The purpose of the AAU was to provide state-of-the-art knowledge in the field of return, reintegration and development and to engage in lively debate amongst policy makers, representatives from non-governmental organizations and international organizations, and academics. The AAU was well attended with representatives from several organizations in the Netherlands working with return migrants, policy makers, and academics.
Throughout the day participants engaged in dynamic discussions regarding key questions such as: Do assisted voluntary returnees contribute to micro level development in their communities of return? What are the obligations of receiving states in readmitting their citizens? How can programmes for assisted voluntary returnees be optimized? What is the role of research and evaluation in informing best practices in assisted voluntary return?
A key element of the discussion that was particularly of interest was the question of honesty regarding assisted voluntary return programmes. Currently in the Netherlands the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs funds these programmes as part of their development cooperation budget. However, there is no evidence as of yet to illustrate that these programmes contribute to development in the countries of return.
In the UK case, it is recognized that the cost to forcibly return an individual is 10 times more expensive than if the individual opts for assisted voluntary return. From this perspective, the purpose of the assisted voluntary return programmes can be viewed as to motivate people who do not have a right to stay to return, to do so in a humanitarian way, and to be cost effective for the government.
This begs the question: is development funding the most appropriate source of financing for this kind of programme?
The discussions and resulting policy recommendations have been summarized in a IS Academy policy brief that will be on the website shortly. Key recommendations noted from the day were the importance of flexibility in assisted voluntary return programmes, give returnees choices, the time to make decisions, and the ability to change their minds.
It was also recognized that there is a lack of research on the effectiveness of these programmes and further research and evaluation is required to fully understand the long-term impacts of these programmes and their effectiveness. Further events on the topic of return migration will be organized for the IS Academy project in the future.
by Katherine Kuschminder, PhD fellow, Maastricht Graduate School of Governance. Image: Flickr / John Perivolaris