The issue of non-return of rejected international protection applicants does not enjoy a high political profile on its own, but has been discussed as part of a global debate on asylum.
Significant efforts are required when considering the wide spectrum of possible reasons of non-return, some reasons depending on the countries of destination, others on the returnee himself/herself. In this respect, reasons of non return range from the non-respect of deadlines, the issuance of travel documents, postponement of removal for external reasons to the returnee, for medical reasons, the resistance of the third-country national and the lack of diplomatic representation of Luxembourg, to name but a few.
In regards to the procedure, in Luxembourg the rejection of the international protection application includes the return decision. The Minister in charge of Immigration, through the Directorate of Immigration, issues this decision. The return decision only becomes enforceable when all appeals are exhausted and the final negative decision of rejection of the competent judicial authority enters into force, as appeals have suspensive effects. This decision also sets out the timeframe during which the rejected international protection applicant has to leave the country. In case the applicant does not opt for a voluntary return, the decision will also include the country to which s/he will be sent. In general, the decision provides for a period of 30 days during which the applicant has the option to leave voluntarily and to benefit from financial support in case of assisted voluntary return through the International Organization for Migration (IOM). There are two exceptions to this rule: the applicant who is considered a threat to national security, public safety or homeland security and the applicant who has already been issued a return decision before. The declaration and documentation provided during the procedure of international protection can be used to facilitate return. Subsequent applications are possible, in particular if new evidence of facts appears resulting in an increased likelihood of the applicant to qualify for international protection.
For rejected international protection applicants who did not opt for voluntary return and did not receive any postponement of removals, a certain (limited) support is available while waiting for the execution of the enforceable return decision. As such, they continue to stay in reception facilities and to receive certain social benefits unless they transgress any internal rules. If an urgent need exists, rejected applicants may be granted a humanitarian social aid. However, they are not entitled to access the labour market or to receive ‘pocket money’ or the free use of transport facilities. They benefit from an access to education and training, however this access cannot constitute a possible reason for non-return. These benefits are available to rejected applicants until the moment of their removal.
In order to enforce the return decision and prevent absconding, the Minister may place the rejected international applicant in the detention centre, especially if s/he is deemed to be obstructing their own return. Other possible measures include house arrest, regular reporting surrendering her/his passport or depositing a financial guarantee of 5000€. Most of these alternatives to detention were introduced with the Law of 18 December 2015 which entered into force on 1st January 2016. As a consequence, detention remains the main measure used to enforce return decisions.
A number of challenges to return and measures to curb them are detailed in this study. A part of these measures have been set up to minimize the resistance to return from the returnee. First and foremost is the advocacy of the AVRR programme and the dissemination of information relating to this programme but also the establishment of a specific return programme to West Balkan countries not subject to visa requirements. Other measures aim at facilitating the execution of forced returns, such as police escorts or the placement in the detention centre. Finally, significant efforts are directed towards increasing bilateral cooperation and a constant commitment to the conclusion of readmission agreements.
No special measures were introduced after 2014 in response to the exceptional flows of international protection applicants arriving in the EU. While the Return service within the Directorate of Immigration has continued to expand its participation to European Networks and in various transnational projects in matters of return, this participation was already set into motion prior to the exceptional flows of 2014.
As for effective measures curbing challenges to return, this study brings to light the AVRR programme but especially the separate return programme for returnees from West Balkan countries exempt of visa requirements. The dissemination of information on voluntary return is also considered an effective policy measure, the information being made available from the very start of the international protection application.
Among the cases where return is not immediately possible, a considerable distinction has to be made in regards to the reasons for the non-return. Indeed, in cases where the delay is due to the medical condition of the returnee or to material and technical reasons that are external to the returnee, a postponement of removal will be granted. This postponement allows for the rejected applicant to remain on the territory on a temporary basis, without being authorized to reside and may be accompanied by a measure of house arrest or other. In cases of postponement for medical reasons and of subsequent renewals bringing the total length of postponement over two years, the rejected applicant may apply for a residence permit for private reasons based on humanitarian grounds of exceptional seriousness. Nevertheless, apart from this exception, no official status is granted to individuals who cannot immediately be returned.
Several measures of support are available to beneficiaries of postponement to removal: they have access to accommodation in the reception centres they were housed in during their procedure, they may be attributed humanitarian aid, they continue to be affiliated at the National Health Fund, they continue to have access to education and professional training and they are allowed to work through a temporary work authorization. The temporary work authorization is only valid for a single profession and a single employer for the duration of the postponement to removal, although this is an extremely rare occurrence in practice. OLAI may allocate a humanitarian aid might be allocated if the individual was already assisted by OLAI during the procedure of her/his international protection application. All of these measures apply until the moment of return.
The study also puts forth a number of best practices such as the Croix-Rouge’s involvement in police trainings, their offer of punctual support to vulnerable people through international networking or the socio-psychological support given to vulnerable people placed in the detention centre among others. A special regard has to be given to AVRR programmes and their pre-departure information and counselling, the dissemination of information and the post-arrival support and reintegration assistance. Indeed, stakeholders singled the AVRR programme out as a best practice and the Luxembourgish government has made voluntary return a policy priority for a long time.
However, this increased interest in voluntary returns has to be put into perspective as research shows that sustainable success of voluntary return and reintegration measures is only achieved for a very restricted number of beneficiaries (namely for young, autonomous and dynamic returnees with sizeable social networks and who were granted substantial social capital upon return). Hence, returning women remains a sensitive issue, especially if they were fleeing abusive relationships. Another factor contributing to hardship set forth by research is the difficult reintegration of returnees that have lived outside of their country of return for a prolonged period of time and are therefore unable to rely on social networks for support or for a sense of belonging.
Based on these considerations, NGOs and academia cast doubts on the ‘voluntary’ nature of these return programmes, their criticism targeting the misleading labelling of these policy measures.