28 March 2014

The European Commission (EC) has adopted today a Communication on the EU Return Policy, highlighting the need for better practical implementation of the EU Return Directive and return policies in general.

The Commission argues that the Return Directive has positively influenced national law and practice regarding the primacy of voluntary departure, monitoring of forced return, and reduction of maximum detention periods across the EU. However, the Commission notes a number of shortcomings in several Member States’ practice and urges Member States to improve detention conditions, ensure a more systematic use of alternatives to detention; establish independent forced return monitoring systems and ensure the overall effectiveness of the return policy by achieving, for example, faster procedures and higher rates of voluntary return. The Commission underlined the importance of a correct implementation of the Return Directive by Member States, paying particular attention to safeguards and legal remedies, as well as to the treatment of children and other vulnerable persons in return procedures.

The Communication also stresses that the Return Fund has allowed voluntary return programmes and assistance to returnees to be emphasised. The important role played by NGOs in assisting returnees is also acknowledged.

The Commission will adopt within one year a “Return Handbook” containing common guidelines, best practices and recommendations to Member States for carrying out returns in a manner consistent with relevant international standards, such as those developed by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and the UN Committee on the rights of the child General Comment No 14. Among other issues, the handbook will address the promotion of voluntary departure, proportionate use of coercive measures, forced return monitoring, the return of children, detention conditions and safeguards for vulnerable persons.

In addition, the Commission stresses that the EU will continue to cooperate with non-EU countries, both with regard to return and readmission, and capacity building, for instance regarding assistance and reintegration support provided to returnees. Intra-EU cooperation between Member States on return will also be improved, especially through the use of the European Migration Network.

Finally, according to the Commission, the role of the EU borders agency Frontex in joint return operations should be further increased. Trainings aimed at ensuring common standards related to humane and dignified treatment of returnees should be organised.

The Communication also provides comparative country information on the legal and practical application of alternatives to detention, length of detention, the authority responsible for offering assistance to unaccompanied minors, forced return monitoring bodies and suspensive effect of an appeal.

This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 28 March 2014
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