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The Global Compact’s controversy (4/4): Return and reintegration

On December 19th, the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly with 152 votes in favour. Several States have decided to pull out (or are still considering whether to join the GCM or not) after going through a lengthy negotiation process (see The Global Compact’s controversy). In this article we are going to talk about one of the most contentious issue in migration governance, return and reintegration.

 

The GCM comprises cooperation on return, readmission and reintegration that identifies the main concerns of both origin and destination countries embodied in Objective 21: “Cooperate in facilitating safe and dignified return and readmission, as well as sustainable reintegration”. The main concern in this regard is that countries returning migrants would have increased obligations in terms of financial support for migrants’ reintegration.

 

This criticism is interesting as Objective 21 is actually more favourable to receiving States than to States of origin. Objective 21 aims at facilitating return and readmission and it indicates that States of origin “commit to ensure that [their] nationals are duly received and readmitted” (objective 21, para. 37). Additionally, Objective 21 para. 37 d) states that one of the ways to reach Objective 21 is by:

 

“Foster[ing] institutional contacts between consular authorities and relevant officials from countries of origin and destination and provide adequate consular assistance to returning migrants prior to return by facilitating access to documentation, travel documents, and other services, in order to ensure predictability, safety and dignity in return and readmission” (emphasis added).

 

Return is usually conducted in a complex policy environment where countries of origin and receiving countries do not have the same perspective. There are indeed different ways of looking at return. It can be from a law and order perspective (a migrant does not fulfil the legal conditions to remain in a country), from a humanitarian angle (such as family unity), from a development perspective (the impact of a loss of remittances) or a security concern (in the case of convicted criminals for example). Some States may welcome migrants back or even solicitate them to come back such as China or Ireland for example. However, in other cases origin countries have no interest in cooperating on return issues and are often obliged to facilitate the return of their nationals, leading to difficulties in implementing returns and giving little guarantees for effective reintegration.

 

Return assistance mainly funds the returnees’ transport and reception in the country of origin, and maybe a limited number of days of food and accommodation. Reintegration assistance is broader. It can encourage migrants to return voluntarily as well as to increase the permanency of return. Currently, only a small number of migrants receive financial or material support to facilitate their reintegration upon arrival, generally conditioned by their collaboration during the return procedure. The programs that deliver such assistance are known as assisted voluntary return (AVR) or assisted voluntary return and reintegration (AVRR) programs. For example, the EU-IOM Joint Initiative has helped over 55,000 migrants to resume their lives and under the EU Trust Fund for Africa the EU has devoted €345 million for migrant protection, return and reintegration.

 

The GCM underlines the role for development cooperation in tackling and bettering the circumstances in countries of origin that stimulate people to migrate and that deter return. It also emphasises how reintegration assistance can encourage returns and stimulate conditions that make reintegration more permanent. Reintegration necessitates longer-term backing and significantly more funds which explains why many countries are reluctant to offer this level of aid. According to IOM reintegration is sustainable when returnees are economically self-sufficient, socially accepted and enjoy psychosocial well-being. Richard Black and Russel King argue that: “Return migration is sustainable for individuals if returnees’ socioeconomic status and fear of violence or persecution is no worse, relative to the population in the place of origin, one year after their return”. Therefore, it should be kept in mind that returnees who upon arrival in their country of origin once more encounter the circumstances that prompted their initial migration are likely to leave again. It is only through effective reintegration programmes that durable settlements can be produced.

 

Finally, it should be highlighted that the GCM is a non-binding instrument meaning that it creates no legal obligations for the countries that are signing it. Therefore, no country will be forced to allocate more funding to reintegration measures.

 

Author: Dr. Fanny Tittel-Mosser

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