More than ever, migration today is not a linear phenomenon starting with emigration and ending with permanent settlement in a new country. Rather, migration is increasingly multidirectional, frequently involving return to countries of origin for short or long periods of stay, often followed by back-and-forth movement between two or more countries, or migration onward to new destinations. Therefore, the return of migrants to their countries of origin, or third countries, and their reintegration into the societies and communities that receive them, are natural features of international mobility.

Safe and dignified return and sustainable reintegration

In all its activities and programming on return and reintegration, IOM operates within the bounds of international law, including international migration law and human rights law. Moreover, as a related organization of the United Nations system, IOM promotes and respects the spirit of the Charter of the United Nations and the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development. While not legally binding, the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration provides additional guidance and its Objective 21 calls on States to to cooperate in facilitating safe and dignified return as well as sustainable reintegration.

Safe and dignified return and sustainable reintegration are an indispensable part of a comprehensive approach to migration management. Assisted voluntary return (AVR) programs aim to support migrants who are unable or unwilling to remain in host or transit countries and wish to return to their countries of origin. The main beneficiaries of IOM’s return and reintegration assistance are stranded migrants in host or transit countries, irregular migrants, regular migrants, asylum seekers who decide not to pursue their claims or who are found not to be in need of international protection, and migrants in vulnerable situations, such as victims of trafficking, unaccompanied and separated children, or migrants with health-related needs. IOM also provides pre-departure assistance as well as reception and reintegration support to migrants whose return has been organised by other actors.

IOM views reintegration to be sustainable when “returnees have reached levels of economic self-sufficiency, social stability within their communities, and psychosocial well-being that allow them to cope with (re)migration drivers. Having achieved sustainable reintegration, returnees are able to make further migration decisions a matter of choice, rather than necessity”. This definition highlights the multidimensional nature of a reintegration process – economic, social and psychosocial – and the need to approach migrant reintegration in a comprehensive manner, considering the factors that can affect reintegration at the individual, community and structural levels.

IOM’s Return, readmission and reintegration policy

IOM’s Policy on the Full Spectrum of Return, Readmission and Reintegration (2021) guides IOM’s work on return migration through a holistic, rights-based and sustainable development-oriented approach that facilitates safe and dignified return, readmission and sustainable reintegration. It focuses on the well-being of individual returnees and the protection of their rights throughout the entire return, readmission and reintegration process, placing individuals at the center of all efforts and empowering those making an informed decision to participate in assisted voluntary return programs. At the same time, it recognizes that States have a sovereign prerogative to determine their national migration policies and to govern migration within their jurisdiction, in conformity with international law commitments.

IOM’s Guiding Principles

Ten guiding principles underpin IOM’s approach to the full spectrum of return, readmission and sustainable reintegration and apply equally to all activities IOM undertakes in this area. Those are:

Guiding Principle