Some migrants who come to Europe are asked to return to their country of origin. While waiting for their departure and facing a potential ban on re-entering the EU they can be detained in pre-removal facilities. Still, they can challenge decisions related to their return, exercising their rights to an effective judicial remedy and access to justice. This is why legal aid is so important to them.
But access to free legal aid can be difficult, particularly for returnees deprived of liberty. It became harder still during the Covid-19 pandemic.
All EU Member States, as well as North Macedonia and Serbia, provide some form of free legal aid in pre-removal detention. But with various exemptions and restrictions, depending on the type of decision returnees wish to appeal.
Returnees may face a range of legal and practical challenges which affect how they can access competent free legal aid on time. This can be language barriers, access to information, strict deadlines and complying with strict legal requirements.
FRA’s report on ‘Legal aid for returnees deprived of liberty’ suggests steps national authorities could take to improve access to justice for people in return procedures. For example:
The EU’s Return Directive requires EU countries to provide free legal aid to non-EU nationals pending return. This applies to all EU countries except Ireland.