5. Supporting sustainable reintegration

A commitment to facilitate safe and dignified return and readmission, as well as sustainable reintegration, has been reiterated under the 2018 Global Compact for Safe, Regular, and Orderly Migration.1 In particular, Objective 21 of the Compact includes a commitment “to create conducive conditions for personal safety, economic empowerment, inclusion and social cohesion in communities, in order to ensure that reintegration of migrants upon return to their countries of origin is sustainable”.

While most actors involved in AVRR programming stress the concept of “sustainable” return as the main desired outcome, there is no common definition of what “sustainability” means in this context. The lack of definitions and established indicators for measurement makes comparisons across studies difficult. A common understanding requires reconciling different perspectives on sustainability. In other words, should the programme lead to a result which is sustainable for the state administering return and reintegration, the origin countries and communities, or the individual returning migrants themselves.

From a migration management perspective, a possible definition of sustainability of return is that people remain in their country of origin and do not re-emigrate. The European Migration Network (EMN), for example, states that: “Sustainable return is return which deters new irregular migration of the returnee and – where possible – of other third country nationals in the Country of Return by consolidating the position of returnees in their home countries and – where possible – enabling the returnee to consolidate the position of other people in his / her community or country of return” (European Migration Network, 2016[1]).

Under this definition, unsustainable return refers to returnees who do not aim to reintegrate and are able to re-migrate irregularly, either back to the previous destination country or elsewhere. Somewhat paradoxically, this definition considers “sustainable” the return of those who are unable to re-migrate, regardless of whether they are successfully reintegrated in their origin country. Defining return purely as the absence of remigration is therefore not without critics. Strand et al. (2016[2]) and Kuschminder (2017[3]) stress that returnees can be “unsustainably returned” when they are not successfully reintegrated, but lack the ability to re-migrate. When re-migration aspiration and ability are distinguished, “sustainable reintegration” cannot be defined simply looking at whether a returnee re-migrates.

Reflecting the inadequacy of using remigration as a proxy for sustainable return, (IOM, 2017[4]) defines sustainable reintegration as:

  1. (a) returnees reaching levels of economic self-sufficiency, social stability within their communities, and psychosocial wellbeing that allow them to cope with (re)migration drivers.

  2. (b) the ability of returnees to make further migration decisions as a matter of choice, rather than necessity.

Reintegration, therefore, is sustainable when an individual is successfully reintegrated in the everyday life, the labour market and the social environment of their origin country and has the resilience to deal with the forces that initially drove their migration. This definition also emphasises that continued mobility after an initial return – including circular migration and the adoption of a “transnational” lifestyle – may in some cases be more “sustainable” than a one-time definitive return to the returnees’ place of origin (Graviano and Darbellay, 2019[5]).

The IOM approach, as other definitions in the literature, acknowledges that reintegration is a multi-dimensional process and aims at ensuring returnees’ economic, social and psychosocial wellbeing in their origin country. The economic dimension, including employment, income sources, debt, ownership of land or house, is seen as the core of reintegration. The most comprehensive definitions of “sustainable” reintegration go beyond the generation of income. They include a socio-cultural dimension as reflected by networks, participation in local events, self-perception of personal life, membership in organisations upon return. It also requires attention to the safety and security, i.e. perceived safety, trust in the government, access to justice, experienced personal harassment since return (Koser and Kuschminder, 2015[6]). Increasingly, different actors call for consideration of a political and legal dimension to “sustainable” reintegration, including access to anti-discrimination remedies and full enjoyment of civil and human rights (Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), 2018[7])

In addition, some authors suggest that definitions of sustainable return should capture both objective and subjective dimensions to sustainable reintegration. Koser and Kuschminder (2015[6]) define return as sustainable when “the individual has reintegrated into the economic, social and cultural processes of the country of origin and feels that they are in an environment of safety and security upon return”. This definition focuses on returnees’ own perceptions regarding their situation, accounting for the fact that ultimately, returnees’ perceived situation determines their re-migration decisions. Recent research explores the importance of return migrants’ subjective well-being, life satisfaction and sense of belonging, as well as their re-migration intentions (Lenoël, Şerban and Vandenbunder, 2018[8])

A possible measure of returnees’ objective situation is the post-return status compared to pre-migration status. However, as their pre-migration conditions caused them to migrate in the first place, this hardly reflects sustainable return. Another objective measure might be a comparison of the returnees’ circumstances with those of the local population. However, it is unclear which segment of the local population would be most appropriate for comparison. Further, the local population may lack access to basic services and safety might be limited for all, providing few opportunities for sustainable reintegration. Indeed, the local population might be in a situation of poverty, instability and stress, which is unsustainable for both non-returnees and returnees by the above definitions.

