There are four main forms of return migration: voluntary return, forced return, assisted return and spontaneous return (see below). Data on forced return are usually collected by national and international statistical offices, border protection and immigration law enforcement agencies. IOM records figures on assisted voluntary returns implemented worldwide by IOM.
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There is no universally accepted definition of return migration.
Return is “the act or process of going back to the point of departure. This 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 host country (either transit or destination) and a country of origin, as in the case of migrant workers, refugees, asylum-seekers, and qualified nationals.”(IOM Glossary on Migration, 2011).
The four main types of return migration are defined as:
- Voluntary return is the “assisted or independent return to the country of origin, transit or another third country based on the free will of the returnee.” (IOM Glossary on Migration, 2011)
- Spontaneous return is “the voluntary, independent return of an individual or group, including refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs), or asylum-seekers, to their country of origin, usually without the support of States or other international or national assistance.” (IOM Glossary on Migration, 2011).
- Forced return is “the compulsory return of an individual to the country of origin, transit or third country [country of return], on the basis of an administrative or juridical act” (IOM Glossary on Migration, 2011).
- Assisted return occurs most often in the form of assisted voluntary return (AVR). IOM defines AVR as the “administrative, logistical, financial and reintegration support to rejected asylum seekers, victims of trafficking in human beings, stranded migrants, qualified nationals and other migrants unable or unwilling to remain in the host country who volunteer to return to their countries of origin” (IOM Glossary on Migration, 2011).
When return programmes involve additional reintegration support for returnees after their return to the country of origin, these programmes are referred to as assisted voluntary return and reintegration (AVRR). IOM defines reintegration as “re-inclusion or re-incorporation into a group or a process, e.g. of a migrant into the society of his country of origin” (2004: 54).
While millions of migrants return every year, not all returns are necessarily recorded. According to data produced by OECD on outflows of foreign populations from selected OECD countries, the top five countries that experienced the largest outflows in 2015 were Germany (859,300), Korea (301,000), Sweden (253,100), Korea (223,500), and the United Kingdom (164,000) (International Migration Outlook 2017: 269). Note: each country has a different methodology for measuring outflows.
As concerns assisted returns, in 2016, more than 98,400 people participated in an IOM Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration (AVRR) programme globally (IOM, 2017). Migrants were returned from 110 host and transit countries to 161 countries and territories of origin. This represented an increase of 41 per cent in comparison to 2015.
Top 10 host countries for AVRR in 2016 were: Germany, Greece, Austria, Niger, Netherlands, Belgium, Yemen, Finland, Djibouti and Norway: returns from these countries represented 88 per cent of the total return flows. (IOM, 2017)
Frontex, the European Union Border and Coast Guard Agency, reports that in 2016 305,365 irregular migrants were given a “return decision” by EU Member States. Of this figure,176,223 people were effectively returned (either forcibly or voluntarily) (Frontex, 2017).
The United Kingdom reported 39,626 people who were removed or departed voluntarily from the UK in 2016. Of this figure, 28 per cent left the UK via forced removal, 33 per cent voluntarily, 3 per cent through AVR programmes and 36 per cent via other verified returns. Since 2004, forced removals have declined while voluntary departures have increased. (Blinder, 2017).
According to IOM, the European Economic Area (EEA) hosted 83 per cent of the migrants that received AVRR assistance globally, equaling 81,671 migrants. This was a 46 per cent increase in the number of migrants assisted in 2015. Majority of the migrants assisted returned to the South-Eastern Europe, Eastern Europe and Central Asia region. (IOM, 2017).
North and Latin America
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement reported 450,954 removals and returns in 2016 (ICE, 2016). In Canada, a total of 15,232 persons were removed from the country in 2013 (latest available figure) (Canada Border Services Agency Annual Report, 2012-2013).
In 2014, there was a recorded 37 per cent increase from 2013 of Salvadorians repatriating to their homeland by air and land, mainly from the United States and Mexico due to increased deportation regulations (SICREMI, 2015). Between 2012 and 2013, 64,886 Salvadorians were repatriated.
Returns from Spain to the Americas doubled between 2006 and 2007 and increased another 15-20 per cent the following two years (SICREMI, 2015). Returns have remained between 135,000 and 140,000 since 2010.
In 2016, IOM assisted a total of 888 migrants to return to the Central and North America and Caribbean region. Of this total, IOM assisted 491 migrants (55%) returning to their country of origin within the region, the majority from the Dominican Republic to Haiti. (IOM, 2017).
In 2016, 888 AVRR beneficiaries returned to the region of South America, while only 26 migrants returned from the region.
Asia and the Pacific
In 2016, 16,397 migrants were assisted by IOM to return to the Asia and the Pacific region, which is the second region of origin for AVRR returnees, with most migrants came from the European Economic Area region. This figure represents a 65 per cent increase from 2015. (IOM, 2017).
The Australian Government managed the forced and voluntary return of 14,708 migrants from Australia during 2015–16 - a decrease of 4.8 per cent compared with 2014–15 (15,450). (Australian Government Department of Immigration and Border Protection, 2016)
The Middle East and Africa
A total of 16,262 migrants returned to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region under the auspices of IOM. This figure is a 234 per cent increase from 2015. Out of the total, 15,846 migrants that were assisted through AVRR returned from the European Economic Area (EEA). (IOM, 2017).
