Surmounting information sharing gaps is key to realising the promise of predeparture counselling to support returning migrants’ sustainable reintegration
BRUSSELS — European policymakers are increasingly investing in assisted voluntary return and reintegration (AVRR) programmes to incentivise the departure of irregular migrants and denied asylum seekers and to foster their sustainable reintegration. While the lion’s share of reintegration assistance takes place after returnees arrive in their countries of origin, policymakers and practitioners in the field increasingly recognise that counselling at the predeparture stage can play a key role in smoothing return and supporting reintegration.
Return can be challenging for migrants, who are stressed by the upheaval in their lives, may be returning to a country where they have weak local ties and can face the stigma of an unsuccessful migration journey. They also may face difficulties finding a job and accessing key services upon return, such as health care and education. Reintegration programmes aim to help returnees overcome these challenges through cash or in-kind support, such as assistance with starting a small business or psychosocial counselling. With a greater focus on the predeparture stage, AVRR programmes have the potential to better prepare migrants for the journey ahead, giving them a clear picture of life post-return and increasing their agency over their situation. Information about returning migrants collected by counsellors at the predeparture stage—such as information on vulnerabilities, immediate and long-term needs, and skills—can also help service partners in origin countries prepare and deliver reintegration support swiftly after migrants’ return.
A new Migration Policy Institute Europe policy brief, Leveraging Predeparture Counselling to Support Returning Migrants’ Sustainable Reintegration, examines predeparture counselling, finding a deficit of information sharing between actors in origin and destination countries. The analysis draws in part from interviews with civil-society and international organisations that provide predeparture counselling in Europe, service partners in origin countries, government officials and other experts.
‘At present, many reintegration programmes are plagued by information-related challenges, such as a mismatch between what returnees expect life to be like after return and the situation they encounter on arrival, the poor quality of much of the predeparture case information actors in Europe share with origin-country service partners and the fact that origin-country authorities are rarely kept in the loop about migrants returning through AVRR programmes’, MPI Europe Associate Policy Analyst Lucía Salgado writes.
Diverging approaches to what information should be provided to returnees at the predeparture stage and what should be shared with origin-country service partners also hampers the effectiveness of the programmes, the brief finds. In addition, there is limited evidence of what works best and why as a result of insufficient monitoring and evaluation (M&E) in many AVRR programmes.
Still, Salgado finds some promising efforts are underway to improve information sharing and better leverage predeparture counselling for sustainable reintegration, including initiatives to connect returnees with origin-country service partners online predeparture. And the development of online case management tools by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the European Commission has opened a new chapter in the way information is shared between actors in origin and destination countries.
The brief offers several recommendations to further improve information exchanges, including offering virtual counselling to returnees predeparture to diminish the risk of inaccurate expectations and misinformation, and setting minimum standards for predeparture case information sharing. Policymakers could also consider greater investments in digital case management systems while being mindful of data protection, the digital infrastructure of origin-country service partners, training for new users and the interoperability of different case management systems.
‘In the fragmented field of European AVRR programmes, improving predeparture counselling and information-sharing will take concerted effort’, the brief concludes. ‘But in the long term, these investments will smooth the transition between returnees’ departure from Europe and arrival in their origin countries, and ultimately improve their chances of sustainable reintegration’.
The research was conducted as part of a partnership between MPI Europe and the European Return and Reintegration Network (ERRIN), funded through the European Union Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF), with co-financing from participating national authorities.
Read the policy brief here: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/predeparture-counseling-returning-migrants.