Sustainable reintegration must therefore be a multi-level concept, since “sustainability of reintegration is not only dependent on the returning individual, but also on the local community and the structural situation of the environment of return” (IOM, 2017[4]). When communities perceive return positively, it allows the migrant to return without the risk of being stigmatised, enabling them to re-establish social ties, and facilitating re-insertion into society. This is more likely when return migration positively influences – rather than worsens – conditions in the community of return. Sustainable reintegration therefore has an individual level, i.e. the specific needs of beneficiaries and households; a community level, i.e. specific needs and concerns of families and communities; and a structural level, i.e. access to basic services and safety for returnees and non-migrant populations alike (IOM, 2017[4]).

Many definitions, including the IOM approach and other suggestions in the literature, lay out a comprehensive approach to reintegration. The recently released IOM Handbook on Reintegration (2019[9]) bases its practical guidance according to these definitions. Nonetheless, there is no standardised understanding of “sustainable return” that serves as a benchmark for most of today’s AVRR programmes. This may be related to the fact that many of the definitions provided, while clear, may be challenging to satisfy in many origin-country circumstances and with the means, scope and timeline under which many AVRR programmes operate. Evaluations conducted against these aspirational definitions are likely to find programmes unable to meet the standard of success. The existing definitions of sustainability identify the domains of attention, but the question of how to translate them into practical measurement for AVRR programmes remains and must be answered going forward.

European countries covered in the OECD study have moved beyond return counselling and assistance, extending support to the re-establishment period in the origin country. This shift is informed by the understanding that return cannot be sustainable if the return migrant is not successfully reintegrated in their origin society. As many irregular migrants and asylum seekers return with significant debts to their communities, sometimes after a long period of absence from the country, and almost always in a difficult psychological state, there are many barriers to return migrants’ inclusion in origin country societies, making re-migration more likely. Although all countries make a clear commitment to sustainable reintegration, there is no common definition of “sustainable return or reintegration” across countries visited in this project. The lack of definitions and established indicators for measurement makes comparisons across studies difficult. A common understanding is necessary, but raises the question about who these programmes should be sustainable for: the states administering return and reintegration, the origin countries and communities, or the individual returning migrants themselves.

Some of the elements identified in Table 5.1 can be found in the definitions used by agencies and organisations working on AVRR programming seen in Table 5.2. GIZ, for example, defines sustainable reintegration as the equal participation of returnees and host communities in the social, economic, and political/legal spheres (three dimensions of reintegration) of the origin country. In their understanding, returnees and host communities must have equal access to social services and the labour market. Their definition includes the individual, community levels and at the structural/institutional level. Sustainable reintegration does not preclude the possibility of renewed migration.

While some countries and organisations have developed an official understanding of sustainable reintegration, the majority of actors involved in AVRR have not developed a working definition of “sustainable return and reintegration”. Fedasil, for example, does not operate under a formal definition of “sustainable reintegration”. They do, however, develop their understanding of the concept through various internal trainings and workshops on the topic. Fedasil emphasises the economic, social, and psychosocial dimensions and the importance of including local communities. The French Office for Immigration and Integration does not have a clear definition of “sustainable return” either, but considers return sustainable if an individual remains in their country for a period of three years after return. This has consequences for the actions taken under France’s AVRR programme, since under this definition, the creation of income-generating activities requires attention.

From a migration management perspective, sustainability of return may indeed be that people remain in their country of origin and do not re-emigrate. The simplest indicator of success, used for example in France and Sweden, is the lack of re-migration. The French Office for Immigration and Integration does not have an official working definition of “sustainable return” either, but considers return sustainable if an individual remains in their country for a period of three years after return. Under this definition, unsustainable return refers to returnees who do not aim to reintegrate and are able to re-migrate irregularly, either back to the previous destination country or elsewhere. This definition considers “sustainable” the return of those who are unable to re-migrate, regardless of whether they are successfully reintegrated in their origin country – those considered “unsustainably returned” (Strand et al., 2016[2]) when they are not successfully reintegrated, but lack the ability to re-migrate. Most countries acknowledge this risk of unsustainable return in their definition and widen it to include criteria for successful reintegration into the fabric of their origin societies. Both Sweden and France consider economic reintegration, with the idea that people economically able to support themselves and their family are less likely to re-migrate in search of opportunities. This places the emphasis on creation of income-generating activities.

