EXPLAINER: Return Migration in Perspective

Return Migration
Migrants at the Tripoli Airport preparing to board the flight home (Photo Credit: IOM/Aug. 2020)

By Momodou Janneh

Voluntary return of migrants has been occurring over the past years. This comes when migrants feel no longer comfortable at the countries they countries they are leaving as migrants. Migrants can therefore seek for return to their various countries of origin voluntarily. This occurs with the involvement of the government and other partners for the safe and voluntary return of those migrants to their countries of origin.

While there is no universally accepted definition of return migration, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) defines it as ‘the act or process of going back or being taken back to the point of departure’.

The point of departure could be within the territorial boundaries of a country, as in the case of returning internally displaced persons (IDPs) and demobilized combatants; or between a country of destination or transit and a country of origin, as in the case of migrant workers, refugees or asylum seekers.

Return migration is of two main types: voluntary return, and involuntary return.


Return Migration
Migrants wear face masks as they board a plane in Athens airport which will fly them back to Iraq as part of a voluntary return program | Photo: ThanassisStavrakis/AP/dpa

Voluntary return, as the name suggests, is a return based on the voluntary decision of the returnee.  It can be either spontaneous or assisted.

Voluntary return is spontaneous return when the return is done without the support of states or other international or national assistance.

On the other hand, voluntary return is assisted, technically called ‘assisted voluntary return and reintegration’, when it includes administrative, logistical, or financial support, including reintegration assistance, to migrants who are unable or unwilling to remain in the host country or country of transit and who decide to return to their country of origin.

Assisted return could also be based on humanitarian grounds which are known as ‘voluntary humanitarian return’.  It is basically the application of assisted voluntary return and reintegration principles in humanitarian settings and “often represents a life-saving measure for migrants who are stranded or in detention”, according to IOM.

Return, re-admission and reintegration are complex issues that cannot be addressed by one ministry or a single government policy sector alone. No single entity has the capacity, reach or mandate to address on its own the profound implications that return and reintegration have on a wide range of stakeholders.

For this reason, IOM promotes synergies between the different programmatic interventions and funding instruments used to address return management and those that promote humanitarian assistance, community stabilization and development cooperation.

Enhancing cooperation across different sectors and between relevant ministries and levels of government with different mandates and priorities is required to ensure effectiveness.

IOM works closely with its partners to promote whole-of-government approaches to return, readmission and reintegration that seek to ensure horizontal and vertical policy coherence across all sectors and levels of government and alignment with development plans.

Previous articleEXPLAINER: What’s Pushing Young People from Gambia into Irregular Migration
Next articleExplainer: Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration: A Human Right?


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here