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IYARE: Perspectives from Nigerian returnees

Nigerian migrants stranded in Libya arrive in Lagos as part of IOM’s voluntary return and reintegration programme

Photo credit: IOM

To study the realities of Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration (AVRR) on the ground and assess its future potential in Nigeria, and more broadly West Africa.

  1. What motivates migrants to turn to Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration programs?
  2. What is the process and experience of AVRR like?
  3. What happens after people return?
  4. How effective has this approach of assisted voluntary return and reintegration programs been from the perspective of returnees? 

Even though most migration in West Africa happens within the region (regional migration and integration experiences are explored in the Migration Milestones from West Africa into Lagos Project), there is a flow of young migrants, both men and women, who are either seeking to migrate, in the process of migrating or have migrated to the EU undocumented. In the EU, irregular migration has been an important challenge, and since the late 2000s emphasis has been placed to effecting sustainable returns. Within this context, assisted voluntary return and reintegration (AVRR) has been singled out as a promising avenue. AVRR implies that return and reintegration is assisted or funded by the the EU or EU member states. It also implies a voluntariness, which implies that there is no force, coercion or punitive measures involved in the processes. Assisted return usually happens after one has been apprehended in the first place. The degree to which these programs are ” voluntary” is questionable

A lot of funding has gone into AVRR from the European Union. Specifically, practical steps towards reducing forced returns and increasing AVRR came from the European Return Fund, which allocated EUR 676 million from 2008 to 2013. This fund was meant to ameliorate the return processes and to facilitate cooperation between the EU and the countries of origin of the migrants. Accordingly, AVRR has become a more favorable option among member states for numerous reasons ranging from cost efficiency, a means of dignified and safe return for the migrants, as well as a bridge between migrant receiving and sending countries and touts the reduction of repeat undocumented migrations.

Instead of focusing on the statistics and numbers coming from the EU and Member States on AVRR, this study draws significance from the accounts of returnees in Nigeria about the processes and the impact of AVRR in addressing irregular migration. This is because the reason AVRR has not been sustainable so far is related to the realities on ground. Most people involved in migration have incurred much debt in order to emigrate in the first place; returning with nothing is not viable due to the stigma of failure. Also, employment prospects in the country of origin remain low for returnees, and people are often returned to the capital city (national capital or state capital) far from their own towns and villages of origin hence remaining uprooted within their own country. Finally, they may experience trauma in transit and on return.

Given the contrast between the aims of the policy and its actual sustainability and the realities on the ground, this project seeks to set a balance by focusing on returnees and migrants in origin countries and understanding what they would need for AVRR to work.

  1. Interviews with returnees in Nigeria (with the help of a local researcher)
  2. Interviews with experts involved in the AVRR process (IOM, GIZ, EU, for example)
  3. Desk research 
  4. Mapping  what the journey to AVRR is like for returnees and identifying gaps and strengths of the process (using infographics for example)

A first set of interviews was completed in 2019 with support from Heinrich Boll Nigeria. The second set of interviews will be conducted starting February 2022. 

December 2022

CERC Migration

assisted voluntary feturn, AVRR, EU, Africa, ECOWAS, migration, Nigeria, undocumented migration, migration governance, reintegration