The most comprehensive definitions of “sustainable” reintegration go beyond the generation of income. They include a socio-cultural dimension, require attention to the safety and security, i.e. trust in the government, access to justice, experienced personal harassment since return. Increasingly, different actors call for consideration of a political and legal dimension to “sustainable” reintegration, including access to anti-discrimination remedies and full enjoyment of civil and human rights. Within GIZ’s definition, refugees and host communities must have equal access to social services and the labour market. Their definition includes the individual, community levels and the structural/institutional level. Sustainable reintegration under this definition does not preclude the possibility of renewed (legal) migration.

While some countries and organisations have developed an official understanding of sustainable reintegration, the majority of actors involved in AVRR have not developed a working definition of “sustainable return and reintegration”. Fedasil, for example, has no mandate for reintegration so does not operate under a formal definition of “sustainable reintegration”. They do, however, develop their understanding of the concept through various internal trainings and workshops on the topic. Fedasil emphasises the economic, social, and psychosocial dimensions and the importance of including local communities. Following this understanding, Fedasil facilitates sustainable reintegration by giving tools to the returnee, but there is no attempt to measure the different dimensions. The United Kingdom does not have a definition, but includes a “strategic intent” to foster reintegration by helping returnees to re-establish their lives and help minimise potential vulnerability, reducing the push factor for irregular re-migration upon return. Under this vision, when reintegration is supported properly, it will reduce pressure on states when receiving their nationals and help developing countries grow economically. Similarly, Norway and Switzerland note that sustainable reintegration is the aim of assisted return programmes, but do not have a clear definition of sustainability.

In recent decades, countries have started to go beyond one-time “return packages” limited to cash assistance and costs to realise the return, moving towards offering longer-term assistance to reintegrate return migrants into their origin societies and help them build a sustainable basis for life in their origin country. Enabling migrants to re-establish themselves in the society of their country of origin and empowering them to participate in social, cultural, economic and political life again is a central aim of reintegration assistance. While there is a growing understanding among stakeholders that the reintegration process needs to be supported in order to be successful, the means of doing this differ widely. Without such assistance, sustainable return seems unlikely in most cases – the target populations of return assistance includes populations with difficult characteristics, including individuals who left their respective schooling systems at early stages, and took up substantial debt, including to their family and community, to enable their migration journey. In order to address the difficulties they might face after return, countries offer support through reintegration assistance packages, which include in-kind support for business creation, or medical and housing assistance.

Table 5.3 gives an overview of the monetary value of the reintegration assistance provided to returnees beyond administrative and material assistance in preparing the trip to the country of return. Most countries have moved away entirely from cash payments, although there are certain cases, such as in the UK and Sweden, where cash payments are still made under certain circumstances. Regarding assistance ‘in kind’ compared to ‘in cash’, the latter provides only for the migrant’s immediate needs after arrival, and was more useful than a large cash grant. This means of support avoids putting the migrant under pressure to share money with the extended family and facilitates follow-up and counselling on expenditure.

Some countries refrain from communicating the maximum amount/any fixed amount of assistance to the return migrant during counselling sessions, focusing instead on communicating the opportunities that the assistance can open up in the home country. In many counsellors’ experience, communicating the amount of monetary benefits as such leads to misunderstandings when return migrants do not receive the promised assistance in cash, but through material assistance. This approach is notably taken in Germany, where, during counselling, the amount itself is calculated on an individual basis depending on the need and project of the individual, but is never communicated to the individuals themselves. In all other countries, in-kind assistance is based on fixed amounts. The amount is not calibrated according to specific country of origin circumstances and cost of living.

In all countries, the same eligibility discussed under the section on return packages applies to reintegration support (see Table 2.1). Similarly, forced returnees are not eligible for reintegration assistance. France offers no reintegration package for forced return, although since July 2019, third country nationals exempt from visa requirements placed in detention centres can apply for an in-cash allowance of EUR 650 at the time of their deportation in France. Germany, on the other hand, does provide reintegration assistance for forced returnees, as their programmes in countries of origin are open to the entire local population. From a development perspective, there are arguments to justify reintegration offers for forced returnees: since forced returns place a harder burden on the returning individual, support in these cases is even more compelling. Ensuring that forced returnees are well reintegrated serves the goal of destination countries seeking to prevent revolving-door migration phenomena.

