The personal right of a refugee or a prisoner of war to return to their country of nationality under specific conditions laid down in various international instruments and human rights instruments as well as in customary international law.
1. This is not a synonym relating to forced return.
2. The option of repatriation is bestowed upon the individual personally and not upon the detaining power. In the law of international armed conflict, repatriation also entails the obligation of the detaining power to release eligible persons (soldiers and civilians) and the duty of the country of origin to receive its own nationals at the end of hostilities. Even if treaty law does not contain a general rule on this point, it is today readily accepted that the repatriation of prisoners of war and civil detainees has been consented to implicitly by the interested parties. Repatriation as a term also applies to diplomatic envoys and international officials in times of international crisis as well as expatriates and migrants.
3. Depending on the EU Member State, this term has different meanings / connotations: in PL, RO, NL, NO this refers specifically to repatriating their nationals back to PL, RO, NL, NO respectively. In ES, IE, IT, UK, it is often used in the context of returning third-country nationals to their country of origin. In EE, the term refers specifically to persons of Estonia or ethnic Estonians’ resettlement to Estonia. In LV, the term refers specifically to the persons of Latvian or Liiv origin to resettle with permanent residence in Latvia. In PT, the term has no legal concept, being used more as a sociological term. It is commonly used to refer to Portuguese citizens that return to Portugal, including being forced to return.
4. The term should not be confused with ‘voluntary repatriation’ which is according to the UNHCR International Thesaurus of Refugee Terminology defined as follows: ‘Return to the country of origin on the basis of the freely expressed willingness of the refugees’. The returns have to take place in conditions of safety, dignity and security. The principle of ‘voluntariness’ must be viewed in relation to both: conditions in the country of origin (calling for an informed decision) and the situation in the country of asylum (permitting a free choice). For more information, see UNHCR: Voluntary Repatriation: International Protection – handbook, 1996.