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Return of people not in need of international protection

Effective systems for managing migration provide outcomes for all people travelling within mixed movements, including those who are not refugees. This group includes people found not to be in need of international protection and without compelling humanitarian reasons to stay in the host country (“unsuccessful asylum-seekers”) as well as those who have never sought asylum. People who have withdrawn their asylum claims and who wish to return to their countries of origin also fall into this group.

Providing effective and efficient outcomes to people who are not refugees is essential to maintain credible asylum systems and prevent irregular onward movement. Demonstrating that misuse of the asylum system cannot function as a “back door” alternative to regular migration can also help deter irregular migration and reduce incentives for human smuggling and trafficking.

In UNHCR’s view there are two options for people who are not refugees: return to the country of origin or access to alternative legal migration options (i.e. regularization in the host country or legal onward movement to another country).

The return of people found not to be in need of international protection has become a key component of the debate relating to the interface between asylum and migration and is increasingly considered as an integral part of migration policies and strategies of countries of destination.

Asylum procedures are the primary mechanism to ensure that individuals are not returned to situations where they face a risk of persecution or other irreparable harm. However, some individuals in the return procedure may not have had access to asylum procedures or, if they have, new risks may have developed, including in the country of origin. It is therefore important that the return process includes safeguards to ensure respect for the principle of non-refoulement.

While under international law States are entitled to expel individuals found not to be in need of international protection and countries of origin have an obligation to receive back their own nationals, the return should be undertaken in a humane manner, in full respect for human rights and dignity. In certain circumstances, UNHCR could, on a good offices basis, support States, upon their request, in their endeavours to return people found not to be in need of international protection, in particular where obstacles to return are encountered and provided that the involvement of the Office is not inconsistent with its humanitarian mandate to provide international protection to refugees.

For relevant UNHCR documents on return, see: