Voluntary return counseling (2014)

This Ad Hoc Query concerns voluntary return program.


Ad-Hoc Query on voluntary return counselling (pdf, 313 kB)


Belgium appears to have the single-most well-developed (and regimental?) Assisted Voluntary Return (AVR) program, including a number of laws regulating return. From the moment a foreigner has lodged an asylum application, return counseling becomes an integral part of the accompaniment offered to asylum seekers in all reception facilities in Belgium. A practice which is not unlike Norway's approach. Once the Council for Alien Law Litigation confirms the negative decision of the CGRS + assignment to a return facility, the ex-asylum seeker can decide voluntarily if he wants to go and has 5 days after the assignment to register at the return facility (the only facility where he still has a right to reception for a specific amount of time before he has to leave the Belgian territory) where ex-asylum seekers stay for the duration of the execution time of their order to leave the territory, in view of preparing the voluntary return. The target group of the return facilities are mainly asylum seekers whose asylum application has come to an end with the confirmation of the refusal of recognition of refugee status and refusal to grant subsidiary protection status by the Council for Alien Law Litigation. For the duration of their order to leave the country these return facilities are the only places where they are still entitled to reception (material aid). On day 15 in the return facility, an evaluation with regard to the progress in the return file is made. If, during this evaluation Fedasil and the Liaison Officer of the Immigration Office consider that the ex-asylum seeker is not cooperating sufficiently, the Immigration Office takes charge of the file and prepares for a forced return. In the case of Norway, those who will be deported in a short period of time are transferred to a detention center until departure. UDI also plans to start with a practice of strategic placement of asylum seekers who have certain characteristics/profile and where it is expected that they will receive a rejection of their application for asylum

Bulgaria has a comprehensive description and interesting details in their AHQ response, not least of all in terms of providing a description of established laws regulating return of ex-asylum seekers.  The laws described in the AHQ relate to length of time allowed in centers after a final negative decision has been made, as well as possibilities for extension of this period for up to one year for extenuating circumstances. The law also stipulates the frequency and need for reporting in to the authorities while waiting for the actual return, not least of all for persons for whom it is not possible to facilitate a return and the situation for persons posing a national security threat. 

The Netherlands has no laws regulating forced returns (nor does Norway) and states that they prefer to facilitate assisted return. Once the appeal has been deemed irreversible, the foreign national will be given 28 days to organise his/her departure himself (voluntarily). During these 28 days return interviews take place continuously. After the 28 days the foreign national will become removable. If forced return can be conducted, the Repatriation and Departure Service (R&DS) will effectuate it. But, on the other hand, if the foreign national has expressed his will to leave voluntarily during these 28 days, the foreign national has to provide information on the developments on his voluntary return process to the R&DS. When necessary and desired, the R&DS will assist the foreign national in organising his actual return. After the statutory period of departure (28 days after appeal) all facilities provided will be terminated if the foreign national has not left the Netherlands, unless the foreign national belongs to one of the categories to whom accommodation is provided. See attached document for extensive details.

Latvia, interestingly enough keeps “The person under detention until the voluntary return decision is made.”

Sweden does not practice counselled return and does not normally house ex-asylum seekers in detention. If an application for international protection is deemed "manifestly unfounded" by the Swedish authorities, the applicant is housed in facilities close to where they arrived, usually in the proximity of an airport. In a few exceptions, ex-asylum seekers can be put in detention facilities prior to a removal.

In the UK Assisted Voluntary Return (AVR) Services are provided through the Choices service of Refugee Action, which administers AVR. This program provides return counselling for ex-asylum seekers and funds for housing. There are not normally any facilities available other than in Afghanistan where there is a separate bilateral agreement and temporary hostel facilities managed by IOM are available for use on arrival. In the past, schemes with Afghanistan and Iraq have provided extra ‘Return and Rebuild’ finance for accommodation but these concluded in 2009. This project was time limited and costly and there are no plans to repeat or further develop such projects. Voluntary Return counselling is provided only as part of the AVR services. Anyone accepted for the scheme has up to 3 months to prepare for return and depart from the UK. During this time no enforcement action is taken, while the applicant works with Choices.

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