The effectiveness of return in Belgium and other Member States (EMN)
This EMN study aims at analysing the impact of EU rules on return policies and practices of Member States (including Belgium), and hence on the effectiveness of return decisions issued across the EU.
The return of illegally-staying third-country nationals is one of the main pillars of the EU’s policy on migration and asylum. However, recent Eurostat data show that return rates at EU level have not improved despite the important increase in the number of rejected asylum applications and in the number of return decisions issued since 2014.
In its 2015 EU Action Plan on Return and subsequently in its 2017 Communication on a more effective return policy and the accompanying Recommendation, the Commission emphasised the need for a stronger enforcement of EU rules on return in order to increase the overall effectiveness of the EU’s return policy.
The EMN conducted this study with the purpose of investigating good practices and challenges in Member States’ application of EU rules on return and equivalent standards.
EU synthesis report
The EU Synthesis report is based on the contributions from 22 EMN National Contact Points, including Belgium The EMN Inform summarizes the findings from the study.
Among other key points, the synthesis report highlights:
- National debates increasingly focus on return, which is widely considered as a priority across Member States.
- National practices implementing the EU framework – or equivalent standards – vary between Member States, as a result of different administrative practices, different interpretations of rules, as well as EU case law.
- Challenges attached to the effectiveness of return relate primarily to the risk that a third-country national absconds; the difficulty in arranging voluntary departures in the timeframe defined in EU rules and standards or equivalent; the application of rules and standards, including CJEU case law, on detention; the capacity and resources needed to detain third-country nationals in the context of return procedures; the length of the return procedure, in particular when the decision is appealed.
- Some good practices were identified in the study, for example:
- Adopting a flexible approach to rules applicable to return and tailoring them to the individual merits of a case is also reported as a good practice to speed up some return procedures.
- The involvement of civil society players, NGOs and international organisations in the handling of return cases and in detention centres helps fostering trust with third-country nationals and providing them with adequate, tailored support.
- In the same vein, some Member States invest in the management of their detention facilities and training of staff, adopting a multidisciplinary approach to accommodate the needs of the detainee (in particular when s/he has special needs) and facilitate the return process.
The Belgian report has established inter alia the following facts and figures:
The Belgian authorities consider that the increase in the return rate is of the highest importance. Especially when it comes to third-country nationals who pose a threat to public order or national security. That’s why the last years a lot of changes in the legal and/or policy framework have been made to increase returns in general and returns of third-country nationals who pose a threat to public order or public security in particular. This focus on return generates national debate on various aspects on the return policy in Belgium.
In accordance with article 41 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, the Immigration Office has put a mechanism in place to take into account any changes in the individual situation of illegally staying third-country nationals (right to be heard). This in order to see if there are elements against detention or removal, for example presence of family or medical problems.
Over the last years, the return measures and decisions have become less “one-fits-all” and more personalized. This reflects a national trend that aims at tailoring the return policy and practice, taking into account the policy priorities, e.g. tailored approach towards returnees from specific third countries, and specific needs of returnees, e.g. tailored projects for returnees with medical needs.
The only alternatives for detention that are used on a regular basis are FITT-units (open family units) and open return places. Most alternatives (for example bail, a reporting obligation, or the obligation to surrender documents) are not or very rarely used.