C Explanatory memorandum
by Ms Türköne, rapporteur
1. It can be estimated that there are about 10 million
irregular migrants living in Europe today, with perhaps as many
as 500 000 irregular migrants entering or becoming irregular in
the course of each year.
2. While some of these persons will ultimately be able to regularise
their situation, many will have to return to their countries of
origin. Some will leave by their own choice, using their own means,
others will be forced to return by the authorities, often following
a period of detention.
3. Assisted voluntary return programmes provide a mechanism through
which many member states of the Council of Europe have been able
to help irregular migrants return home. They are seen as a preferable
option to forced return as they allow irregular migrants the possibility
to return home in dignity and, in certain countries, under certain
circumstances, they can provide assistance to reintegrate once the
irregular migrants returns home.
For irregular migrants and for member states they offer a
mutually beneficial alternative to deportation or compulsory removal.
Assisted voluntary return programmes are less costly for the host
country when compared with systems of detention and deportation.
The programmes can also contribute to improved relations between
the host country and the country of origin.Note
The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe has voiced
itself in favour of assisted voluntary returns in its Twenty Guidelines
on Forced Return, adopted in May 2005. In these, the Committee of
Ministers concluded: “The host state should take measures to promote
voluntary returns, which should be preferred to forced returns.
It should regularly evaluate and improve, if necessary, the programmes
which it has implemented to that effect.”NoteNote
European Union, in the so-called “Return Directive” has also concluded
that voluntary returns should be preferred over forced return.Note
6. In almost three decades, assisted voluntary returns have aided
more than 1.6 million persons to return to over 160 countries in
the world. In carrying out assisted voluntary return, member states
have been helped and guided by the International Organization for
Migration (IOM) which has now developed a wealth of experience in
carrying out these programmes across the globe.
7. In this report, the rapporteur will examine the three stages
of assisted voluntary return, namely the pre-departure stage, which
includes all steps leading to a decision to return and the preparation
for return, the transportation phase and the post-return phase,
including reintegration in the home country.
8. She will examine some of the main issues and concerns arising
from the use of these programmes and she will provide a number of
country case studies to show how, in practice, assisted voluntary
return programmes work in different countries.
9. The rapporteur in preparing this report organised a hearing
on the issue in the Netherlands on 27 March 2009 and conducted a
study visit to London on 25 and 26 November 2009 where she met with
government representatives at the UK Border Agency, with civil society
representatives and with the IOM. She would like to thank all persons
who have provided input for this report and in particular staff
of the IOM who have assisted the rapporteur greatly at all stages
in the development of this report.
2 Assisted voluntary
return programmes: what are they?
10. Assisted voluntary return programmes are programmes
set up by the IOM, primarily in support of irregular migrants and
failed asylum seekers, and with the support and co-ordination of
governments, to help these persons achieve a sustainable return
home in dignity.
The IOM’s definition of assisted voluntary return is as follows:
“Assisted voluntary return (AVR) includes organisational and financial
assistance for the return and where possible reintegration measures
offered to the individual returning voluntarily. This voluntary
decision consists of two elements: first of all, freedom of choice, which
is defined by the absence of any psychological, physical or material
pressure. Secondly, it is an informed decision which comprises the
concept of having sufficient, correct information available on which
to base the decision to return. Assisted voluntary return also offers
host countries an alternative to costly and unpopular forced repatriation
there are occasions in which the host country cannot organise forced
returns (lack of diplomatic contacts, refusal by countries of origin
to issue travel documents). The only possible return option is therefore
the avenue of voluntary return, should the returnee decide to use
12. It is important to emphasise the “voluntariness” of the return
as highlighted in the definition of the IOM, and this can be contrasted
with forced returns whereby the return is organised by the government
and the returnee has no option but to return at the will of the
13. In the voluntary return process, the involvement of a third
party, such as the IOM, helps to ensure that the return is voluntary,
and it is for this reason that a third party is always associated
with the voluntary return process. In some countries the IOM is
in fact the main implementer of the assisted voluntary return process (such
as in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands). In other countries
the return process is implemented by government offices in close
co-operation with the IOM (such as in Switzerland) and often with
considerable NGO involvement, in particular for return counselling.
