Recent headlines suggest ‘voluntary’ return as an approach to the management of irregular migration is making something of a comeback. Newspaper articles entitled Germany offers asylum seekers up to €1,200 each to voluntarily return to their home countries and ‘Bribed’ to go home: illegal migrants given hugely generous packages to persuade them to leave UK suggest there is renewed interest in ‘voluntary’ return, especially to address large backlogs of irregular migrants, including refused asylum seekers.
The UK government has always indirectly encouraged irregular migrants to return ‘voluntarily’ to their countries of origin through the Assisted Voluntary Returns (AVR) programme, run until 2011 by the International Organisation for Migration(IOM) and then more recently by Refugee Action. The Home Office has now taken control of this programme by managing it directly through its Voluntary Return Services and is offering irregular migrants £2,000 and a flight home. So, why this new approach, and why now?
While this type of move in the UK would perhaps have been unimaginable a few years ago, it is now being introduced as an important part of the policy response to irregular migration. This represents a step forward for the Home Office, formally acknowledging AVR as a viable option for dealing with irregular migration and moving beyond an over-reliance on forced removals as their primary response to it. This is what we were hoping to see a few years ago when, together with my then colleagues at IPPR, I published a briefing paper outlining the benefits of AVR as a more humane and more cost-effective option and one that the UK was under-using at the time.
The Home Office decision to run the AVR programme in-house by incorporating it into their existing voluntary departures scheme instead of commissioning a third-party organisation to deliver it is significant and comes with a number of implications. Firstly, under this new scheme, impartial, non-directive advice will only be given to irregular migrants who meet a definition of vulnerability. Secondly, while AVR could be interpreted as a ‘softer’ response from the Home Office, it is part of a wider strategy by the government to intensify the ‘hostile environment’ for irregular migrants on the one hand, whilst, on the other, strengthening the incentives to return. Thirdly, some voluntary returnees, receiving cash but not broader reintegration support through independent institutions in the country of origin, may struggle to reintegrate and end up destitute back home, jeopardising the sustainability of their return.
SOURCE: Cherti, Myriam. “Is ‘Voluntary’ Return the New Way Forward for Managing Irregular Migration?” COMPAS Blog 21 February 2017
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