Accepted Paper:

The governance of voluntariness: assisted voluntary return migration as law enforcement through self-responsibility  


David Loher (University of Bern)

Paper short abstract:

In recent years, programs for assisted voluntary return (AVR) have gained importance in the context of European states' migration policies. The paper examines how the image of "the good, yet illegal, migrant" is mobilized to create eligibility and subordinate migrants' autonomy to the migration regime.

Paper long abstract:

The governance of undesired aliens' mobility takes several forms: visa policies, border controls, and compulsory returns are just the most prominent ones among others. Overshadowed by these mostly coercive practices that are highly controversial in public debates, programs for assisted voluntary return (AVR) have introduced a different mode how the state governs mobile practices. AVR programs address the migrant as a self-responsible subject.

Two observations form the starting point for the argument in this paper: First, eligibility in the context of the AVR programs refers back to the image of "the good, yet illegal, migrant". Only the docile, cooperative, and non-criminal migrant is eligible to join the program. And second, AVR programs enforce law, not through coercion, but in addressing migrants as self-responsible subjects. The obligation to leave the country due to not being granted any residence permit is enforced not through compulsory return, but through financial incentives for a so-called voluntary return. In this perspective, AVR programs can be read as an attempt to dissolve the antagonism between state sovereignty and migrants' autonomy.

Drawing on ethnographic material on Switzerland's AVR program to Tunisia, the paper reconstructs how the AVR program turns destitute migrants into self-responsible small entrepreneurs during the whole process of the so-called voluntary return to their country of origin. It then analyses the specific relationship between migrant and the state, which the AVR program produces. And finally, it argues that eligibility and accountability replace rights and obligations in this relationship between state and migrant.

Panel P045
Tracing eligibilities: moralities, performances, practices (EASA Network for Anthropology of Law and Rights)