For Freedom of Movement & Fair Development!

Dangers of Readmission Agreements

By Migreurop

With the adoption of the ‘Return Directive’ in June 2008 and the European Pact on Immigration and Asylum in October of the same year, the EU has intensified the fight against so-called irregular immigration, while still leaving Member States with a wide scope for defining national immigration policies. During the past months, EU Member States have implemented a number of policies aiming to reinforce border control and ensure the return of undocumented immigrants to their countries of origin – notably through ‘readmission agreements’. EU countries also seek the cooperation of countries of transit and origin in their fight against irregular immigration by the conclusion of EU-wide and bilateral agreements with those countries. These bilateral agreements grant opportunities for legal migration in exchange for commitments by countries of origin to participate in the control of undocumented migrants. The result of these policies has been the increased stigmatisation, and even criminalisation, of asylum-seekers and undocumented migrants, and the detention and deportation of immigrants, in flagrant violation of their basic human rights (1)

Readmission agreements: A framework for the expulsion of migrants

Migreurop A readmission agreement is an instrument through which signatory states commit to readmit into their territory their nationals who were apprehended while residing irregularly within the territory of a foreign state, but also other foreigners who transited through their soil. Readmission agreements can be either bilateral agreements, concluded between an EU Member State and a third country, or Community agreements, concluded between the EU – thus committing the 27 Member States – and a third country. Since the European Council of Seville of June 2002, ‘readmission clauses’ are required to be systematically included in every economic, trade or cooperation agreement between the EU and third countries.

These clauses and the readmission agreements form one of the central features of the EU’s policy of externalisation, which became official with the Hague Programme in 2004, and through which the EU externalises to third countries a part of the control of immigration flows. Since then, all development aid, and even all ‘economic and trade cooperation’, has been subordinated to the negotiation of these agreements. This is notably the case with bilateral agreements for the ‘concerted management of migration flows’ signed between France and Spain and West African countries, and the ‘mobility partnerships’ envisaged by the EU.

These agreements are dangerous. They threaten fundamental rights (their implementation risks violating Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights through the signature of ‘agreements in cascade’(2), which allow for the expulsion of individuals without any guarantee of respect for their life and integrity in the ‘final destination’ country); they violate the principle of non-refoulement (3) foreseen by the Geneva Convention (mainly through the implementation of the accelerated procedure currently foreseen in the agreements with Russia, the Ukraine and some Western Balkan countries); and lead to the generalisation of centres for foreigner at every stage of the expulsion procedure. Refoulements are increasingly frequent at the border of Europe, for example, between Italy and Lybia, or between Greece and Turkey, confirming that the issue deserves our urgent attention.

The work carried out by the Euro-African network Migreurop on readmission agreements (4) is organised both at the European and national levels and consists of collaborations among network members, and also with numerous partners in Latin America, Haiti, and Balkan countries, among others. At the European level, Migreurop sent an open letter to the European Commission and the Council of the European Union in January 2009 asking for increased transparency in the negotiation and implementation of readmission agreements (5). This letter aims to remind European institutions of their responsibilities in relation to the signature and implementation of these Community agreements, and of the consequences of these agreements for migrants’ lives and the enjoyment of their rights. At the national level, Migreurop’s work attempts to draw the attention of national deputees and raise public awareness about the implications of bilateral agreements.

[1] To date, no EU country has ratified the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers and their Families.
[2] When a third country that is already signatory to a readmission agreement concludes the same type of agreement with another country it is called an ‘agreement in cascade’ or a domino effect.
[3] Set out in the 1951 Refugee Convention, Article 33 (1), which states: “No Contracting State shall expel or return (‘refouler’) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his or her race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion”. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, adopted on 26 July 1951, available from: .
[4] More information on Migreurop’s work is available from: .
[5] Migreurop’s letter of January 2009 to the European Commission and the Council of the European Union is available from:  .