Further, countries that account for reintegration support as Official Development Assistance (ODA), encounter the problem that excluding deportees from reintegration support introduces a discriminatory element that is not permissible. The eligibility of forced return migrants is thus in line with the methodology and principles of development cooperation, which must be non-discriminatory in the services it offers.

There is a large literature focusing on the economic impact of return on the development of origin countries, including employment outcomes. The reintegration of returnees into the home labour market is, however, not always as straightforward as some studies suggest, since many do not account for the characteristics of returnees relative to those who migrate. General findings of positive outcomes for return migrants in terms of wages and return on human capital acquired abroad may not apply to the migrants who return under programmes providing reintegration assistance. Findings indicating difficulty with reintegration may be more relevant: for example, those indicating delays to participation in the home labour market if returnees bring skills that do not match the requirements of the home labour market, or if they have higher reservation wages when they return. In some cases, over-qualification can be a problem. Furthermore, entrepreneurship often requires strong social capital, which may have depreciated during migrants’ stay abroad (Marchetta, 2012[10]), and may not be the case for migrants for whom the entrepreneurial choice is a reaction to the requirement to return rather than the realisation of the migration project itself. Corruption in the origin country can have psychosocial effects on identity and the sense of belonging, and obstruct entrepreneurship, worsen economic outcomes and job opportunities (Paasche, 2016[11]).

Returnees who particularly face difficulties in re-joining the labour market in their country of origin include those migrants who came to the destination country for non-economic reasons (e.g. asylum seekers) or for those who were forcibly returned. In those cases, where employment opportunities in the home country played no role in return planning, it may be harder to capitalise on the migration experience. Cassarino (2004[12]) discusses this link between reintegration success and the reasons for and types of return. He finds that success of reintegration is determined by the returnee’s preparedness, i.e. the willingness and readiness to return. The higher the returnees’ preparedness, the more they are able to mobilise resources and are more likely to contribute to economic development in the origin country. Whether a return is forced or voluntary, therefore, has implications on whether the return is sustainable, as noted in a recent study which finds that forced returnees to the Maghreb region are more vulnerable to negative labour market outcomes compared to voluntary returnees (David, 2017[13]).

A specific case of return are situations in which conflict was the original driver of large movements, followed by large-scale return after the end of the conflict. In the context of such large-scale refugee repatriation, the experiences made abroad and the decision to return differ significantly from those of other returning migrants. In a conflict situation, households often leave behind livestock, land, and other assets that are difficult to reclaim in the post-conflict period. Often, the host country also imposes restrictions on the movements and economic activities of refugees (e.g. in camps, but also applies labour market restrictions in non-camp situations), causing long periods of inactivity. These factors might explain the economic gap that Fransen, Ruiz and Vargas-Silva (2017[14]) find in Burundi between returnee households and those who stayed back.

All countries participating in the study offered some form of support to promote economic reintegration of returning migrants, by offering opportunities to develop an income generating activity. As discussed above, most programmes now provide in-kind assistance, based on a project developed and approved in the destination country prior to the return. Since the formal sector is often underdeveloped in origin countries, most of these projects aim at business creation, especially in retail and services. The assistance varies according to the project of the return migrant, but generally includes business support, purchase of necessary equipment, fees for required licences, and other essential elements for starting up an activity. In other cases, training is provided, prior to return where possible and with necessary additional training upon return.

Although all countries included in the study currently have or are considering training programmes for returnees in countries of origin, there are few attempts to join forces across EU or OECD countries, which might enable countries to present more diverse offers or reach more beneficiaries. “Mutualisation” of existing programmes is already in place; France, for example, has multilateral agreements in countries where OFII has no presence. Germany conducts joint work with France in three countries, where they have signed agreements for collaboration. OFII also has agreements to provide services to Austria’s reintegration assistance programmes in countries where it is active. At the same time, while the German government is looking for coherence and synergies with other countries, it will continue to pursue bilateral agreements. ERRIN has been an important network in tackling this challenge. The technical working group in ERRIN is currently working on harmonising and mutualising existing programmes, including training and business support; most countries covered in the study support the development of shared initiatives in which they can participate.