In further countries it is carried out almost entirely by a government
agency with little IOM involvement (such as in France and in Sweden).
The IOM implements more than 20 assisted voluntary return programmes
and 100 projects worldwide.
14. Assisted voluntary return can be available for different groups
such as asylum seekers, rejected asylum seekers, irregular migrants,
stranded persons and persons in transit. They can be focused or
be priorities on particular categories of persons, such as vulnerable
persons, or persons from particular geographical localities. They
are sometimes available for persons in detention awaiting return,
and they can even be applied to foreign prisoners, although the
rapporteur considers this latter group a separate group which should
be distinguished from irregular migrants who have committed no criminal
15. They may be funded by donors, host governments, or a combination
of these.Although the programmes differ
in the type and amount of assistance offered to returnees, each
consists of three main stages: pre-departure, transportation, and
16. The first stage in assisted voluntary return is pre-departure.
Irregular migrants or persons whose applications for asylum have
been rejected or whose residence permits have run out have few legal
options for remaining in the host country. Many face serious difficulties,
including threat of expulsion, lack of papers, exploitation and
uncertainty over their future. Many are unaware of the options open
to them and the help that may be available to them. Furthermore,
some asylum decisions who still have their decisions pending, or
under appeal, may for a range of reasons no longer wish to continue
with their applications and return home.
17. A first step in any assisted voluntary return programme is
therefore to try and reach those members of the community who may
be interested in the programmes and provide them with information
through awareness raising campaigns. These campaigns can use posters
and other publicity material, local radio, local community papers
and other media that members of the community concerned are likely
18. General information seminars and/or individual counselling
sessions are offered to those interested and there is no obligation
on persons following these seminars or sessions to move forward
with the voluntary return process. These are not organised by the
authorities and there is no information shared with the authorities
arising from participation in these events. This is essential to
allow potential returnees confidence in attending and building up
trust in what has to be a voluntary decision to return.
19. In individual counselling sessions, prospective returnees
may discuss their concerns about returning to their countries of
origin. They can receive up-to-date information about their country
of origin, including information on the economic, political and
social situation in the country or a particular region or locality.
They can be put in contact with persons who have returned or with
friends or family members and they have the possibility of investigating
employment opportunities. This assistance is provided on an individual
level, taking into account the prospective returnees specific needs,
abilities and desires. All obstacles to return can be examined and
20. If the prospective returnee decides to pursue voluntary return,
he or she is then provided with information and/or assistance in
order to obtain valid travel documents, make transportation arrangements,
both to and within the destination country, and is given the time
frame for return.
21. The second stage in assisted voluntary return is
transportation from the host country to the final destination within
the country of origin. Although assisted voluntary return programmes
differ in the amount and type of assistance provided, most offer
some financial assistance to cover travel expenses, including plane tickets
and further travel within the destination country. Returnees may
be assisted at the airports of departure and arrival with documents,
baggage, and/or other related issues. Returnees who are members
of vulnerable groups may be provided with escorts and/or medical
22. The final stage in assisted voluntary return is post-arrival
in the destination country. Assisted voluntary return programmes
may offer assistance to returnees in reaching their final destination,
finding temporary accommodations, reconnecting with family or friends,
and/or making medical arrangements.
23. One of the most important goals of assisted voluntary return
programmes, however, is contributing to more sustainable returns.
If returnees face the same difficulties that prompted them to migrate
in the first place, they will be unlikely to remain in their home
countries. Thus many assisted voluntary return programmes provide
some form of longer-term support for returnees to help them reintegrate
and become productive members of their communities. This may include
financial contributions, in cash or in kind, and/or the organisation
of educational and/or employment or small business opportunities,
often in co-ordination with local and non-governmental groups.
24. Not only does the assistance help to secure a more sustainable
return of the person concerned, but it also plays an important role
in discouraging irregular migration in the community. A voluntary
returnee is likely to be a strong advocate against irregular migration
and a daily image to those around him or her that irregular migration
is not a pathway to wealth and happiness in another country. Some
programmes go even further than offering assistance to just the
returnee, but seek to target entire communities thereby improving
the economic and/or social conditions in the community and further
tackling the causes of irregular migration.
