The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) welcomed the Commission's efforts to harmonise the measures regulating voluntary return of migrants and their reintegration into their country of origin, but said it doubted the feasibility of some of the proposals put forward and expressed concern that voluntary returns could turn into expulsions of migrants from the EU.

The EESC stressed that the majority of voluntary returns did not work properly because the countries of origin were not sufficiently involved and because migrants in irregular situations were often reluctant to go back.

The EESC's standpoint was presented in the opinion on the Voluntary return and reintegration strategy adopted at its September plenary session, in which the Committee took a closer look at the strategy which is one of the key objectives of the New Pact for Migration and Asylum.

The EESC reiterated its previous criticism of the Pact which was almost exclusively focused on tackling irregular situations at the border or through voluntary and forced returns, while failing to offer a comprehensive approach to managing migration by promoting legal and safe mobility. The EESC sees this as a strategic weakness of the EU's migration and asylum policy.

"We have to manage irregularity before irregularity occurs. This means we have to ensure safe and effective ways of entering the EU. If we can do that, we could see a reduction in irregular arrivals," said the rapporteur for the opinion, José Antonio Moreno Díaz.

The current piecemeal approach contained a number of flaws.

The incentives currently given to countries of origin may actually discourage them from trying to reduce the flows of migrants, as these incentives are offered through programmes based on the existence of persons in irregular situations.

The EESC said that it was particularly concerned about the Pact's objective of increasing swift voluntary returns from the EU's external borders.

"Are these expedited returns really voluntary or are they expulsions? We are worried that 'voluntary return' may become a euphemism for expulsions or for financial compensation paid to the destination countries that receive returnees, without ever considering their wishes or - even more worryingly - their rights, " said Mr Moreno Díaz.

The EESC concluded that cooperation with third countries on any aspect must be based on their respect for international public law, as well as their protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. (ll)