Rahul Sharma (Editor)


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Repatriation is the process of returning an asset, an item of symbolic value or a person - voluntarily or forcibly - to its owner or his or her place of origin or citizenship. The term may refer to non-human entities, such as converting a foreign currency into the currency of one's own country, as well as to the process of returning military personnel to their place of origin following a war. It also applies to diplomatic envoys, international officials as well as expatriates and migrants in time of international crisis. For refugees, asylum seekers and illegal migrants, repatriation can mean either voluntary return or deportation.


Voluntary return vs. forced return

Voluntary return is the return of eligible persons, such as refugees, to their country of origin or citizenship on the basis of freely expressed willingness to such return. Voluntary return, unlike expulsion and deportation, which are actions of sovereign states, is defined as a personal right under specific conditions described in various international instruments, such as the OAU Convention, along with customary international law.

Some countries offer financial support to refugees and immigrants in order to facilitate the process of starting a new live in their country of origin. Examples of 21st century voluntary return include the Danish government, which began in 2009, offering £12,000 each to immigrants to return, Switzerland offering around 6,500 Francs, targeted for business startups upon returning home, as well Ireland. Germany in 2016 allocated €150 million over three years for migrants willing to return, and the Swedish government began offering £3,500 each. 544 Nigerians returned back home from Switzerland in 2013. This financial support may also be considered as residency buyouts.

Two countries may have a re-admission agreement, which establishes procedures, on a reciprocal basis, for one state to return irregular non-nationals to their country of origin or a country through which they have transited. Illegal immigrants are frequently repatriated as a matter of government policy. Repatriation measures of voluntary return, with financial assistance, as well as measures of deportation are used in many countries.

As repatriation can be voluntary or forced the term is also used as an euphemism for deportation. Involuntary or forced repatriation is the return of refugees, prisoners of war, or civil detainees to their country of origin under circumstances that leave no other viable alternatives. According to contemporary international law, prisoners of war, civil detainees, or refugees refusing repatriation, particularly if motivated by fears of political persecution in their own country, should be protected from refoulement and given, if possible, temporary or permanent asylum. The forced return of people to countries where they would face persecution is more specifically known as refoulement, which is against international law.

Repatriation vs. return

While repatriation necessarily brings an individual to his or her territory of origin or citizenship, a return potentially includes bringing the person back to the point of departure. This could be to a third country, including a country of transit, which is a country the person has traveled through to get to the country of destination. A return could also be within the territorial boundaries of a country, as in the case of returning internally displaced persons and demobilized combatants.

Medical repatriation

Repatriation is linked with health care due to the costs and resources associated with providing medical treatment to travelers and immigrants pursuing citizenship. For example, if someone is in the United States with a visa and becomes ill, the insurance that the visa holder has in his or her native country may not apply in the United States, especially if it is a country with universal health care coverage. This scenario forces hospitals to choose one of three options:

  • Limit their services to emergency care only (as per the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act)
  • Offer charity care free of charge or at a reduced rate
  • Repatriate the patient back to his or her native country where he or she will be covered according to that country's policy
  • Determining which option is the most ethical is often very challenging for hospital administrators.

    In some cases, a traveler's personal insurance company is required to repatriate the patient for medical treatment. The method of repatriation could be via regular flight, by ground, or by air ambulance. Medical repatriation is different from the act of medical evacuation.

    Post–World War II

    In the 20th century, following all European wars, several repatriation commissions were created to supervise the return of war refugees, displaced persons, and prisoners of war to their country of origin. Repatriation hospitals were established in some countries to care for the ongoing medical and health requirements of returned military personnel. In the Soviet Union, the refugees seen as traitors for surrendering were often killed or sent to Siberian concentration camps.

    Issues surrounding repatriation have been some of the most heatedly debated political topics of the 20th and 21st centuries. Many forced back to the Soviet Union by Allied forces in World War II still hold this forced migration against the United States of America and the United Kingdom.

    The term repatriation was often used by Communist governments to describe the large-scale state-sponsored ethnic cleansing actions and expulsion of national groups. Poles born in territories that were annexed by the Soviet Union, although deported to the State of Poland, were settled in the annexed former German territories (referred to in Polish as the Regained Territories). In the process they were told that they had returned to their Motherland.

    Battlefield casualties

    The Korean War marked the first time that the United States or any nation began returning the bodies of battlefield casualties as soon as possible. During Operation Glory, which followed the Korean Armistice Agreement, thousands of remains were exchanged by both sides. The practice of immediately recovering casualties continued for United States during the Vietnam War.

    Repatriation laws

    Repatriation laws give non-citizen foreigners who are part of the titular majority group the opportunity to immigrate and receive citizenship. Repatriation of their titular diaspora is practiced by most ethnic nation states. Repatriation laws have been created in many countries to enable diasporas to immigrate ("return") to their "kin-state". This is sometimes known as the exercise of the right of return. Repatriation laws give members of the diaspora the right to immigrate to their kinstate and they serve to maintain close ties between the state and its diaspora and gives preferential treatment to diaspora immigrants.

