Young refugees in Calais / DW
Young refugees in Calais / DW

EU leaders have agreed to take action to make sure migrants who are not allowed to stay legally in Europe are returned to their countries of origin.

European heads of state and government say they will increase pressure on countries to take back their nationals who are not permitted to stay in the EU.

Following a meeting this week, the European Council said it plans to use "all relevant EU policies, instruments and tools, including development, trade and visas" as leverage.

The leaders said that migrant returns would be achieved by boosting existing readmission agreements, as well as creating new ones.


The EU has deals with more than 20 countries, including Pakistan, Tunisia, Turkey, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, and the Gambia, to send back migrants whose are not entitled to remain in Europe, because, for example, their asylum claim was rejected.

Incentives are usually offered in exchange for cooperation on readmission, such as visas, trade, education and development aid.

Some countries have objected that the EU is imposing its agenda too strongly. In 2020, Morocco refused an EU request to take back migrants from other African nations as well as Moroccan citizens.

Poor rate of return

The rate of returns of migrants from the EU has been low for years. In 2018, the European Commission’s aim was to increase it to about 70%. But in 2019, according to the Commission, only about 29% of those who were supposed to leave the EU did so.

Earlier this year, the European Court of Auditors, which scrutinizes EU finances, found that over the 2015 to mid-2020 period, fewer than one in three migrants ordered to leave the European Union did so, and that ratio dropped to less than one in five for those told to return to a country outside the European continent. 

The new EU Pact on Migration introduced in September 2020 outlined plans for an "efficient, EU-coordinated approach to returns." Critics have said that using development funds as a bargaining chip in returns agreements means that they benefit states such as Libya, which do not offer human rights protections, instead of citizens.

At this week's European Council meeting, EU leaders also condemned what they called the instrumentalization of migrants and refugees by the Belarus regime and the resulting humanitarian crisis.

The EU accuses Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko of flying migrants from the Middle East and other regions and then pushing them towards Europe. The European Council says it plans to accelerate sanctions against airlines and other travel operators that take part in people smuggling or trafficking.

With dpa, epd


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