen 128 794 335 827 11 40 46 29
Zambia 34 20 8 4 4
Zimbabwe 90 35 5 12

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