Assisted voluntary return

A person applying for international protection who is unable or unwilling to stay in the host country can voluntarily return to his country of origin or domicile or to another country where he has a residence permit. Voluntary return is always proposed primarily to persons who are not granted a residence permit or who are not eligible for asylum in the host country.

Voluntary return is a dignified way of returning home and reintegrating. The returnee makes the decision on his return and negotiates with the organisers about, among other things, the appropriate time. The decision to return can be canceled at any time, even at the airport before boarding.

Returnees lacking resources may be eligible for a return assistance, which is referred to as assisted voluntary return. In addition to travel tickets, the returnee receives either cash or in-kind support to help get started in his home country. This is called reintegration. The term referring to this process is the Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration (AVRR).

Arrangements for voluntary return are carried out by the Finnish Immigration Service (Migri) and the reception centre where the returnee is registered. An important partner of the Finnish Immigration Service for voluntary return is the United Nations Migration Agency (IOM). The Finnish Immigration Service has several service providers in the return countries – international and local organisations that help the Finnish Immigration Service ensure that the return goes well.

Returning is a continuation of life and a new beginning

ِArranging voluntary returns is not a new phenomenon. Voluntary returns in Finland have been organized since 1998. The voluntary return was established as part of the operation of the reception centres by an amendment to the law that entered into force on 1 July 2015. The number of returnees has increased in recent years in Finland and other European countries. While there were 318 returnees from Finland in 2014, the number of those who returned to their home country by the assisted voluntary return in 2016 was 2116. In 2017, 1425 people returned voluntarily.

Over the last few years, more people have returned to Iraq, and the most common reason for a return has been a negative asylum decision. For those who have received a negative asylum decision, voluntary return is a better option than removal from the country.

Some of the people coming to Finland decide to suspend their permit or asylum process themselves, for example because of family members who have left their home country or when the situation in Finland has changed. A significantly larger number of asylum seekers who have received a negative decision have left Finland with their own resources rather than through assisted return programmes. However, the statistics for them are incomplete, as many do not report the departure to anyone.

Assisted voluntary return has clear social benefits. It promotes sustainable reintegration and supports return to development and stability. In addition, voluntary return assistance reduces the inclination of people who have received a negative asylum decision to stay in the host country without a residence permit.

Returnees receive support

Voluntary return support is discretionary. It is intended for asylum seekers who have applied for international protection or who have received a negative decision who wish to return voluntarily and in a permanent manner to their country of origin. An asylum seeker is an alien who applies for protection and right of residence from a foreign state. Victims of trafficking without a home country in Finland and persons whose international protection status in Finland has been withdrawn or terminated may also be eligible for support.

Customers at reception centres can apply for voluntary return support from their own reception centre. If the returnee is no longer registered at the reception center, the grant may be granted by the Finnish Immigration Service upon application.

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Voluntary return support is cash or services

Returnees can get cash, commodity support, or both. Return arrangements always aim to take into account the individual’s particular situation and needs. A vulnerable person may be eligible for an increased grant. Support for voluntary return helps to re-establish life at home.

The amount of financial support depends on the country and the circumstances in which the person returns. A voluntary return assistance of up to 1500 euros may be granted to an adult and 750 euros to a minor returning with the family. The increased cash grant is 2000 euros. This can be obtained, for example, when there is an injury or illness. In 2017, most of the returnees received financial support of between 800 euros and 1000 euros.

In-kind support can be supplies or services. For example, a returnee can get help with buying an apartment, paying rent, training, getting health care, employment or setting up a small business. The returnee decides for himself where to use the in-kind Support. In-kind support is not granted for illegal activities.

A maximum of 5000 euros can be granted to an adult returning voluntarily. A child returning with the family may receive an in-kind support of up to 1500 euros.

Voluntary return in practice

Organising a voluntary return takes an average of two weeks from the application. Travelers are paid travel tickets to their home country and, if they do not have a passport, they are assisted in obtaining a travel document. The returnee travels like any passenger – without escorts and on a regular scheduled flight among other passengers.

IOM makes the travel arrangements, assists the returnee at the airport and during the return journey, and often offers support after the return. Elderly, ill persons, families, as well as single-parent children and women can, if necessary, receive a special service during their trip.

After the return, the returnee who has been granted financial support will be contacted by the IOM’s local office or other agreed service provider who will pay the cash or in-kind support. Depending on the country, the support is paid either by bank transfer, cash, or check. It usually takes a few weeks to get the assistance, depending on the arrangements.

The returnee choosing the in-kind support must contact the organisation that implements the assistance – the local IOM office of the office of the service provider chosen by the Immigration Service. The returnee may discuss the purpose of the in-kind support before returning, and will receive the contact information from the service provider of the assistance and that of a representative of the IOM office before leaving Finland. The Service Provider and the returnee will work together on a reintegration plan, which may take a few weeks to a few months.

If you have not received a residence permit, voluntary return is the preferred form of return

In Finland, asylum decisions are made on the basis of EU legislation and international agreements. Each asylum application is handled and examined individually. The Finnish Immigration Service complies with the Aliens Act, which takes into account human rights, the Constitution and the non-refoulement principle.

The mere desire to stay in Finland, poverty, economic problems, age, occupation, or high motivation to work are not enough to get asylum or a residence permit. Furthermore, a residence permit or international protection under the Aliens Act will not be granted if the circumstances of the applicant’s home country are such that there are no grounds for asylum. It is very unlikely that a person from a Member State of the European Union will be granted asylum in Finland, as Finland, like other EU countries, considers all EU countries safe.

A person who is granted asylum or international protection is a person who is at serious risk of return to his or her home area. If a person can escape inside his or her home country, protection is usually not granted. Obtaining refugee status, i. e. asylum, requires a person to have a justified fear of prosecution because for origin, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.

The precise criteria for granting asylum are defined in the Aliens Act and in the international agreements to which Finland is committed.

Staying in Finland without a residence permit

An asylum seeker may reside in Finland throughout the processing of the asylum application, even if he or she does not hold a visa or residence permit. However, residence becomes illegal when the asylum seeker remains in the country despite a negative asylum decision.

In Finland, a residence permit is necessary to reside. If a person does not have a residence permit, he or she cannot be employed and is not paid labor market support. This, in turn, results in people without legal right to reside in the country being at an increased risk of marginalisation, criminality or being abused by traffickers or criminals. Therefore, voluntary return is the best solution for people without asylum or residence.

If a person does not meet the conditions for a residence permit but refuses to return voluntarily, the process of removal from the country will be transferred to the police. The police inform the applicant of the preparations for the deportation. Even in these situations, a person is still offered the possibility of voluntary return before deportation.