Returning migrants: facts and figures and EU policy (infographics)

MEPs want future EU policies on returning migrants to safeguard fundamental rights and give priority to voluntary returns. Check out the facts and figures in our infographics.

There are gaps and shortcomings in the EU's policy on returning migrants, MEPs say in a resolution on the implementation of the return directive, which sets out common rules for the return of non-EU nationals who do not have the right to stay in the European Union. The resolution was adopted on 16 December 2020.

Read more about the EU's migration policy

Infographic showing illegal border crossing statistics in the EU. Key data can be found under the heading "promoting effective returns"
Facts and figures about returning migrants

Promoting effective returns

In 2020, 137,840 people were refused entry into the EU: the main reasons being not having appropriate documentation justifying their stay (41%), being considered a threat (18%) or not having a valid visa or residence permit (9%).

In 2020, EU countries issued more than 396,400 return decisions, which is the lowest since 2013. However, less than a quarter of non-EU nationals were effectively returned to a country outside the EU. MEPs said that short deadlines for voluntary departure, plus the imposition of entry bans can prevent departure altogether. They called on EU countries to allow an appropriate departure deadline with entry bans decided on a case-by-case basis.

Dutch Greens/EFA member Tineke Strik, the MEP responsible for the topic, said an effective returns policy should not only based only on the return rate but should also look at the fate of returned persons after their arrival in the destination country.

The main nationalities ordered to leave in 2020 were Algerian, Moroccan, Albanian, Ukrainian and Pakistani.

Infographic showing refused entry statistics in the EU. Key data can be found under the heading "promoting effective returns"
Facts about people being refused entry

Prioritising voluntary departures

The rules on returns prioritise voluntary returns, through which people have the opportunity to leave the EU of their own accord, over forced departures. According to Frontex, 59% of all returns were voluntary in 2020.

However, some EU countries regularly refuse or shorten the voluntary departure period , for example if the migrant is in detention or if there’s reason to believe that the returnee would abscond.

Parliament urges member states to invest in assisted voluntary return programmes, which accounted for 27.5% of returns in 2020, and prioritise voluntary returns, as they are more sustainable and easier to organise, also in terms of cooperation with destination countries. Among the main practical issues hindering the return process are the identification of migrants and obtaining necessary documents from authorities of non-EU countries.

MEPs also said unaccompanied minors should not be returned unless it can proved it is in their best interest.

Infographic showing return migration statistics in the EU. Key data can be found under the heading "prioritising voluntary departures"
Facts about people being asked to leave the EU

Safeguarding fundamental rights

Parliament stresses the importance of safeguarding fundamental rights and respecting procedural safeguards when applying EU legislation on returns. It also calls on EU countries to allow enough time for appeal against a return decision and to provide legal aid and interpreters on request and free of charge.

In a report adopted in May 2021, Parliament condemned the informal arrangements that the EU and some member states have made over the years, which contain minimal references to fundamental rights.

Report author Strik urged the Commission to sign formal readmission agreements with non-EU countries and called for better monitoring, enhanced democratic oversight and more transparency on the use of EU funds to finance migration cooperation. She also highlighted the need to ensure access to justice for migrants and refugees whose rights have been violated.


The report on the return directive is a response to the European Commission's proposal for a revision of the EU return policy in 2018, which aims to create a more effective European return policy and is a cornerstone of the New Pact on Migration and Asylum.

In a separate resolution on asylum, adopted in December 2020, MEPs called for more solidarity among member states and more financial resources for countries where most of the migrants first arrive, especially in the event of large numbers of asylum seekers.