What is Assisted Voluntary Return?

Assisted Voluntary Return (AVR) is a controversial issue – with some commentators questioning whether AVR programmes should be considered ‘voluntary’ at all. For those interested in my area of research but with little experience of AVR, here is a quick overview of AVR in the UK…

AVR: “Administrative, logistical, financial and reintegration support to rejected asylum seekers, victims of trafficking in human beings, stranded migrants, qualified nationals and other migrants unable or unwilling to remain in the host country who volunteer to return to their countries of origin.” International Organization for Migration (IOM) Glossary (IOM Glossary)

Assisted Voluntary Return (AVR) programmes are resettlement packages offered to asylum seekers and undocumented migrants to aid return to their countries of origin. They are used by governments around the world to incentivize irregular migrants to return ‘home’.

In the UK these programmes are funded by the government and the EU and are administered by the UK Home Office. Although the programmes are targeted towards rejected asylum seekers and undocumented migrants, others who are pending a decision on their asylum application are also eligible.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) administer many of the AVR programmes around the world and indeed set-up and ran the programmes in the UK from 1999-2011. In April 2011, Refugee Action took over the administration of the programmes on behalf of the UK government. Administration of the UK AVR programmes changed once again in 2016 when the Home Office announced it would take the programmes back in-house under the title Voluntary Return Service.

AVR programmes generally cover travel expenses and funds to gain travel documents (where needed), as well as reintegration assistance to support applicants to create a sustainable income upon return. This could be a cash lump sum or longer-term, in-kind assistance such as training and/or funding to start a business or fees for education. (For this reason, they are also often referred to as Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration (AVRR) programmes.)

AVR programmes, particularly those in the UK, have attracted significant criticism (see Webber for an in-depth discussion): many have questioned whether return can be labelled ‘voluntary’ when many people applying for AVR have had a negative asylum decision, or are undocumented. These applicants therefore have few other options available to them and many are faced with the decision of either destitution or return. This issue of ‘voluntariness’ – particularly in relation to making an informed decision about return – is of key interest to me, and something I will return to and explore in later posts.

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