WASHINGTON — Returning migrants who do not qualify for residence or asylum to their countries of origin represents one of the most contested areas of migration policy around the world. The United States deports more than 300,000 people annually, and in recent years the Dominican Republic, Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have each also returned hundreds of thousands of migrants, in some cases including recognized refugees, long-term residents and laborers.
While controversial, and generally the subject of bilateral accords, the subject has now moved to the global stage. The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, due to be ratified by UN member states in December and implemented beginning in 2019, includes a compromise on return, readmission and reintegration that recognizes the priorities of both origin and destination countries.
The European Union in October underscored its intent to step up the return of failed asylum seekers, even as European governments have been criticized for returning migrants, including children, to Afghanistan, where they face precarious futures and dangerous conditions.
But as a new Migration Policy Institute policy brief notes, even amid a new focus on returns, whether forced or voluntary, there is a recognition in the Global Compact and by European governments of the companion role for development cooperation in addressing and ameliorating the conditions in countries of origin that motivate people to migrate and that discourage return.
In the brief, Balancing Acts: Policy Frameworks for Migrant Return and Reintegration, Migration Policy Institute authors Kathleen Newland and Brian Salant explain how reintegration assistance can add positive incentives for return and promote conditions that make reintegration more sustainable. Still, they find that even in places where destination-country governments offer cash or in-kind aid, the impact of reintegration assistance is hobbled by a number of factors.
Among them: The brief duration of the assistance; a narrow goal of getting returned migrants into the labor market quickly; and a focus on individual needs rather than structural or community-level change. Few reintegration programs include robust monitoring and evaluation, making it difficult to learn their successes or failures.
The MPI researchers also note the limited consultation and cooperation between countries of destination and origin on returns, particularly where the removal of criminals is prioritized. “Returns are still largely something that is done to countries of origin,” they write. “Cooperation is vital to successful return and reintegration, as it allows the countries and communities to which migrants return to plan for their arrival, preparing both infrastructure and residents for an influx of newcomers.”
The authors urge a focus on the broader set of national interests involved in returns, which have implications for development, humanitarian concerns and security and stability in migrants’ countries and communities of origin, as well as the prevailing interests in law and order and political pressures in destination countries.
The brief is the sixth in a series, “Towards the Global Compact for Migration: A Development Perspective,” that results from a partnership between MPI and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, supported by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). The series was created to provide evidence and policy ideas to inform negotiation and implementation of the global compact.
Read the series here: www.migrationpolicy.org/programs/international-program/global-compact-migration.