Abstract: Return migration after conflict is the result of a complex decision-making process. However, our understanding of this complexity is blurred by changing politicized understandings of return. In this paper, we compare the autobiographical narratives of return of ‘early’ and ‘late’ (post-mid-1990s) arrivals of Afghans who met with changing reception regimes in Europe and returned to Kabul under a wide range of circumstances. We first develop a framework that attempts to understand migration from an actor-based rather than a bureaucratic perspective. We then deconstruct how Afghan migrants made sense of their own return migration, and analyse the ambivalences and seeming contradictions we find in them. The findings show that there are no clear-cut boundaries between voluntary and involuntary return decisions: almost no decision to return was entirely free, as there were legal constraints, family pressure, economic needs or socio-cultural difficulties at the basis of this decision. Almost no return decision was entirely forced, either, as most people did have the choice not to return, however harsh the alternative to returning would have been. At the same time, the analysis shows a strong empirical watershed between the post-return experiences of returnees who continue to have the capacity to be transnationally mobile and the experiences of those who do not. Concluding, we propose to centralize agency over mobility, facilitated by legal status and other factors, in the analysis of return. Concluding, the findings challenge the current policy-oriented binary categories. Alternatively, we propose to centralize the level of agency in decisions of transnational mobility as a more relevant factor in the analysis of return.