Blog: Roundtable on Human Rights Monitoring in Assisted Voluntary Return (and Reintegration)

By Dr. Antonella Patteri, INP PAN (FAiR consortium partner)

Assisted Voluntary Return (and Reintegration) (AVR(R)) is a complex process. Simply put, AVR(R) aims to support the return and reintegration of a returnee (irregular migrants, rejected asylum seekers, but also people with legal stay, for example) to their country of origin or a third country. Assisted voluntary returns are often presented as ‘the human face of return’ seemingly operating in compliance of fundamental and procedural rights. However, defining it in simple terms is challenging, to say the least. Two aspects of the process are clear: besides national authorities, AVR(R) often involves many organisations (both governmental and non-governmental) in the chain, and even more often, returnees are exposed to human rights violations.

This is why FAiR organized a roundtable in Brussels with twenty-two experts from International Organisations, Non-Governmental and Civil Society Organisations, representatives from the European Commission, European Law Enforcement Agencies and National Authorities and Academics. Participants in this roundtable hold functions such as protection officers; case workers; advocacy officers; EU officials, human rights ights officers and  return operational specialists. We wanted to get this wide range of experts around the table to discuss the opportunities and limitations of establishing formal human rights monitoring mechanisms for Assisted Voluntary Return (and Reintegration). FAiR set out to do the following with our guests:

  1. evaluate practices of current human rights monitoring in the EU context,
  2. stimulate a larger reflection on monitoring human rights, and
  3. assess the potential to advise EU Member States’ efforts to reinforce a human-rights based approach in AVR(R).
What did we learn?

Participants of the roundtable reviewed articulations and practices of monitoring in the context of the EU Member States’ implementation of AVR(R) programmes, with particular attention to pre-return and pre-departure stages. While the Return Directive 2008/115 in Article 8(6) mandates the establishment of effective monitoring systems for forced-return, there is not a set legal monitoring oversight directed towards people involved in AVR(R). The research conducted within FAiR assessed that practices of human rights monitoring take place within assisted voluntary returns but these differ among EU+ countries, mainly due to: a)  the design of AVR(R) programmes, which can limit monitoring; and b) organizational and national approaches to return.

In this respect, the roundtable shed light on good practices, pinpointed limitations and advanced potential promising activities pertaining to the conduct of human rights monitoring:

  • AVR(R) programmes have become an increasing policy priority for the EU and Member States under the auspices that are a more human, dignified and cost-effective form of return than forced. Despite this, research findings showed that the human rights component of AVR(R) is often taken for granted with concerns raised by participants on the lack of effective complaint mechanisms to report possible violations;
  • Procedures of return, responsive of human rights protection needs for returnees, include ensuring that free, prior and informed consent is possible through the phases of AVR(R). Participants critically engaged with the ‘voluntary’ aspect of this type of return, identifying shortcomings and suggesting, instead, to make use of the term facilitated returns;
  • Participants shared key insights on counselling practices foundational to protect the right of information for returnees and the principle of voluntariness for returnees. In particular, it was suggested that such counselling should be fully migrant-centred with the return treated as one of the possibilities but not as the final goal of AVR(R) policy. For that, the independence of counsellors is needed. Further, counsellors should be involved in the whole procedure, including asylum procedure and they should not change due to the relation which is being built between a counsellor and the returnee who has a clear understanding of needs and personal circumstances. From a human rights perspective this is considered as a good practice;
  • Return experts and practitioners discussed about the increased attention to vulnerable returnees, especially in cases of mental and physical health issues where the assessment of the ‘fitness’ to return requires also AVR(R) to refuse facilitating returns where no medical facilities or life-long medication is not available in the country of destination. Human rights monitoring is becoming a pressing requirement not only due to vulnerable returnees who access AVR(R) programmes, but also of those who are subjected to intersecting forms of discriminations, and of which views, experiences and diversity needs to be acknowledged;
  • The discussion served as a catalyst for sharing ideas on how to center human rights within available monitoring reporting tools, included the possibility of exploring independent monitoring. Particularly compelling was a story shared of a returnee who faced the death penalty upon returning to the country of origin through a EU AVR(R) programme. Participants reflected on the role of accountability within monitoring and its potential for people to have access to effective judicial remedies prior to return to deter situations and halt deportations when serious human rights concern arise.

Overall, the roundtable provided guidance for current research conducted by FAiR by outlining approaches to human rights monitoring and contributing to multi-stakeholder discussions on opportunities and limitations for seeking to formalise human rights monitoring into AVR(R) policy implementation. Considering the novelty of research conducted on this topic, the event proved to be a valuable platform for providing awareness and initiate discussions at the policy level of how the human rights dimension of AVR(R) would effectively benefit from centering monitoring within it.

When, where and who?

The roundtable was organised by the Institute of Law Studies of The Polish Academy of Sciences, also academics from FAiR, including PICUM, Erasmus University Rotterdam, and Samuel Hall. This event was held on Monday 24th of June 2024 in Brussels, Belgium.

Should you wish to learn about the Finding Agreement on Return (FAiR project), visit our website at

Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Research Executive Agency (REA). Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them. Grant Agreement 101094828.

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