Voluntary return involves a dual approach: a proactive approach centred on asylum seekers (they follow the return path) and a general approach targeting a wider audience. The role of the return counsellors is to provide information and assistance.

A proactive approach: the return path for asylum seekers

The return path is organised as follows:

  • When applying for asylum at the Immigration Office, migrants receive information about voluntary return for the first time by means of a brochure.
  • If the asylum application is turned down, asylum seekers receive an order to leave the territory along with a second information brochure about voluntary return.
  • Migrants are allocated to a return place, in the view of preparing the voluntary return. Open return places are located in reception centres managed by Fedasil.
  • Migrants are allowed to stay during 30 days at these centres in order to prepare their return. Supervision is provided by a return counsellor from Fedasil with the participation of an officer from the immigration Office. 

The proactive approach had been widened to include immigrant families living in the country illegally through the creation of an open return centre located in Holsbeek and managed by the Immigrations Office (with the collaboration of Fedasil). This centre was operational between 2013 and 2015. 

A general approach

For all people who are outside the scope of the return procedure, it is important that voluntary return is as accessible as possible. This is where the network of return desks and partner organisations comes into play. 

In parallel, the Immigration Office’s support and information project for returns, the SEFOR project, is in charge of monitoring foreigners who receive an order to leave the territory and are not living in a reception structure, and provides them with information about voluntary return.

Fedasil’s return counsellors

Fedasil’s return counsellors work at reception centres, at return desks, and provide support for Local Reception Initiatives. A return counsellor is in charge of informing the migrant, registering and assessing his application, organising the actual return in collaboration with the IOM, and assessing the reintegration opportunities in his home country. Therefore, his role is to remove all obstacles between the voluntary decision and the actual departure. Nevertheless, the migrant himself is responsible for obtaining the travel documents.

Return counsellors are required to share their expertise with the different partners. It is with this goal in mind that the training courses focused on voluntary return have been created for staff members of Local Reception Initiatives, Public Social Welfare Centres and other organisations. These aim to facilitate discussions about return and to assess the best ways of tackling the subject with migrants.