Voluntariness and Repatriation

Transnational Processes of Remigration and Repatriation (1960–2000)

Poster "Freiwillige Rückkehr"
Poster "Freiwillige Rückkehr"
Bundesministerium des Innern, für Bau und Heimat, 2018, Berlin. (c) ZUMA Press, Inc. / Alamy Stock Foto

This subproject investigates the interactions between principles and practices of voluntariness in transnational migration processes between the 1960s and 2000. These interactions are analyzed in light of the remigration and repatriation of labor migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees, chiefly from the Global North to the Global South. I argue that from the 1960s on, a repatriation regime emerged that sought to legitimize its practices by highlighting the “voluntary” character of return.

My goal is to analyze the impact of this repatriation regime at three different levels. First, international organizations specialized in the implementation of state repatriation programs. The key question here is to what extent these organizations established voluntary return as a norm and embedded it as a principle in international law.

At a second level, I explore how non-governmental organizations and civil society groups helped shape the discourse on voluntary return, examining whether they embraced or opposed this discourse. While some of them adopted and actively promoted the discourse of voluntariness, others problematized the direct connection between forcible deportation and offers of voluntary return, engendering a sensitivity to the antinomies of voluntariness.

Third, I foreground the migrants themselves. Labor migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers alike faced the possibility of voluntary return, though their previous migratory experiences were quite different. With regard to these three groups of migrants, the subproject seeks to determine the extent to which they accepted the voluntariness of their own return, declared it voluntary themselves, or even deployed voluntariness as a technique of self within the repatriation process.

The subproject brings out the way in which, alongside normative and discursive elements, practical conditions shaped decisions about, and explanations of, voluntariness. Drawing on archival material, sociological studies, and interviews with migrants, I investigate processes of subjectification and agency (or Eigen-Sinn) within repatriation regimes through a historical lens.

Principal Investigator


Remigration   |   Repatriation   |   Assisted Voluntary Return   |   Migration Regime

Research Field

Recent Global History

Project Period



University of Erfurt

Department of History

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