In this paper, we investigate how state and non-state provides of return counselling try to influence aspirations for return among (rejected) asylum seekers. Existing literature has highlighted both the importance and malleability of migration aspirations in a wide range of migratory trajectories. Yet, it paid little attention to the situation of people who at some stage of their asylum procedure are confronted with the prospect of eventually having to return to their country of citizenship. This confrontation is institutionalised in the form of state or NGOled ‘return counselling’, which helps the returning state to uphold the fine line between forced and allegedly ‘voluntary’ returns. Building on Carling’s aspirations/ability model and using qualitative data from Austria and the Netherlands, we identify three ways in which return counsellors try to obtain the departure of (rejected) asylum seekers. Firstly, by identifying existing aspirations among potential returnees who for personal reasons decided to return but lack the ability to do so. Secondly, by merely obtaining informed consent to return ‘voluntarily’ in the absence of aspirations to return. And thirdly, by actively inducing the wish to return with the aim of aligning migrants’ own aspirations with the requirements of restrictive migration law. We argue that this distinction is important to better understand the critical role and everyday workings of ‘migration aspirations management’ (Carling and Collins 2018) within contemporary migration governance in Europe.
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assisted voluntary return, return counselling, migration aspirations, migration governance, Austria, the Netherlands