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EU return sponsorships: High stakes, low gains?

Florian Trauner , Olivia Sundberg Diez

Date: 19/01/2021
The concept of ‘return sponsorships’ is the most novel of the New Pact on Migration and Asylum’s proposals. It is also proving to be one of the most controversial in the negotiations.

With this proposal, the Commission set out to resolve the discussion between member states on responsibility-sharing in migration matters, and simultaneously increase the number of migrants returned to their country of origin. Under the new scheme, member states would have to support other EU countries facing migratory pressure. If, however, they oppose the option of relocating asylum seekers, they can ‘contribute’ by facilitating the returns of migrants who lack permission to remain in Europe instead.

But making this idea work in practice will not be straightforward. In unpacking the return sponsorship mechanism, Olivia Sundberg Diez and Florian Trauner have reached the following five conclusions:

1) Existing conflicts between member states over responsibility-sharing will not be settled but transposed onto discussions about the precise requirements of return sponsorship, in particular, the transfer of migrants within Europe if returns are unsuccessful.

2) The flexibility embedded in the solidarity mechanism comes at the expense of tangible support for EU border states, who continue to shoulder a disproportionate amount of the responsibility to receive and process new arrivals.

3) Matching the preferred contributions of a sponsor with a border state’s needs will be extremely complex in terms of administration, and effective enforcement tools are lacking. Repeated delays and the politicisation of solidarity processes are likely, giving member states many opportunities to shift and shirk their responsibilities.

4) Return sponsorships may create new human rights risks for migrants ordered to return, both in and outside of the EU.

5) The return sponsorship concept relies on returns being done faster and in far greater numbers. This is far from certain: many third countries, for one, will remain reluctant to readmit their own nationals.

The Commission is taking a considerable risk with the return sponsorship proposal while the potential gains are modest. If the proposal is to move forward, negotiators should prioritise strengthening the predictability and tangibility of support provided by the solidarity mechanism to the EU’s border states, ensure that return sponsorships do not lead to new human rights violations, and avoid inflated expectations regarding the impact of the growing use of conditionality on returns.

Read the full paper here.
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