25. The IOM keeps in touch with most returning migrants for between
six months and a year, or longer, depending on the mandate of the
project. The rapporteur considers that long term monitoring is an
essential element of AVR programmes.
3 How effective have these programmes
been in terms of numbers of persons returning, the costs involved
and the sustainability of the returns?
3.1 Numbers returning
26. The IOM has indicated that in almost thirty years
of running such programmes, assisted voluntary returns have helped
over 1.6 million persons return to over 160 countries.
27. Approximately 32 000 migrants returned under IOM AVR programmes
in 2009 compared to around 23 000 in 2008.
28. In the United Kingdom, since 1999, the IOM has helped around
30 000 individuals return to about 130 countries. In 2009, for example,
there were 4 945 voluntary returns, 4 301 in 2008 and 4 157 in 2007.
The largest number of returnees from the United Kingdom have been
persons from Iraq (4 536), Albania (4 021) and Afghanistan (2 320).
29. The costs of assisted voluntary returns are much
less than for forced returns, which have to factor in detention
and accompanied returns.
For example in the United Kingdom, in 2005, compulsory removals
cost the British tax payer £11 000 per person. Voluntary returns
cost £1 000 per person. When reintegration assistance was factored
in, voluntary returns cost less than one third of the cost of forced
More recent estimates indicate
that a forced return costs between £11 000 and £25 600, whereas
voluntary returns can vary for an individual between £600 (travel
only) and £5 000 (including reintegration assistance).Note
31. Detention costs are of course a major factor and, as an indication,
in the United Kingdom estimates put the cost of keeping someone
in detention anywhere between £39 000 and £52 000.
32. Participatory funding for assisted voluntary returns by member
states is available from the European Union. Within the framework
programme Solidarity and Management of Migration Flows (2007-2013), European
Union funding is available from the European Refugee Fund III, the
European Return Fund and the External Border Fund. The rapporteur
considers it important that the European Union be encouraged to continue
to provide co-funding to member states carrying out assisted voluntary
33. In order for assisted voluntary return programmes
to provide a long-term solution to the problem of irregular migration,
returnees must reintegrate and become productive members in their
home countries. Although some of the conditions which prompt people
to migrate are beyond the control of organisations and member states
that sponsor assisted voluntary return programmes, certain measures,
such as those which promote economic growth in communities, can
reduce the incentives for people to migrate. Offering assistance in
kind can ensure that funds are invested for these purposes; something
that cash programmes cannot confirm.
34. There are a number of indications that assisted voluntary
returns lead to more sustainable returns. In the first place the
number of persons who seek to re-migrate after returning would be
appear to be low. In the case of a United Kingdom study (see later
in the country profile), only about 4% of persons sought to leave
the country of origin after returning and most of those persons
who sought to leave sought to enter another country legally. Furthermore,
in a study conducted in the United Kingdom covering returns in the
period 2002 to 2005, half of 2 065 returnees were interviewed and
92% found reintegration assistance helpful or very helpful. Some 81%
were men and 19% were women. The majority were aged between 18 and
30 and had spent three to five years in the United Kingdom (38%)
or more than five years (20%). The majority of persons opted to
start small businesses (81%) and 77% of these small businesses were
still operating when the study was made. Of those who opted for
training, two thirds found employment. In a separate study on voluntary
returns to Afghanistan from the United Kingdom, of 165 persons provided
business support, 160 were still in business, four had closed their
businesses and one had disappeared.
35. A further indication of sustainability is evidence that many
of the persons who opened small businesses have employed persons
to work with them.
36. There is, however, a need for further information on the sustainability
of returns and the rapporteur considers that it is necessary to
carry out more work on monitoring the return and evaluating the
sustainability of the return. Ideally, the return and reintegration
should not just favour the individual returnee but also the local community,
improving capacity building and development in the country of origin.
