Focusing on returnees’ aspirations

The core deliverable of the MIREM project is a comprehensive comparative database based on 992 interviews made with return migrants to Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.

As the collected data were gradually processed and analysed, it became clear that the distinction between migrants who decided on their own initiative to return to their country of origin and those who were compelled to do so constituted one key variable explaining returnees’ prospects of socio-professional reintegration back home.

Decided or chosen return should not be confused with so-called “voluntary” return. In contrast with voluntary return, chosen return refers to migrants’ own decision to return to their country of origin, on a temporary or permanent basis, without the assistance of a public body. The definition of decided or chosen return, used in the framework of the research activities of the MIREM project (see the RDP glossary), highlights the individual capacity of migrants, viewed as actors, to judge and assess the actual changes and reforms taking place in their countries of origin.

Our findings question the dominant dichotomy “voluntary vs. forced return”. Today, this dichotomy continues to shape public and policy discourses on migration and return, including the priorities of the EU and its Member States as well as the perceptions of officials in non-EU countries.

However, the extent to which this dichotomy reflects the composite nature of return flows and returnees’ experiences is highly debatable, for it responds to a security paradigm that subtly disregards returnees’ needs and aspirations for rights, protection, welfare and advancement.

Various events and meetings were organised to raise awareness of the need to reconsider dominant schemes of understanding and to redefine current policy priorities as applied to return (read our recommendations).

Among others, ensuring the portability and maintenance of returnees’ social security rights, pensions and unemployment benefits should be better tackled. The portability of social and pension rights acquired by migrants abroad is an essential element in the definition of solutions aimed at supporting the reintegration of migrants and their families.

Finally, the introduction of institutional mechanisms guaranteeing the right to socio-professional reintegration for migrants, either temporary or permanent, is a matter which countries of origin and of destination must address jointly. The efficacy of these mechanisms will determine the long term coherence and impact of temporary migration programmes (e.g., mobility partnerships, circular migration programmes), in which the question of return plays an integral role.