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What are the European deportation rates of rejected asylum seekers?

A report published this spring called Dealing with (non-)deportability comparatively investigates the factors in twelve EU and Schengen associated countries that contribute to the return and non-return of rejected asylum seekers who are legally required to leave their territory. The report also gives the estimated average return rates (2013-2017) for these countries for asylum applications that have been rejected or withdrawn. What appears as a striking finding, namely that “the majority – in some countries: the large majority – of the rejected asylum seekers from the selected countries do not demonstrably leave these countries, and that return rates vary per nationality of origin”, in fact confirms earlier research, where it was suggested that “many individuals still preferred the curtailed life chances as unauthorized migrants to return to the source country conditions that they fled”.

Return rates to Iran and Iraq, for example, are relatively higher than to Eritrea and Somalia, which is partly attributed to the fact that with regard to the latter “even if people are not granted asylum, they will often not be sent back to these countries based on humanitarian grounds”. The research also confirms that the general assumption under international law that States are under an obligation to take back their own nationals is not enforceable in practice.

While the Netherlands and Norway have the highest rates with 44% and 40,3% respectively, Denmark and Spain score the worst with rates of 4,7% and 4,3%. Importantly, a difference should be made between Forced Return and Assisted Voluntary Return and the percentages corresponding to these two kinds of return differ substantially between countries. Thus, the 44% rate in the Netherlands is made up of 23,8% forced return and 20,2% assisted voluntary return, while this is 31,7% and 8,6% in Norway. The four possible scenarios mapped by the authors of the report are as follows:

1. Total regimes (scoring high on both AVR and Forced Return): Netherlands, Norway and France;

2. Non-enforcement regimes (scoring low on both AVR and Forced Return): Italy, Spain and Denmark;

3. Hard deportation regime (scoring low on AVR and high on Forced Return): Belgium, Austria and Sweden;

4. Soft deportation regime (scoring high on AVR and low on Forced Return): not applicable to any of the countries under study.

While the above shows highly diverging return rates, there are rather strongly converging policy approaches among the twelve States to enforce deportability. One of these is concluding bilateral agreements with origin countries, and the report argues that “the high forced return rates of Norway are partly due to its investment in comprehensive diplomatic and interpersonal relations”. Another approach is to develop incentives to encourage assisted return. Thus, the financial compensation offered by some countries to voluntary returnees appears to lead to higher return rates. Measures can also be taken to facilitate forced return, for example surprise raids. These are allowed in Norway, Sweden and Germany. The latter, by contrast, is one of the few countries not to use the disincentive of institutional exclusion. Most of the other countries have comprehensive systems to exclude rejected asylum seekers from formal society, such as access to employment, education and health care.

“Considering the fact that a large proportion or even the majority of rejected asylum seekers do not return”, the report notes, “the question is how European countries deal with effective non-deportability”. The conclusion is that most of the countries studied have had regularization programmes, with these programmes being incidental in the Northern part of Europe and common practice in the South.

Countries may also have individual-regularisation mechanisms. The report refers in this connection to the Dutch “no-fault procedure”: aliens whose asylum application has been rejected can be granted a residence permit for a limited time if the alien is unable to leave the Netherlands through no fault of his or her own. Although the report is concerned with rejected asylum seekers, this procedure also applies to irregular, undocumented or unreturnable stateless persons. In fact, the deportability of alleged stateless persons raises similar if not more complex problems compared to asylum seekers. After all, their lack of a nationality or at least the absence of formal documentation proving the country of origin means that it is not self-evident where the person should be deported to. We have explained in earlier publications that a statelessness determination procedure is lacking in most countries, including the Netherlands. The current no-fault procedure, where successful applications are rare because the burden of proof lies exclusively with the applicant, has been considered by UNHCR as far from ideal.

Author: Dr. Olivier Vonk

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