This is for example done by the Netherlands in its programmes concerning
Iraq, where it finances four community activity programmes. Such
programmes need to be encouraged and it is important that countries
of origin are involved in the assisted voluntary return programmes.
4 How to improve assisted voluntary
37. In preparing this report the rapporteur has come
across a range of criticisms of assisted voluntary return programmes
and proposals for improving these programmes. In this part of the
report she proposes looking at some of the main issues.
38. One of the most often heard concerns about assisted
voluntary returns is the extent to which they can truly considered
to be “voluntary”.
39. In order for the decision of a migrant to return to his or
her home country to be truly voluntary, he or she must have been
informed of all of the available options, including staying in the
host country, repatriating to the country of origin, or migrating
to a third country. In addition to procedural information regarding
travel documentation and other arrangements, candidates for return
should be provided with complete information about the economic,
political, and social situation in the country and community of
origin. Representatives of organisations who sponsor assisted voluntary
return thus must respect the wishes of prospective returnees and avoid
putting pressure on them to choose assisted voluntary return.
40. There will always be push and pull factors. Push factors in
the return process include fear of deportation and detention and
pull factors can be missing the home country and wanting to meet
up with family and friends. These all influence on the voluntary
decision to return.
According to the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE),
the term “voluntary” can only be used in cases where an individual
has “a legal basis for remaining in a third country” and has “given
their genuine and individual consent, without pressure of any kind”.Note
42. In the view of the rapporteur there will always be a question
over the voluntariness of a return as there is no open choice whether
to leave or stay as there is no legal option to stay. Where a person
is in detention there is even less of an option for the person concerned.
That said, the rapporteur considers that, with the exception of
return of convicted persons from prisons, the terminology of “voluntariness”
is acceptable and important. She is aware of calls for the returns
to be referred to as “independent” returns, but she does not favour
this terminology, except perhaps for returns from prisons of convicted
criminals, which pose more problems of voluntariness than other
returns (see also below).
4.2 Assisted voluntary return of
irregular migrants from detention centres
43. There is little doubt that forced return can be highly
undignified. A voluntary return by contrast can give relief and
dignity to a person who knows he or she will be returned forcibly.
44. Voluntary return from detention can significantly speed up
the return process, which has benefits for the applicant, namely
avoiding lengthy detention and being accompanied back to his or
her country of origin. It can also save time and money for the authorities
who may also have difficulty obtaining documentation without the support
of the detainee and end up having to hold persons for long periods
of time in detention. The issue of “voluntariness” is, however,
much more delicate in detention and the rapporteur is aware that
the IOM recognises this concern and is always doubly careful to
remain impartial and only offer guidance on return when requested.
45. While reintegration assistance is offered in more than 90%
of assisted voluntary return programmes, the assistance is often
reduced for those who are held in detention pending a forced removal.
This is understandable in terms of incentives to be given to those
returning before the last moment. It is also understandable in the
political context of the migration debate in Europe. That said the
rapporteur considers that the distinction between those in detention
and outside of detention should not be over-exaggerated. The goal
remains the same for governments, namely to ensure that as many
people go back as possible and that they integrate in their home
country and do not seek to leave a further time.
46. The issue of encouraging returns of foreign convicted prisoners
is, in the opinion of the rapporteur, a separate issue. While certain
governments provide incentives for these persons to return to their
home countries, the rapporteur has chosen not to consider this group
of persons within the context of this report on assisted voluntary
returns for irregular migrants.
4.3 Vulnerable groups
47. The rapporteur recognises that vulnerable groups
require particular assistance in the context of assisted voluntary
returns. In particular, unaccompanied minors, persons with health
problems and victims of trafficking are three of the groups which
are often highlighted as in need of special assistance.
