Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration (AVRR) is an indispensable part of a comprehensive approach to migration management aiming at orderly and humane return and reintegration of migrants who are unable or unwilling to remain in the host countries and thus wish to voluntarily return to their countries of origin.
The successful implementation of AVRR programmes requires cooperation and participation of a broad range of actors, including migrants, civil society and the governments in both host countries and countries of origin. The partnerships created by IOM and a diverse range of national and international stakeholders are essential to the effective implementation of AVRRs – from the pre-return to the reintegration stages.
For migrants who need to return home but lack the means to do so, IOM’s AVRR programmes are often the only solution to their immediate plight. Beneficiaries of IOM’s assistance include:
- individuals whose application for asylum was rejected or withdrawn;
- stranded migrants;
- victims of trafficking, and
- other vulnerable groups, including unaccompanied minors, or those with health-related needs.
As IOM’s core activity, AVRR programmes provide vital assistance to thousands of migrants returning home every year. Building on experience and a world-wide network of offices and partners, IOM’s AVRR programmes promote international dialogue and cooperation on migration management issues among host countries and countries of origin.
The provision of reintegration assistance to migrants in their countries of origin is an essential element to ensure sustainability of returns. IOM and its partners in the countries of origin provide migrants with socio-economic support to promote their self-sufficiency and contributions to their local communities. The sustainability of returns may only be ensured in parallel with socio-economic development.
Definition and advantages of assisted voluntary return
Voluntary return is a type of return based on the voluntary decision of an individual. A voluntary decision is defined by the absence of any physical, psychological, or material coercion and is based on adequate, available, accurate, and objective information.
For migrants AVR represents a far more humane and dignified alternative to forced return (i.e. deportation or exile) that is conductive to legal migration in future. For host governments, AVR is a more cost effective optioin than forced returns and can often be a quicker solution. It can also minimize the risk of human rights violation and facilitate respect for international principles to migrants in irregular situations.
IOM Minsk AVR Programmes
Stock of the previous activities:
IOM Minsk has been active in the sphere of return assistance since 1997. In 1997-1999 the following programmes were implemented:
- Stranded Migrants in Transit Programme (SMIT), aimed to provide return assistance to stranded irregular migrants, who have left their countries of origin with the clear intention of reaching Western Europe and who voluntarily wished to return home. The programme was funded by Finland and Switzerland and was implemented in close collaboration with the state law enforcement authorities – Ministry of Interior and the State Committee of Border Troops (now the State Border Committee). During the programme’s implementation period a total of 86 irregular migrants were assisted in return home.
- Stranded Students Return Programme (SSRP), aimed at alleviating the humanitarian problems experienced by foreign students and their direct dependants from developing countries stranded in Belarus through facilitating their return home via the provision of transportation and other relevant return assistance. The programme was funded by Switzerland and USA and implemented in cooperation with the Passport and Visa Department of the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Education. As a result of this intervention 11 ultimate beneficiaries were voluntarily returned to their countries of origin.
- Rwandan Students Return Programme (RRRS) was launched in 1998 and aimed to enable Rwandan ex-students and their dependants to return voluntarily home by providing them with financial assistance. This rather small scale, but nonetheless very important activity was funded by the EU.
During the period of 1999-2007 the return assistance to most vulnerable cases was provided mainly through the Humanitarian Assisted to Stranded Migrants (HASM) Fund.
In May 2007 IOM Minsk launched the Assisted Voluntary Return Programme implemented within the joint EU AENEAS – UNHCR – IOM project “Strengthening the Protection Capacity in Belarus (2007-2008 – Phase I, and 2009-2011 – Phase II)”. Through the training and awareness raising activities the programme aimed to facilitate the creation of the sustainable voluntary return system in Belarus, while providing direct return assistance to the ultimate beneficiaries (irregular migrants and unsuccessful asylum seekers). As a result of this intervention more then 420 migrants were counseled on the AVR option and 297 received direct assistance in voluntary return home; 2 workshops with participation of international experts were held, study visits to Sweden, the UK, Austria and the Netherlands were organized for the Ministry of Interior and the State Border Committee officers dealing with return issues.
In addition to the implementation of the AVR Programme within the framework of the joint project, IOM participated in the establishment of the mechanism for the UNHCR – IOM – NGO protection monitoring in all strategic entry and exit points of the country, including monitoring of MoI’s detention facilities. This activity aimed to ensure that irregular migrants and asylum seekers have access to the appropriate procedures either to enable them to return safely to their country of origin or to enjoy the protection of Belarus.
Starting from February 2013, IOM Minsk will implement another EU funded project “Strengthening Migration Management and Cooperation on Readmission in Eastern Europe (MIGRECO)”, aimed at enhancing migration management and fostering cooperation on readmission in Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine in line with EU standards. Besides the joint regional activities aimed at facilitating and monitoring migration reforms and the implementation of the readmission agreements in the region, IOM Minsk will continue its return assistance activities, including the following components:
- AVR assistance to 160 irregular migrants, rejected asylum-seekers and persons who had withdrawn their applications for the refugee status, including most vulnerable categories (females, elderly, unaccompanied minors, victims of trafficking, migrants with health problems);
- AVR training aiming to raise the professional level of up to 20 Belarusian MoI and SBC officers dealing with return issues, also contributing to the sustainability of the programme;
- AVR information campaign targeting the efficient information dissemination about the AVR option;
- The UNHCR-IOM-NGO border monitoring (BM) mechanism created during the implementation of the previous AVR programme will continue its operation within the framework of the proposed intervention. The BM is a cross-agency (UNHCR-IOM-NGO) mechanism for the protection monitoring in all strategic entry and exit points of the country, including monitoring of MoI’s detention facilities. This activity aims to ensure that irregular migrants and asylum seekers have access to the appropriate procedures either to enable them to return safely to their country of origin or to enjoy protection in Belarus.
Though Belarus is mainly the country of destination for irregular migrants, Belarusian citizens also get into various complicated situations. Belarusians, who voluntarily return home taking advantage of the IOM AVR programmes implemented worldwide, receive reintegration package enabling them to possess funds for living upon return. Such assistance includes socio-economic counseling, referrals to service providers, small business set-up facilitation, job placement, educational and vocational trainings.