Balancing Acts: Policy Frameworks for Migrant Return and Reintegration

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The practice of returning failed asylum seekers and other migrants to their countries of origin, often against their will, is one of the most contentious in migration policy, and a common point of tension in relations between migrant-sending and -receiving countries. The ways in which countries carry out returns have profound implications not only for individual migrants and their families, but also for entire communities and countries of origin.

This brief examines the policies, practices, and contextual factors that make compulsory returns such a difficult issue for international cooperation. It lays out the many perspectives migration policymakers must attempt to reconcile when considering returns—from the rule of law to humanitarian, development, and security and stability concerns. It also looks at the scale and diversity of compulsory returns around the world, including those initiated by the Dominican Republic, EU Member States, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United States.

In recent years, the question of returns—and the promise of reintegration assistance for making return more sustainable and less damaging to origin countries—has also been taken up at the international level. The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration negotiated in 2018 acknowledges the importance of international cooperation on return, readmission, and reintegration, setting out concrete steps states can take to make good on their commitments under the compact.

With all eyes turning towards the challenges of implementation of the compact in 2019 and beyond, this policy brief explains how reintegration assistance and development cooperation can add positive incentives for return and ameliorate the conditions in countries of origin that motivate people to migrate.