Thursday, 16th of July

EMN identifies best practices in return and reintegration counselling

Counselling is a crucial service to ensure that migrants obtain correct information and support to return and reintegrate in their country of origin, as well as about their legal possibilities to remain in Europe. The European Migration Network (EMN) package of three Informs offers an overview of the policies and practices regarding counselling on the return and reintegration opportunities of migrants in the EU Member States and Norway. The informs were proposed by, and have been developed in collaboration with, the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Of the package of EMN Informs, the first focused on the policy and approaches to return counselling. It found that across both government and non-government providers, in the main, counselling fulfils two inter-linked purposes: to help the migrant to make an informed decision; and to ensure the effective implementation of migration policies by encouraging voluntary return and ensuring compliance with return procedures. While available to all third-country nationals, counselling occurs generally when an irregular situation is detected, and during the return procedure. As a result, counselling mainly takes place in immigration offices, detention centres and the offices of non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Some countries have adopted migrant-centred approaches, whereas others have put a greater emphasis on compliance issues; close to half of the countries participating in the research declared that a mixed approach encompassing both aspects was in place. Good practices included tailoring the counselling approach to the specific circumstances and needs of the individual, as well as the development of clear indicators and tools to measure the impact of the process of return counselling.

The second Inform explored the policy and operational support available to return counsellors to assist them in their role to provide migrants with timely, unbiased and reliable information on return. It found that there were no national legal or policy frameworks in place to ensure a standardised approach for return counsellors’ minimum qualifications and training requirements; however, minimum standards were upheld by relying on well-established practices or, in some cases, guidance and expertise provided by IOM.  National training tended to focus on knowledge and skills building, and targeted different levels of return counsellor expertise. Professional support typically included initial training, refresher courses, handbooks, guidelines and helplines. In some cases, counsellor monitoring practices were also in place. One of the main challenges identified was the limited personal support available to help councillors to deal with aspects of the work that could be difficult and emotionally draining.

The third Inform looked into outreach and information activities, which are distinct from but closely interlinked to return counselling. Besides state actors, a broad range of non-state actors, such as civil society organisations, health and education services and international organisations, were involved in information dissemination. The research found that 19 countries and IOM implemented information campaigns between 2010 and 2019. Outreach activities were found to be more successful when the dissemination tools used were varied, targeting mainstream as well as highly specific communications channels, the timing was carefully considered and when made available in non-national languages.  The research found that Member States had made specific efforts to reach out to vulnerable groups, such as minors and suspected victims of trafficking in human beings.