Return policy: Commission is urging Member States to speed up procedures and increase use of detention

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On 2 March, following the Malta Summit on 3 February 2017, the European Commission presented a new “Action Plan” aimed at improving the effectiveness of return decisions and the expulsion of irregular migrants, as it has done previously with the adoption of the Regulation on the European laissez-passer[1].

Like other communications before, the Action Plan demonstrates that the Commission considers irregular immigration as being largely encouraged by the inadequacy of sanctions carried out by the Member States. In other words, the Commission is of the opinion that better prevention comes with better punishment.

This new plan, therefore, aims to specify the framework and forms of implementation of the Return Directive (2008) and to complete the first Action Plan presented in September 2015.

The text proposes a wide range of measures, both for the EU and the Member States, to facilitate return procedures of so-called “irregular migrants”. The European Commission calls for a better coordination between the Member States of the enforcement of return decisions and for the introduction of a more active cooperation with third countries through the development of new partnership agreements. Officially, these agreements concern the readmission of migrants already in the EU; but, the Commission also calls on interested third countries to better control the departures of their nationals in order to limit their arrivals on the European territory[2].

Regarding returns, the new plan is completed by a set of “concrete recommendations” designed to reinforce the effectiveness of return policies at the national level.

These measures include the deletion of expiry dates on return decisions in order to make them indefinitely valid and the shortening of deadlines for appeals with the objective of increasing the acceleration of procedures.

Moreover, the Commission has no hesitation in recommending that migrants should be systematically detained in cases where that measure is useful to prevent the risk of absconding.

Thus, it is planned that migrants will be detained for an initial period of 6 months, but that this period could be extended for up to 18 months if necessary.

NGOs reacted with sharp criticism to this last recommendation: “Detention of irregular migrants, some of the most vulnerable people in Europe, should be a last resort. Instead, the European Commission is pushing EU governments to round them up through almost any means necessary (…). That children are included in this wide detention regime is truly shocking”[3] said Iverna McGowan, Director of Amnesty International’s EU Institutions Office.

Civil society organisations were particularly shocked by the objective of the text to “to dismantle the key tenets of the EU Returns’ Directive by encouraging member states to interpret the directive in a way that would allow for the lowest possible safeguards to be applied”[4] and possibly to derogate from the legal safeguards provided for in that text, which, for its part, had already been heavily criticised at the time of its adoption.


To go further: 

Commission Press release in English or in French

Communication from the Commission on the Return Action Plan

Recommendations made to the Member States

Joint communication from nearly 90 associations: New EU Commission plans on returns and detention will create more harm and suffering; Brussels 3 March 2017


[1] See AEDH: A « new » European laissez-passer to improve the efficiency of the EU return policy; 26 July 2016

[2] Read on this subject AEDH’s note, « Partnerships », « migration compacts » … the new dress up of the externalisation of the European migration policy », December 2016

[3] Amnesty International, « EU: Cruel migration detention regime exposes hypocrisy of European Commission », 3 March 2017

[4] Joint Communication from nearly 90 associations