In some programmes, returning migrants, together with their return counsellors, work out a business plan that is approved while in the destination country. Generally, this plan needs to be followed upon return, and service providers in the origin country act as business advisors who work with the individual to implement the plan. In other programmes, such as the OFII’s, the business plan is developed not in the destination country, but only upon return to the origin country. Projects of OFII beneficiaries, devised together with service providers in the origin country, are approved by a bi-annual selection committee led by respective French ambassadors, including among others, the service provider, OFII representatives and national authorities (e.g. Ministry of Employment or Social affairs representatives).

While there are benefits to designing a plan while in the destination country, especially considering migrants’ need for a concrete outlook on post-return life during counselling, the experience of many local implementing partners shows that programmes must include flexibility to adapt to the new realities upon return. Many of the organisations providing business support on the ground reported that a number of returning migrants feel the need to reshape or completely abandon their initial idea upon encountering new circumstances and challenges once in the origin country. The initial idea is important pre-return to build enthusiasm for the return project and to reinforce the sense of agency in the decision, increasing motivation. The need to change the pre-conceived project after return requires mediating potential disappointment and frustration, underlining the need for close support in this phase.

The majority of returnees who receive economic reintegration support turn to entrepreneurship, finding that creating their own business is the best way to overcome labour market re-entry problems. However, in light of high numbers of failed start-ups by return migrants, reintegration programmes are increasingly building in mechanisms to ensure that their business ideas are viable. One major issue in most programmes is that business ideas proposed by returnees are seldom linked to conditions of origin countries, not matching return migrants’ actual skills or the needs of the local labour market. In order to overcome this mismatch, programmes have started to analyse skills gaps in local markets, ensuring that migrants and counsellors devise projects in sectors with high demand. For a number of countries, one issue has been trying to go beyond a traditional “catalogue of business ideas”. IOM in Switzerland, for example, published a leaflet on success rates of certain business projects in particular countries (certain projects might be viable in one country but not in another, e.g. because of difficulties in acquiring spare parts due to sanction regimes). This approach helps prevent returns from distorting local labour markets through large numbers of returnees concentrating in specific occupations.

One side of avoiding mismatches relates to the needs of the local labour market – the other side concerns the skills the returnee can bring to it. The German-Tunisian Centre for Jobs, Migration and Integration, which provides on-site counselling for returnees seeking job and vocational training opportunities in Tunisia, begins every reintegration counselling process by creating a profile (success prospects, skills, motivation) of the return migrant. This step ensures that counsellors gain a better idea of potential projects that might be suitable for the individual. Counsellors specifically include efforts to identify skills gained abroad, such as language qualifications, which might be sought after by employers in the origin country. Moreover, the initial profiling phase provides assessment of soft skills and suitability for entrepreneurship in terms of personality, conducted by trained psychologists the Centre employs as counsellors. Where necessary, counsellors can connect return migrants to projects that provide opportunities for reskilling: The German Chambers of Commerce Abroad (AHK), for example, operates a reskilling project (CORP Tunisia). Finally, together with feasibility aspects and existing skills, counsellors should not neglect returnees’ own wishes and motivation to ensure ownership of project. Generally, the private sector is a potential partner in reintegration, but which has not yet been adequately included in efforts of employment promotion. Another initiative by the AHK in Tunisia is to establish a database of returnees’ skills and qualifications and provide access to this information to private sector firms. This database targets local employers in origin countries who may be interested in hiring return migrants who have particular skills related to their stay abroad, such as language skills or familiarity with certain markets and work cultures. Moreover, within the German reintegration programmes, return migrants are linked to employers through job fairs organised by the GIZ in different countries of origin. One recent project for partnering with German businesses and the private sector in the origin country is a pilot run with a large German industrial manufacturing company. As the company is bidding for the reconstruction of electricity networks in Iraq, the GIZ arranged to send 30 returnees to receive training by the company for subsequent employment in Iraq.

Diaspora organisations and ties can also be of assistance in developing and expanding projects. In Kosovo, for example, the large Kosovo diaspora in EU countries is an ideal market for local firms exporting food products but also goods such as restaurant supplies (uniforms, table linen, etc.), drawing on both market knowledge and positive ties.

