Migration and Home Affairs

Return & readmission

An effective and humane return policy is an integral part of a comprehensive migration policy and does not contradict a more open migration policy. Ensuring the return of irregular migrants is  essential to enhance the credibility of policies in the field of international protection and legal migration.

Common rules for managing the return of irregular migrants

Every year, around 500,000 foreign nationals are ordered to leave the EU because they have entered or they are staying irregularly. However, only between 30% and 40% of them return back to their home country or to the country from which they travelled to the EU.

Common EU rules on return (the Return Directive) provide for clear, transparent and fair treatment of irregularly staying migrants, while fully respecting the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the persons concerned. The Directive has been transposed into national law by all EU countries, except for UK (pre-Brexit) and Ireland, including the four Schengen associated countries: Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein).

The key features of the Return Directive include:

  • the requirement for a fair and transparent procedure for return decisions, 
  • the obligation for EU countries to either return irregular migrants or to grant them legal status, thus avoiding situations of “legal limbo”,
  • the principle of voluntary departure by establishing a general rule that a "period for voluntary departure" should normally be granted,
  • a minimum set of basic rights for irregularly staying migrants 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, ensuring that such measures are not excessive or disproportionate,
  • an entry ban valid throughout the EU for migrants returned by an EU country and
  • a limit to 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 countries. It allows them to avoid the duplication of work.

Such operational cooperation includes:

The European Border and Coast Guard Agency (FRONTEX) plays a key role in operational cooperation in cases of return. One of its tasks is to provide assistance for joint return operations and identify best practices on the acquisition of travel documents and removal of non-EU nationals who are irregularly present on the territory of an EU country.

Cooperation with non-EU countries on readmission of irregular migrants

The EU co-operates very actively with the countries of return of irregular migrants, in particular through readmission agreements.

These set out clear obligations and procedures for the authorities of the non-EU country and of EU Member States as to when and how to readmit people who are irregularly residing.

They aim at improving cooperation between administrations and, can only be used after a return decision has been made in accordance with the procedural guarantees set by the Return Directive and the relevant EU asylum rules (Asylum Procedures Directive).

So far, the EU has concluded readmission agreements with the following countries:

Country Entry into force of the agreement
Hong Kong Agreement between the European Community and the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China on the readmission of persons residing without authorisation 1 March 2004
Macao Agreement between the European Community and the Macao Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China on the readmission of persons residing without authorisation 1 June 2004
Sri Lanka Agreement between the European Community and the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka on the readmission of persons residing without authorisation 1 May 2005
Albania Agreement between the European Community and the Republic of Albania on the readmission of persons residing without authorisation 1 May 2006
Russia Agreement between the European Community and the Russian Federation on readmission 1 June 2007
Ukraine Agreement between the European Community and Ukraine on the readmission of persons 1 January 2008
North Macedonia Agreement between the European Community and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on the readmission of persons residing without authorisation 1 January 2008
Bosnia & Herzegovina Agreement between the European Community and Bosnia and Herzegovina on the readmission of persons residing without authorisation 1 January 2008
Montenegro Agreement between the European Community and the Republic of Montenegro on the readmission of persons residing without authorisation 1 January 2008
Serbia Agreement between the European Community and the Republic of Serbia on the readmission of persons residing without authorisation 1 January 2008
Moldova Agreement between the European Community and the Republic of Moldova on the readmission of persons residing without authorisation 1 January 2008
Pakistan Agreement between the European Community and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan on the readmission of persons residing without authorisation 1 December 2010
Georgia Agreement between the European Community and the Democratic Republic of Georgia on the readmission of persons residing without authorisation 1 March 2011
Armenia Agreement between the European Union and the Republic of Armenia on the readmission of persons residing without authorisation 1 January 2014
Azerbaijan Agreement between the European Union and the Republic of Azerbaijan on the readmission of persons residing without authorisation 1 September 2014
Turkey Agreement between the European Union and the Republic of Turkey on the readmission of persons residing without authorisation 1 October 2014
Cape Verde Agreement between the European Union and the Republic of Cape Verde on the readmission of persons residing without authorisation

1 December 2014

Belarus Agreement between the European Union and the Republic of Belarus on the readmission of persons residing without authorisation 1 July 2020

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