Over the past decade, return migration has generated increasing public and policy attention. It is often believed that African migrants travel one-way to Europe and never return home. Policy makers think that it is necessary to encourage and to force migrants to return. However, due to a lack of data, the return of African migrants to their origin country remains poorly understood.
Using a mixed methods approach, this research consists of a comparative analysis of Senegalese and Congolese migrants’ return migration from Europe to their origin country. Building upon existing theories, a new conceptual framework is developed, encompassing three phenomena related to return migration at different stages of the migrant’s life: the initial intention to return, the return and the reintegration process in the origin country after having returned. This framework highlights the role of migrants’ projections about their potential reintegration for return as well as the importance of the circumstances of return for reintegration, and emphasizes the importance of the context in origin and destination countries.
The quantitative data for this study comes from the Migration between Africa and Europe (MAFE) project, which collected the life stories of migrants and return migrants in origin and destination countries. The findings are interpreted in the light of qualitative analyses of nearly one hundred semi-structured interviews conducted with returnees in the regions of Dakar and Kinshasa.
On the one hand, results highlight the effect of context in origin and destination countries for the question of return. Migrants are less likely to intend to return at the beginning of their migration and are less likely to return when the conditions in their home country are deteriorating, which is especially the case in DR Congo after 1990, when the country experienced strong political and economic troubles. Restrictive immigration policies also play an important role. Results reveals that the harder it is to migrate to Europe, the less migrants intend to return and do return.
On the other hand, the research shows how the phenomena of the initial intention, the return and reintegration are interconnected. The preparation for return plays a key role. Migrants who aspire to return do prepare their return and have therefore higher chances of returning, and returnees who were forced to return do experience many difficulties to reintegrate and are more likely to leave their origin country again to migrate to Europe.