48. Unaccompanied minors not only have to agree to voluntary returns,
but their guardian has to be involved in the process and has to
give his or her assent. Family members have to be traced and contacted
in the home country. Minors require specialised counsellors and
specialised assistance on departure and arrival. Furthermore, they
may need to be escorted during travel. Temporary accommodation may
also need to be sorted out prior to arrival. Reintegration assistance
is important and can take different forms, including education fees,
study grants and income generation support for the family of the
49. Persons with health problems require particular assistance
and safeguards, including medical confidentiality, information on
feasibility of treatment in the home country, preparation of treatment
before during and following return, transfer of information between
physicians and special assistance during travel. Special reintegration
assistance programmes are required for persons with chronic illnesses,
such as HIV, although long-term medical assistance is rarely available
under assisted voluntary return programmes.
50. Victims of trafficking also have specific needs and their
repatriation requires careful preparation, sometimes with involvement
of the police and support agencies to protect the persons from reprisals
or falling into a new cycle of trafficking. Assistance on reception,
including temporary shelter, psychological, trauma, legal and medical
support may also be necessary as well as assistance in finding employment
or taking up education or training.
4.4 Re-entry bans
51. One of the issues that acts a major deterrent to
people taking up assisted voluntary returns is the application of
lengthy re-entry bans. In the United Kingdom, for example, the re-entry
ban following a voluntary return, where the public purse is involved,
is five years. A forced deportation comes with a ten-year re-entry ban.
52. Many persons may retain strong links with the host country
and may have family and relatives living there. A re-entry ban may
therefore weigh heavily against a decision to return voluntarily
and the rapporteur considers that member states should keep such
bans to a minimum.
53. Getting information to prospective returnees: one of the key
components of assisted voluntary return programmes is the transmission
of information to prospective returnees. Firstly, information about
the programmes must be available to migrants in their local communities
and in their native language, when possible. When a migrant wants
to pursue assisted voluntary return, he or she should be able to
meet with a representative of the organisation sponsoring the programme
in individual, family, or group counselling sessions to discuss
specific components of the programmes. When possible, this representative
should speak the prospective returnee’s native language and/or have
an understanding of the returnee’s cultural background and values.
If the returnee decides to participate in an assisted voluntary
return programme, he or she should be given personalised advice
regarding employment and/or educational opportunities in the destination country.
54. Gaining confidence of prospective returnees: many migrants,
especially those who entered the host country illegally, are wary
of assisted voluntary return programmes and the organisations that
run them. It is important that these organisations do not pass information
on to the authorities in the beginning phases which might lead to
the arrest of those exploring the possibility of a voluntary return.
It should be highlighted that the IOM never passes such information
on to the authorities. Prospective returnees must always be treated
with respect and, when possible, should have opportunities to meet
with representatives of the organisation who understand the returnee’s
cultural background and values. Prospective returnees should also
have opportunities to communicate with previous participants in
the programme who can share their experiences and offer advice.
It is also extremely important to gain the confidence and support
of diaspora organisations and other organisations and community
leaders, who will often also play an important role in the process.
55. In a recent study of voluntary return programmes in Europe,
entitled “Increasing refugee participation in the field of voluntary
return”, the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) highlighted
the potential impact of refugee community organisations in disseminating
information within migrant communities and in monitoring the success
of returnees in the longer term. Many migrants are more likely to
approach a non-governmental organisation, at least for a first contact,
rather than an international organisation that they may perceive
to be an agent of the government in the host country. Notwithstanding
that the IOM takes every step possible to assure applicants that
they are not acting as an agent for the government, some potential
applicants remain under this apprehension.
4.5 Co-operation between host country
and destination country governments
56. The rapporteur has highlighted on a number of occasions
the importance of involving both the host country and the country
of origin in the assisted voluntary return programmes. Not only
is this important for facilitating travel and obtaining the relevant
documents, it is also important for obtaining good country/region
of origin information for potential returnees. It is also essential
for guaranteeing the sustainability of the return, the political
and social perception in the country of origin and the long-term
development of the country of origin.
4.6 Some concerns of returnees
57. In collecting material for this report the rapporteur
is aware of a number of issues that returnees have brought up in
terms of their concerns about the operation of assisted voluntary
return and matters that would facilitate returns in the future.