Reintegration in the country of origin is a process which can start already while in the destination country. Pre-departure assistance provided in donor countries in the context of voluntary returns is indeed considered part of in-donor refugee costs under ODA. For reintegration programmes to be tailored to the individual needs of a returnee, an assessment of the persons’ needs, capacities and competencies must be made preferably well in advance of the migrants’ return. In order to maximise preparation before departure, the German authorities have gone beyond counselling to offer pre-departure training. Since 2018, they operate a total of 5 000 training opportunities in 15 programmes all across Germany. These programmes are run in training centres that also offer courses aimed at migrants’ integration in Germany. Observing that a large share of those in integration classes have no perspective of stay in Germany, the time is being used instead to prepare and train individuals for building a basis for reintegration in their origin country. On the one hand – as supported by evidence in the literature – maximising opportunities for training while increasing preparation for return is believed to raise the prospects for favourable reintegration outcomes. On the other, pre-return training is believed to increase the credibility of the reintegration programme by equipping the returning migrants with a concrete qualification.

Pre-return training faces a number of challenges. First, training costs are generally higher in the host country than in the origin country. A further issue is the high turn-over rates of participants joining and leaving a course frequently. In addition, participation in a course is in most cases not suspensive of removal procedures, so participants remain subject to sudden removal during the course. This argues for short, flexible modules with certificates issued regularly, so that competences can be demonstrated after return.

GIZ, for example, offers skill trainings to support migrants who set up businesses once they return. The duration of the training varies – from two to as many as 12 weeks – although the average is two to three week training. Participants appreciate being able to take the training in Germany, as they typically have time – especially those who do not have legal access to the labour market. Once they return to the country of origin, they may have immediate commitments or complications which prevent participation in training. In addition, the GIZ training is offered to people in accommodation centres even though they do not have access to work, giving them more empowerment in the migration process, and offers a source of stability. Pre-return qualifications are also an effective way to start reflecting on what to do after return.

For asylum applicants who are awaiting a final decision, one question is whether training can be organised for a dual track: applicable for integration if the applicant receives leave to remain, and applicable for reintegration in the origin country in the case of return. For successful integration of those who end up staying, early participation in training is associated with better outcomes. However, the question has come up in some European countries of whether participation in integration courses discourages return in the case of a negative decision. A literature review in response to a Swiss parliamentary query found no evidence that integration courses increase the likelihood of stay in the event of a negative decision (Ruedin et al., 2019[15]).

Return is often perceived as a failure, by the returning migrant themselves and their communities. Many migrants return in a fragile psychological state, some struggle with mental illnesses. This psycho-social dimension to sustainable reintegration, overcoming trauma, shame and the stigma of return, is increasingly being addressed through awareness raising and psychological counselling and assistance.

The social dimension is key to reintegrating return migrants into their origin communities. The reality is, however, that returnees are not always perceived positively by those who have never migrated. It is a commonly held belief among many that return is in migrants’ own hands and signifies failure. Many have the idea that only those people showing problematic behaviour and drawing negative attention, mostly criminals, are made to leave Europe. Within the project, discussions with return migrants in Tunisia reinforced this observation, as many had to struggle with rejection from within their communities, including their own family members. In order to counter this narrative, the Swedish Migration Agency has developed a campaign in Afghanistan that seeks to raise acceptance of returnees in the origin communities, promoting visions of how returnees can be an asset to local communities. By fighting stigmatisation in origin communities, these information campaigns seek to facilitate the social integration of returnees.

Another approach to fighting stigmatisation and rejection is to involve and empower returnees themselves. On the one hand, returnees can be involved in awareness-raising with their communities: this can be an informal role, simply telling their own experiences, although most returnees report that their own stories – however difficult and even harrowing – do little to discourage their peers from the idea of migration. On the other, reintegration or development programmes can support a grassroots model that responds to local communities in the region. The Inter-American Foundation (IAF), for instance, operates no reintegration programmes per se, but provides funding in response proposals by community-led initiatives in Latin America and the Caribbean. Instead of working through large NGOs, it supports organisations that are prioritising grassroots groups. In 2014, a group of returnees funded by the IAD started an initiative to focus on recognising their own experiences in reintegration and make their knowledge available to other returnees, both focusing on the services that should be available, as well as creating direct support channels to recent returnees (See Box 5.1).

A more direct intervention is offered by URA (“Bridge”), a project created and led by the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees to promote the reintegration of Kosovan nationals returning from one of the nine partner Federal States. URA’s main role is to identify the individual needs of returnees and offer individualised support – e.g psychological support, social counselling, job placement as well as financial support in form of in-kind assistance URA has some discretion to provide support to these individual root causes.

