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Summaries of EU Legislation

Return of illegal immigrants to their countries: joint flights

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Return of illegal immigrants to their countries: joint flights



Decision 2004/573/EC — Joint flights for removals from the territory of two or more EU countries of illegal immigrants


It sets out the procedures when two or more EU countries cooperate to deport illegal immigrants by air from the EU.


  • Every EU country appoints a national authority responsible for organising or participating in joint flights.
  • The authority organising a joint flight must:
    • provide the relevant information to other EU countries;
    • select the airline involved and ensure all the contractual and practical arrangements are in place;
    • request and receive authorisations from the flight’s transit and destination countries;
    • make the appropriate arrangements, including financial ones, with other EU countries participating in the flight;
    • define the operational details and procedures, including the number of escorts required.
  • An EU country participating in a joint flight must:
    • inform the national authority organising the flight of its intention to participate;
    • provide a sufficient number of escorts;
    • ensure the presence of at least 2 of its representatives if the organising country provides all the escorts.
  • Organising and participating countries must:
    • ensure escorts and all those being deported have valid travel papers and other necessary documents, such as visas and certificates;
    • provide the flight arrangements to their embassies and consulates in the transit and destination countries involved to receive any necessary assistance.
  • The decision sets out detailed procedures and requirements for the five phases involved in removing illegal immigrants:
    • pre-return
    • pre-departure
    • in-flight
    • transit
    • arrival.

These cover issues such as check-in, security and the use of coercive measures*.

  • Operational cooperation between EU countries also covers:
    • transit assistance for removal flights;
    • organisation of flights for illegal immigrants subject to individual removal orders;
    • mutual recognition of expulsion decisions.


It has applied since 7 August 2004.


Between 400,000 and 500,000 foreign nationals are ordered to leave the EU every year because they have entered, or are staying, illegally. Only 40 % are sent back home or to the country from which they entered the EU. Ensuring the return of illegal immigrants is essential to guarantee the credibility of legal migration.

For more information, see:


coercive measures: these may be used on people who refuse or resist removal; they must be proportional and must not exceed reasonable force or compromise the person’s ability to breathe.


Council Decision 2004/573/EC of 29 April 2004 on the organisation of joint flights for removals from the territory of two or more Member States of third-country nationals who are subjects of individual removal orders (OJ L 261, 6.8.2004, pp. 28-35)


Council Directive 2003/110/EC of 25 November 2003 on assistance in cases of transit for the purposes of removal by air (OJ L 321, 6.12.2003, pp. 26-31)

Council Directive 2001/40/EC of 28 May 2001 on the mutual recognition of decisions on the expulsion of third-country nationals (OJ L 149, 2.6.2001, pp. 34-36)

last update 29.07.2016