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Migration: EU return policy must be better implemented

MEPs want future EU policies on returning migrants to safeguard fundamental rights and give priority to voluntary returns.

There are gaps and shortcomings in the EU's policy on returning migrants, MEPs say in a resolution on the implementation of the Return Directive, which sets out common rules for the return of non-EU nationals who do not have the right to stay in the European Union. The resolution was adopted on 16 December.

Read more about the EU's migration policy

Promoting effective returns

In 2019, EU countries issued more than 490,000 return decisions. However, less than a third of non-EU nationals were effectively returned to a country outside the EU. MEPs noted that short deadlines for voluntary departure, plus the imposition of entry bans, can prevent departure altogether. They called on EU countries to allow an appropriate departure deadline with entry bans decided on a case-by-case basis.

Dutch Greens/EFA member Tineke Strik, the MEP responsible for the topic, said an effective returns policy should not only based only on the return rate but should also look at the fate of returned persons after their arrival in the destination country.

Prioritising voluntary departures

The rules on returns prioritise voluntary returns, through which people have the opportunity to leave the EU of their own accord, over forced departures. However, some EU countries regularly refuse or shorten the voluntary departure period , for example if the migrant is in detention or if there’s reason to believe that the returnee would abscond.

Parliament urges member states to invest in assisted voluntary return programmes and prioritise voluntary returns, as they are more sustainable and easier to organise, also in terms of cooperation with destination countries. MEPs also said unaccompanied minors should not be returned unless it can proved it is in their best interests.

Safeguarding fundamental rights

Parliament stresses the importance of safeguarding fundamental rights and respecting procedural safeguards when applying EU legislation on returns. It also calls on EU countries to allow enough time for appeal against a return decision and to provide legal aid and interpreters on request and free of charge.

MEPs also expressed concern about informal arrangements with third countries, such as Turkey, Afghanistan and Gambia, which contain minimal references to fundamental rights.

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