In 2016, IOM provided AVRR assistance for 4,935 migrants returning from and 7,316 migrants returning to West and Central Africa (WCA). Of the 4,935 migrants returned from WCA, 99.6% occurred within the region. (IOM, 2017).
The East and Horn of Africa received 2,940 AVRR beneficiaries from the MENA region in 2016 of which 2,578 returned from Yemen to Ethiopia. Another 2,009 migrants returned from countries within in the region, namely Ethiopia and Djibouti. (IOM, 2017).
The majority of migrants (779) that received AVRR assistance from the Southern Africa region returned to the East and Horn of Africa. 94 per cent returned to Ethiopia. (IOM, 2017).
As the largest global provider of Assisted Voluntary Return (AVR) and Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration (AVRR), IOM collects data on migrants assisted through AVR and AVRR programmes on a regular basis. IOM data include the number of participants, host and origin country, as well as sex, age and migration status in the host country prior to return. Since 2010, IOM has published key data on the AVRR website (IOM, 2017; IOM, 2016; IOM, 2015). The reports also contain data on assisted migrants by specific vulnerability (unaccompanied migrant children, migrants with health-related needs and victims of trafficking).
Data on the outflows of foreign population from selected OECD countries are collected by OECD’S Continuous Reporting System on International Migration (SOPEMI) and published in the annual International Migration Outlook report.
Since 2014, Eurostat has provided the following data for 21 EU Member States on return migration of people who are third-country nationals:
- Third country nationals[if !supportNestedAnchors][endif] ordered to leave - annual data (rounded);
- Third country nationals returned following an order to leave - annual data (rounded);
- Third-country nationals who have left the territory by type of return and citizenship;
- Third-country nationals who have left the territory by type of assistance received and citizenship.
Data on forced and voluntary return from EU Member States and the three Schengen Associated Countries (Iceland, Norway and Switzerland) are also published in the Frontex Risk Analysis Reports.
The Return Migration and Development Platform from the European University Institute promotes exchange and knowledge-sharing about return migrants’ realities and the contexts of their experiences.
Data on the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency’s “enforcement and removal operations” (ERO), including forced returns, are summarized in its annual reports.
Central and South America
Data on return migration from and to Central and South (and Northern) American countries are collected by the OECD’s Continuous Reporting System on International Migration in the Americas (SICREMI) and published in the International Migration in the Americas reports.
The Australian Government Department of Immigration and Border Protection publishes annual data on forced and voluntary return from Australia.
The Afghan Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation, with the support of IOM, recently started the implementation of the Afghan Returnee Information System (ARIS), a digital registration process for both undocumented Afghans and refugee returnees crossing to Afghanistan from Pakistan and Iran. The data are published by IOM here.
Some countries have collected data to monitor return migration and the outcomes of return programmes, for example:
- Four EU Member States – Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic and Norway – have collected data on post-return, monitoring returnees to identify longer-term outcomes.
- Switzerland: IOM is tracking outcomes for returnees from Switzerland to Nigeria whom it assisted in 2015, at roughly 9 months post-return.
- In the UK in 2013, the charity Refugee Action compiled a small study of the post-return experiences of their beneficiaries.
A few research studies have assessed the sustainability of return and reintegration programmes. For example, Koser and Kushminder (2015) developed a Return and Reintegration Index which was tested on 156 returnees in eight countries of origin. Strand et al. (2016) measured sustainable return based on the perception of returnees from Norway to Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Iraqi Kurdistan, and Kosovo, and ICMPD (2015) conducted a study to evaluate the sustainability of AVR programmes from Austria to Kosovo.Back to top
Data strengths & limitations
- Data on forced return and on voluntary return are scattered across different data sources and are often incomplete or only partially publically available - For example, several countries that implement AVR programmes are not reported on in the Eurostat database (e.g. Germany, The Netherlands, and the UK). In addition, voluntary departures are usually not tracked. In order to improve this, the EU is implementing the Integrated Return Management Application (IRMA), a secure web-platform for integrating all EU return activities.
- There is a large data gap on post-return data - mainly due to the lack of definitions and established indicators for measuring “reintegration”. However, in January 2016, the EMN released guidelines for the monitoring and evaluation of AVR(R) programmes that provides a list of questions and indicators to be included in post-return monitoring activities.
Koser, K. and K. Kushminder
Reintegration of Migrants. IOM, Geneva.
Organization for the Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
2017 International Migration Outlook 2017. OECD Publishing, Paris.
European Migration Network (EMN):
2016 Guidelines for Monitoring and Evaluation of AVR(R) Programmes.
2007 European Migration Network: Return Migration. EMN Synthesis
Report, European Commission: Luxembourg.
International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD) :
Cassarino, J. P. (ed.)
Challenges. European University Institute (EUI), Robert Schuman Centre for
Advanced Studies, San Domenico di Fiesolo.
Strand, A., Nepstad Bendixsen, S.K., Liden, H., Paasche, E., and Aalen, L.
outcomes. Norway, CMI Report.
European Migration Network (EMN)
International Organization for Migration (IOM)
n.d. Assisted Voluntary Return. IOM, Geneva.