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Return migration is not always a process of simply “going home.” Particularly when return is not fully voluntarily, returnees face severe obstacles. This study argues that such return can only become sustainable when returnees are provided with possibilities to become re-embedded in terms of economic, social network, and psychosocial dimensions. We analyze the return migration experiences of 178 rejected asylum seekers and migrants who did not obtain residence permit to six different countries: Afghanistan, Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sierra Leone, Togo and Vietnam. Using both quantitative and qualitative methods of data analysis, we identify several key factors that influence prospects for embeddedness, such as individual and family characteristics, position in the migration cycle, and the role of pre- and post-return assistance. We find that the possibilities for successful return are highly dependent on the living circumstances provided in the host country: returnees who were enabled to engage in work, had access to independent housing and freedom to develop social contacts proved to be better able to exercise agency and maintain self-esteem. Post-return assistance by non-governmental organizations will be particularly helpful when financial support is combined with human guidance and practical information to enhance a more sustainable return process.

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Journal article


International Migration Review

Publication Date



43 (4)


908 - 937