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Consular Special Report – Embassy 49

Assisted Voluntary Returns

Anuska Casas Pinto briefed consuls on a government/EU-funded service to return irregular migrants and asylum seekers home

Refugee Action is a human rights charity working for migrants and advocating for a fair system of asylum. One of their primary services is managing the Assisted Voluntary Returns (AVR) service funded jointly by the Home Office and the EU Returns Fund.

Refugee Action also supports the Gateway Protection Programme run through the UNHCR which helps to resettle refugees in the UK who are given immediate permission to settle permanently.

Although funded by Government, AVR is run independently of the Home Office. Advice given to migrants is impartial, focuses on the needs of the client and is confidential (information is not shared with third parties, such as the Home Office).

Who qualifies for AVR?
Persons qualifying for the Assisted Voluntary Return service include:

Irregular migrants
Asylum seekers and refused asylum seekers

Migrants with discretionary leave to remain (migrants not recognised as refugee or qualifying for humanitarian protection, but given leave to remain for a period, usually of three years)

Migrants in immigration removal centres not yet subject to removal orders

Migrants who are not eligible include:

Those who are subject to ongoing criminal proceedings
Those who have received a prison sentence of 12 months or more (these can return via the Facilitated Returns Scheme, FRS)

Those subject to removal decisions

What AVR includes:

Flights and onward travel to final destination
Assistance obtaining travel documents

Reintegration planning

Assistance at the airport

Only asylum seekers and those with discrectionary leave to remain qualify for financial assistance. This includes:

For single migrants or asylum seekers, up to £500 is offered in cash and £1000 payment in kind for specific services (housing, medical, setting up a business)
For families and unaccompanied minors, assistance of up to £2000 per family member

For irregular migrants, a vulnerability payment of up to £1000 can be offered in exceptional circumstances, which typically include pregnant women, people over the age of 65 and those with disabilities

An Embassy Caseworker is also assigned to the client and can assist with filling out application forms, acquiring supporting documents, accompanying the client to interviews at the consulate and covering the costs of obtaining an Emergency Travel Document.

During consultations, Refugee Action is also guided by certain safeguarding policies, which will take into consideration the physical and mental health of a migrant; whether the migrant is a victim of trafficking or domestic violence; returning to a high-risk country; and if the client is an unaccompanied minor.

Time frames
For irregular migrants, without asylum and without family, the process takes about four to eight weeks, which includes submitting the application and obtaining funding approval from the Home Office (two to four weeks) and obtaining travel documents and booking flights (two to four weeks).

Returning asylum seekers take longer because the Home Office needs to confirm that asylum was claimed. This can take between four and six weeks.

For families with minors, the process can take up three months because social services checks need to be run to ensure there are no safeguarding issues affecting children. The entire process takes a minimum six weeks up to three months.

Approved applicants are given three months to return, after which it elapses. They may apply a maximum of two times.

Partner countries
Refugee Action works through overseas partners in 20 countries (see below). These will be able to assist returnees who are eligible for the reintegration package. Returnees will be met at the airport where they will receive reintegration payments. They may also offer advice on resettlement planning and may assist with education or finding employment. 

South Africa
Sri Lanka

Migrants wishing to find out about Assisted Voluntary Returns programmes managed by Refugee Action, contact 0808 800 0007. Consuls requiring advice on complex cases, contact Anuska Casas Pinto direct on anuska@refugee-action.org.uk

Anuska Casas Pinto explains how assisted voluntary returns are managed by Refugee Action

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