    Most countries in central and eastern Europe as well as Germany, Greece, Armenia, France, China, Japan, Norway, Finland, Philippines, Ireland, Serbia, Turkey, Kazakhstan and Israel have repatriation laws for their population living in diaspora. The number of countries with repatriation laws has mushroomed since the end of Soviet communism and most independent nations that were once part of the communist domain in Europe have since legislated repatriation laws. Armenia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, the Philippines, Spain, South Korea, Taiwan, and Turkey also have longstanding repatriation legislation. Many other countries such as Jordan and Sweden have (or have had) generous immigration policies with regard to the nation's Diaspora without having formally enacted repatriation laws. Such states can be described as practicing common law repatriation.

    However, one of the central tenets of the Rastafari movement is the desirability of the repatriation of black people from the Americas and elsewhere back to Africa. While Ethiopia specifically has land available in Shashamane to encourage this project, black people who are citizens of countries outside Africa do not have the right of return to Africa, although as individuals they are free to try to emigrate.

    Psychological aspects

    Repatriation is often the "forgotten" phase of the expatriation cycle; the emphasis for support is mostly on the actual period abroad. However, many repatriates report experiencing difficulties on return: one is no longer special, practical problems arise, new knowledge gained is no longer useful, etc. These difficulties are highly influenced by a number of factors including self-management, spouse's adjustment, time spent abroad and skill utilisation. What is crucial is that every individual perceives these factors in a different way. Reintegration is a process of re-inclusion or re-incorporation of a person into a group or a process, and may contribute to overcoming repatriation.

    Direct managers and HR staff often notice the difficulties a repatriate experiences, but they are not always able to act on it. Budget shortcomings and time constraints are frequently cited as reasons why it fails to be an agenda priority. Solutions for repatriation difficulties do not have to be expensive and can lead to great benefits for the company. Basic support can consist, for example, of good communication in advance, during and after the international assignment, or a mentor program to assist the repatriate. The expatriate and his/her family should feel understood by his or her company. Support can increase job satisfaction, thereby protecting the investment made by the company.

    Human remains

    Return of human remains to their nation of origin. In the United States, Native Americans' human remains are uncovered and removed from their burial sites in the construction/land development process or as part of archaeological excavations. The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) of 1990 established the process whereby federally recognized Indian tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations can request that federal agencies and institutions receiving federal funds return culturally affiliated human remains. The NAGPRA also sets forth provisions that allow for the disposition of Native American human remains found on federal lands to the affiliated Indian tribe or Native Hawaiian organization. NAGPRA does not apply to the Smithsonian Institution, which is covered under the repatriation provisions of the National Museum of the American Indian Act of 1989. In previous eras it was common for British colonial authorities to collect heads and other body parts of indigenous peoples such as Indigenous Australians and Māori for display in British museums. The repatriation of these body parts is currently ongoing. For an example of a successful body part repatriation, see Yagan. Another example can be seen through the dedicated work of the Karanga Aotearoa Repatriation Programme, established in partnership between Māori and the New Zealand government in 2003. This programme is administered by the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (Te Papa), and since 2003 has repatriated over 350 Māori and Moriori ancestral remains to Aotearoa New Zealand. Article 12 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples affirms that indigenous peoples have the right to repatriate their human remains. The declaration was passed in September 2007 with the support of 143 countries. The four opposing countries—Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States—subsequently endorsed the declaration.

    Cultural artefacts

    Cultural or art repatriation is the return of cultural objects or works of art to their country of origin (usually referring to ancient art), or (for looted material) its former owners (or their heirs).

    Economic repatriation

    Economic repatriation refers to economic measures taken by a country to reduce foreign capital investment.

    Repatriation of currency

    Repatriation of currency is when foreign currency is converted back to the currency of the home country. An example would be an American converting British pounds back to U.S. dollars. Repatriation also refers to the payment of a dividend by a foreign corporation to a U.S. corporation. This happens often where the foreign corporation is considered a "controlled foreign corporation" (CFC), which means that more than 50% of the foreign corporation is owned by U.S. shareholders. Generally, foreign direct investment in CFC's are not taxed until a dividend is paid to the controlling U.S. parent company, and is thus repatriated. The foreign direct investment income of the CFC is taxed only by the country where it is incorporated until repatriation. At that time, income is subject to the (typically higher) U.S. tax rate minus the Foreign Tax Credits. (FN: See IRC 951-965) There are currently hundreds of billions of dollars of Foreign direct investment in CFC's because of the disincentive to repatriate those earnings. (See Bureau of Economic Analysis, National Economic Accounts, Integrated Macroeconomic Accounts for the United States, available at the Bureau of Economic Analysis.)


    Repatriation Wikipedia