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.