Financial support can lead to tensions between local populations who persevered through poverty, conflict or crisis and populations and returnees receiving financial reintegration assistance. Often, persons in the local community have no understanding for why those who, in their view, had their opportunities to search for better opportunities and “failed”, are provided further assistance. This issue is especially salient for public institutions, employment agencies of the origin country in particular, that are involved in administering reintegration support. This problem is encountered by the Tunisian employment agency ANETI, who chose not to propagate assistance publicly.

Certain programmes seek to minimise tensions with local communities by including structural aid for the local community in reintegration packages. Swiss authorities, for example, complement the individual solution – a business project, housing solution and medical support – with structural aid. The return migrant receives their reintegration package; at the same time, their return brings running water and other structural improvements to the village they returned to, supporting the whole community.

Social reintegration and a tight-knit support structure are especially crucial for vulnerable migrants or migrants who have survived violence, for example, trafficking in persons. For these cases, programming must go beyond the usual reintegration package and economic assistance, offering a combination of psychological support and (if applicable) training for employment addressing vulnerabilities. In Germany, some civil society partners specialise in vulnerable groups, including women and victims of trafficking. The trainings offered for vulnerable groups follows an individual approach and are tailored to the capacities and needs of the individual returnee. Victims of trafficking are treated differently in most programmes, and are offered additional support and specialised counselling. In the projects reviewed, their return was seen as more challenging, due to the difficulty of providing support after return. This issue has also been raised in studies (Paasche, Skilbrei and Plambech, 2018[16]).

For some return migrants with medical needs, the traditional reintegration path concentrating on self-sustained employment might not be possible, and require longer-term assistance in local medical systems. Many countries in the project provide adapted or additional support for migrants with specific health needs. Further, reintegration assistance must take into account the needs of returning families. It is crucial to address needs of children returning, e.g. starting at right level of school and at the beginning of school year. Children, sometimes with no recollection of the origin country, are often left out of return process, caught off-guard without adequate preparation. In order to prepare and foster understanding and acceptance of return among returning children, Fedasil has designed a specific booklet together with university researchers. It contains several stages, which return counsellors are to go through meeting by meeting. School placement is one of the main activities of programmes in origin countries, and may require purchasing textbooks and negotiating with local schools to ensure that returning children are enrolled quickly and placed in classes appropriate to their age level.


[12] Cassarino, J. (2004), “Theorising Return Migration: The Conceptual Approach to Return Migrants Revisited”, International Journal on Multicultural Societies, Vol. 6/2, pp. 253-279.

[13] David, A. (2017), “Back to Square One: Socioeconomic Integration of Deported Migrants”, International Migration Review, Vol. 51/1, pp. 127-154.

[1] European Migration Network (2016), “Guidelines for Monitoring and Evaluation of AVR(R) Programmes”, European Commission.

[14] Fransen, S., I. Ruiz and C. Vargas-Silva (2017), “Return Migration and Economic Outcomes in the Conflict Context”, World Development, Vol. 95, pp. 196-210.

[7] Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) (2018), Skills for Reintegration Target-Group-Specific Approaches to Reintegration for Education and Technical Vocational Education and Training in Fragile and Conflict-Affected Contexts.

[5] Graviano, N. and N. Darbellay (2019), “A framework for assisted voluntary return and reintegration”, Migration Policy Practice, Vol. 9/1, pp. 9-14, https://publications.iom.int/system/files/pdf/mpp_37.pdf.

[9] IOM (2019), Reintegration Handbook: Practical guidance on the design, implement ation and monitoring of reintegration assistance, International Organization for Migration, Geneva.

[4] IOM (2017), Towards an Integrated Approach to Reintegration in the context of return, International Organisation for Migration (IOM), http://www.iom.int/sites/default/files/our_work/DMM/AVRR/Towards-an-Integrated-Approach-to-Reintegration.pdf.

[6] Koser, K. and K. Kuschminder (2015), Comparative Research on the Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration of Migrants, International Organization for Migration, Geneva.

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[16] Paasche, E., M. Skilbrei and S. Plambech (2018), “Vulnerable Here or There? Examining the vulnerability of victims of human trafficking before and after return”, Anti-Trafficking Review 10, http://dx.doi.org/10.14197/atr.201218103.

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[17] Samuel Hall and IOM (2017), Setting standards for an integrated approach to reintegration.

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← 1. Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, Objective 21, Final draft, 11 July 2018. https://refugeesmigrants.un.org/sites/default/files/180711_final_draft_0.pdf. The Global Compact was endorsed by 164 countries in December 2018.

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