There are two main forms of return migration: voluntary return and forced return (see below). Data on forced return are usually collected by national and international statistical offices, border protection and immigration law enforcement agencies. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) collects data on assisted voluntary return and reintegration programmes that it implements worldwide by IOM.
Back to top
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).
Two main types of return migration are defined as follows:
Voluntary returns can be either spontaneous or assisted:
- 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).
- Assisted voluntary return is 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, 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 or habitual residence” (IOM Glossary on Migration, 2011).
2. 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).
While millions of migrants return to their country of origin every year, not all returns are necessarily recorded. The top five countries that experienced the largest outflows in 2015 were Germany (859,300), Korea (301,000), Spain (253,100), Japan (223,500), and the United Kingdom (164,000), according to figures produced by the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) on outflows of foreign populations from selected OECD countries (International Migration Outlook 2017: 269). Note: each country has a different methodology for measuring outflows.
In terms of voluntary 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.
The 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 305,365 irregular migrants were given a “return decision” by EU Member States in 2016. Of this figure, 176,223 people were effectively returned (either forcibly or voluntarily). (Frontex, 2017)
The United Kingdom (UK) 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 implemented by the government 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) in 2016 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 (ICE) 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, 1,090 AVRR beneficiaries returned to the region of South America, while only 26 migrants returned from the region. Of the total beneficiariess, 965 returned from the European Economic Area (EEA), making up 89 per cent of the total inflows to South America (IOM, 2017).
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 EEA 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 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 per cent 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 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. Ninety-four per cent returned to Ethiopia. (IOM, 2017).
As the largest global provider of Assisted Voluntary Return (AVR) and Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration (AVRR) programmes, IOM collects voluntary return data 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). IOM data also include information on assisted migrants by specific vulnerability (unaccompanied migrant children, migrants with health-related needs and victims of trafficking).
Data on returned or “repatriated” refugees – i.e. refugees who have returned to their country of origin spontaneously or in an organized manner (sometimes with help of IOM’s AVRR programmes)– are collected respectively by IOM and UNHCR.
Data on the outflows of the 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 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 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 migrants and refugee returnees crossing to Afghanistan from Pakistan and Iran. IOM publishes these data here.
Some countries and/or organizations 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 Kuschminder (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 and limitations
Data on forced return and on voluntary return are scattered across different data sources and are often incomplete or only partially publicly available - For example, several countries that implement AVRR programmes (either under IOM or government auspices) 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 provide a list of questions and indicators to be included in post-return monitoring activities.
More recently in 2017, the DFID-funded MEASURE Project (Mediterranean Sustainable Reintegration), a pilot project that fosters the sustainability of reintegration support in the framework of Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration in the Mediterranean, led to the development of a set of 15 field-tested indicators and a scoring system to measurement of reintegration outcomes and improving understanding of returnees’ progress towards sustainability. These indicators are based on a revised definition of sustainable reintegration in the context of return, (IOM, 2017) and therefore relate to the three economic, social and psychosocial dimensions of reintegration. The scoring system allows comparison of trends in returnees’ reintegration across country contexts and over time.
|International Organization for Migration (IOM)|
|2017||Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration 2016 Key Highlights. IOM, Geneva.|
Koser, K. and K. Kuschminder
|2015||Comparative Research on the Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration of Migrants. IOM, Geneva.|
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
International Migration Outlook 2017. OECD Publishing, Paris.
European Migration Network (EMN)
|2016||Guidelines for Monitoring and Evaluation of AVR(R) Programmes. EMN.|
European Migration Network: Return Migration. EMN Synthesis Report, European Commission: Luxembourg.
International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD)
|2015||Evaluation of the Medium-Term Effectiveness of the Reintegration Measures of the Projects ‘Reintegration in Kosovo-Cooperation with Microcredit Institutions and the Economy’ (ReKoKO I-III). Vienna, Austria.|
Cassarino, J. P. (ed.)
Return Migrants to the Maghreb, Reintegration and Development 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.
|2016||Programmes for assisted return to Afghanistan, Iraqi Kurdistan, Ethiopia and Kosovo: A comparative evaluation of effectiveness and outcomes. Norway, CMI Report.|
|European Migration Network (EMN)|
International Organization for Migration (IOM)
Assisted Voluntary Return. IOM, Geneva.
- 1. IOM assisted voluntary return figures do not include voluntary humanitarian returns (VHR) from Libya.