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Return & readmission

Every year, national authorities in the EU apprehend more than 500 000 irregular migrants (570 000 in 2009). About 40 % of them are sent back to their home country or to the country from which they travelled to the EU. An effective and humane return policy is a necessary part of a comprehensive migration policy and does not contradict a more open migration policy.

Common rules for managing the return of irregular migrants

At the end of 2010, the common standards on return (the so-called "Return Directive") , agreed by EU States in 2008, entered into force. They provide for clear, transparent and fair common rules for the return and removal, the use of coercive measures, detention and re-entry, while fully respecting the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the persons concerned.

Although the number of EU States having transposed the Directive is far from satisfactory, the Return Directive confers rights on migrants that may be invoked in proceedings before national courts. The rights are applicable at national level regardless of whether an EU State has transposed the legislation. The key features of the Directive include:

  • the requirement for a fair and transparent procedure for decisions on the return of irregular migrants
  • an obligation on EU States to either return irregular migrants or to grant them legal status, thus avoiding situations of “legal limbo”
  • promotion of the principle of voluntary departure by establishing a general rule that a "period for voluntary departure" should normally be granted
  • provision for persons residing irregularly of a minimum set of basic rights pending their removal, including access to basic health care and education for children
  • a limit on the use of coercive measures in connection with the removal of persons, and ensuring that such measures are not excessive or disproportionate
  • providing for an entry ban valid throughout the EU for migrants returned by an EU State
  • limiting the use of detention, binding it to the principle of proportionality and establishing minimum safeguards for detainees.

Operational cooperation between EU-States

The EU's return policy would not be effective without operational cooperation between EU States. This allows them to avoid duplicating work. Such operational cooperation includes assistance in cases of transit for the purposes of removal by air , organisation of joint flights for removals , mutual recognition of decisions on expulsion , and implementation of guidelines on forced return . The Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders (FRONTEX) also plays a key role in operational cooperation on return, one of its tasks being to provide assistance for joint return operations and identify best practices on the acquisition of travel documents and removal of non-EU nationals irregularly present in the territory of an EU State.

Cooperation with non-EU countries on readmission of irregular migrants

 A return policy would not be credible without cooperation with the non-EU countries concerned, and in particular without readmission agreements. Readmission agreements set out clear obligations and procedures for the authorities of the non-EU country and of EU States as to when and how to take back people who are irregularly residing in the EU. They are in principle technical instruments to improve cooperation between administrations and can only be used after a return decision has been made in accordance with certain procedural guarantees set by the Return Directive and the relevant EU asylum acquis (Asylum Procedures Directive).

In February 2011, on the basis of an evaluation of the EU readmission agreements pdf - 77 KB [77 KB] already in force and assessment of ongoing readmission negotiations, the Commission made several recommendations for a renewed EU readmission policy. These cover ideas for further safeguarding the fundamental rights of returnees.

Financial support to improve return management

The European Return Fund provides for significant funding (more than EUR 600 million over the period 2008-13) to support the efforts made by EU States to improve the management of return from all angles, in full compliance with fundamental rights.

Additional tools


Voluntary return

The assisted or independent return to the country of origin, transit or third country based on the free will of ...


Travel document

A passport or other equivalent document entitling the holder to cross the external borders and to which a visa ...



A non-EU national migrant who moves to a country of return, whether voluntary or forced.


Return decision

An administrative or judicial decision or act stating or declaring the stay of a non-EU national to be illegal ...



In a general sense, the act or process of going back to the point of departure. This could be within the territorial ...



The enforcement of the obligation to return, namely the physical transportation out of the country.


Readmission agreement

International agreement that addresses procedures, on a reciprocal basis, for one State to return non-nationals...



Act by a State accepting the re-entry of an individual (own national, third-country national or stateless person).


Principle of proportionality

Regulates the exercise of powers by the EU. It seeks to set actions taken by the institutions of the Union within ...


Non-EU national

Any person not having the nationality of an EU State.



A broader-term of an immigrant and emigrant, referring to a person who leaves one country or region to settle in ...



Comprises three main tasks: - supervision and responsibility for increasing the performance of others...


Legal limbo

Irregular migrants in return procedures whose removal has been suspended, postponed or not enforced for a ...


Irregular stay

The presence on the territory of a Schengen State of a non-EU national who does not fulfil, or no longer fulfils, the ...


Irregular migrant

People who enter a country, usually in search of employment, without the necessary documents and permits...


Forced return

The compulsory return of an individual to the country of origin, transit or third country, on the basis of an ...


Expulsion decision

Any decision that orders an expulsion taken by a competent administrative (or judicial) authority of an issuing ...



The removal of:  - a non-EU national subject to an expulsion decision based on a serious and present threat ...


European Return Fund

A financial instrument for the period 2008 to 2013, which supports EU States in the management of return...


European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union (FRONTEX)

A specialised and independent body tasked to coordinate EU States' operational cooperation in the management ...


EU agency

There are two broad types of agency, each with different characteristics and raising different issues. "Regulatory" or ...



Any entrance of a person from one country to another, whether voluntary or involuntary, authorised or unauthorised.



A person in detention.



Restriction on freedom of movement through confinement. It can either be criminal detention, having as a purpose ...



Every human being below the age of eighteen years, unless majority is attained earlier under the law applicable...



The body of common rights and obligations that is binding on all EU States. (...)