58. In the pre-departure phase, returnees have called for more
country/region of origin information, including information on housing,
employment, social integration, welfare, family support, living
expenses and socio-economic changes. For some persons, in particular
failed asylum seekers, the issue of safety remains an important
concern. They have also asked for greater access to tools, such
as computers and telephone lines, to plan their return as well as
increased possibilities for discussing with returnees their experiences
(for example, through satellite links or telephone links). Psychological
counselling has also been raised as a necessity for some returnees
at the pre-departure phase. Another concern is confidentiality and
anonymity which are essential pre-requirements before many returnees
are prepared to engage in return discussions.
59. During the transportation phase, baggage restrictions is often
raised as a point of criticism.
60. In the post-arrival phase, the need for more business training
would appear to be an issue and the possibility of extending the
period of reintegration aid over longer periods has also been raised.
Problems with accommodation on arrival would also appear to be a
problem in some cases.
4.7 Dealing with some
of the populist criticisms
61. The rapporteur is aware of a number of criticisms
that have been voiced, often in the populist media, about assisted
voluntary return programmes. She considers that it is important
to deal with these and in particular the three following issues:
62. Serial beneficiaries: this
is one of the “urban myths”, namely that people flock to take the
benefits and then return to claim them one or more times. There
is little evidence that migrants emigrate to a country multiple times
to take advantage of its return assistance packages.
In the United Kingdom there are statistics to show that in
2003, 5% of persons (118 in total) attempted to re-enter the United
Kingdom having previously benefited from one of the schemes. In
2004 and 2005 the figures were 4% (104) and 3% (83) respectively.
Most of these persons were seeking to re-enter legally (for example,
as spouses of settled persons). During this period one person succeeded
in having his return paid twice and nobody received reintegration
assistance twice. From these statistics there is therefore little
or no evidence of there being a problem of serial beneficiaries.Note
people will re-migrate, but will not receive assistance a second
64. It is the view of the rapporteur that, notwithstanding the
lack of serial beneficiaries, member states should ensure that the
financial assistance components of assisted voluntary return programmes
are not exploited. Organisations and governments should therefore
keep accurate and up-to-date records of past and current participants
in its assisted voluntary return programmes. Participants should
be carefully screened before being offered financial assistance.
When possible, financial assistance should be offered in kind, rather
than in cash, and its uses should be monitored by the responsible
organisation or government agency.
65. Reintegration assistance as a bribe: according
to recent studies, migrants are motivated to return to their home
countries primarily by factors other than financial incentives,
such as a desire to see family and friends or a lack of opportunities
in the host country. In general, financial assistance merely facilitates
return and is not a bribe. Many persons cannot return without assistance
and reintegration assistance allows them to return with something
and with a hope for the future. It also allows them to return without
losing face, which is an important psychological element, as often
family and friends have invested financially in the original departure
of the irregular migrant.
66. Makes some countries more attractive
than others for migrants: there is no evidence that indicates
that European countries experienced a higher volume of irregular
migration after implementing assisted voluntary return programmes.
67. Most migrants in reaching their chosen countries have spent
much more money than the reintegration assistance package and this
is not a pull factor for migrants. Furthermore, if one looks at
the example of Calais in France, where there have been cash offerings
to persons wishing to go home, there is no evidence of persons flocking
to Calais from the rest of France to benefit from this offer.
68. The rapporteur is convinced that much greater use
should be made of assisted voluntary return programmes across Europe.
69. It is clear that they make financial sense for member states,
they are more humane than forced returns, and they may, on occasions,
succeed where forced returns fail. They can contribute to a sustainable
return, help development in the country of origin and also provide
valuable publicity in countries of origin that irregular migration
is not a pathway to riches and happiness abroad.
70. Assisted voluntary returns is not an answer for all irregular
migrants and it is just one of a number of different measures that
need to be supported by member states to tackle irregular migration.
It is important that the IOM continues its work in this area, and
is supported fully by member states, the international community and
local communities and civil society.
71. The rapporteur considers that member states have to be encouraged
further to expand and improve assisted voluntary return programmes
and in this respect considers that the Committee of Ministers could usefully
prepare “Guidelines on assisted voluntary returns” to supplement
the excellent guidelines previously prepared by the Committee of
Ministers on “forced returns”.