Revisiting Return Migration in Shifting Geopolitics

Recent developments around the world are indicating that the symbolic and the instrumental positioning of return migration within public discourse and migration agendas is changing. Return can be leveraged to serve specific geopolitical goals as it is a highly sensitive issue, which often requires additional resources to be mobilised (e.g., the EU-Turkey agreement). In some contexts, different forms of forced return are appearing as assaults to human rights; e.g., the deportation of the Windrush immigrants and EU citizens in the UK, the recent forced return from Saudi Arabia to Ethiopia.

Countries of origin that become home of, or rather new (temporary) settlements for, the returning migrants are often in a precarious bargaining position when it comes to negotiating return or managing re-settlement. In the Global South return is little researched, while there is growing evidence on the interconnectedness between migration patterns in these contexts and those in high-income countries. Increasing pressure on enforcing EU return policy is believed to lead to more deportations, which increases precarity upon return.

This RI aims

  1. To develop a coherent international academic narrative and foster networking on return migration in the context of contemporary geopolitical and social shifts
  2. To theorise the recent state and non-state practices and transformations of return migration and the implications for the involved stakeholders
  3. To advance research on the most innovative and unexplored aspects of return migration in order to promote cross-national dialogue between research, policy making and professional practice  

Name of coordinator

Dr Zana  Vathi

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Senior advisors

Prof Russell King

Dr Barak Kalir

Names and institutional affiliations of (key) members

Prof Marta Bivand Erdal

Ilse van Liempt

utrecht university, Netherlands

Dr Katie Kuschminder

Dora Sampaio

Department of Human Geography and Spatial Planning, Utrecht University, Netherlands

Dr Daniela DeBonno

Dr Ine Lietaert

Dr Marcin Gonda

Dr Nassim Majidi

Dr Joao Sardinha

Dr Cemre Jade Erciyes

Dr Ceri Oeppen, SCMR

Laura Cleton

UNU-MERIT & Maastricht University, Netherlands

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Agenda of activities

A research initiative on the topic of return migration expands the list of IMISCOE research groups/initiatives funded to date and increase its geographical outreach and interconnectivity. In particular, this RI aims at raising awareness on return implications and their impact on migrants and countries of origin to show academics’ concern on what immigrant-receiving states tend to disown: complex inequalities and human rights infringement in the context of return migration. As such, the RI aims to engage with different topics, stakeholders and platforms of dissemination, as well as legacy planning beyond its lifetime.

Its deliverables include

  • A call for expression of interest in return migration
  • An IMISCOE panel with papers from RI members
  • A journal special issue
  • A symposium on return migration regulation, practices and experiences
  • A joint funding bid and planning for other national and international schemes as appropriate
  • A short policy-focused publication on return migration
  • A blog post on the RI on return migration for the IMISCOE website
  • An innovative training network including rotating PhD students and other training opportunities, as part of its legacy 


  • A mailing list/database of researchers interested in return migration
  • IMISCOE panel to include papers from RI members, with a provisionally set theme ‘Sustainable (re)integration: a magic wand pleasing everyone?’
  • Journal Special Issue. The group will aim to bring the papers of the IMISCOE panel and papers submitted from other authors into a joint volume under the theme of ‘Return Migration in Shifting Geo-Politics: Multi-Stakeholder Perspectives’.
  • Symposium. The event is planned to take place in Liverpool and will be coordinated by the MWG-NW (Edge Hill University) and will take a multi-stakeholder approach including representatives of state and non-state organizations as well as academia.
  • Funding proposal. The RI is particularly focused on developing collaborative funding initiatives, which are otherwise hampered by geographical distance or lack of support. The network will endeavour to generate funding and activate networks for public engagement activities in the Global South as part of its legacy planning.
  • Policy-focused publication. A short policy-focused publication on return migration.
  • A blog post. The RI coordinator will lead the discussion on the format, content and production of a blog post, which can be in the format of text and visuals and/or audio.
  • Training Network. An innovative training network including rotating PhD students, other training opportunities is a natural output as part of this RIs legacy, and the coordinator will take particular care to explore strategically the building of this alongside other activities as above described.