Assistance and information
Voluntary return involves a dual approach: a proactive approach centred on applicants for international protection (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.
The return path for asylum seekers
When applying for international protection at the Immigration Office, asylum seekers receive information about voluntary return for the first time by means of a brochure. If the application is turned down, applicants receive an order to leave the territory along with a second information brochure about voluntary return.
Asylum seekers 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 return path and the return places are explained to the applicants for international protection with an informative sheet available in 11 languages.
Assisting migrants without a residence permit
For all people who are outside of the reception network, it is important that voluntary return is as accessible as possible. This is where the return desks of Fedasil and the broad network of partner organisations comes into play. Fedasil has five return desks for providing more information to migrants and organise their voluntary return. These return desks are located in Brussels, Ghent, Liège, Antwerp and Charleroi.
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.
Reach Out: informing undocumented migrants
Since 2019, a Fedasil team has been handling contacts with undocumented and street migrants (including migrants in transit) present in major Belgian cities. The aim is to establish a relationship of trust with them and inform them of their rights in Belgium, both in terms of reception and social support, and the possibilities of return. The Reach Out team was formed with the assistance of the European network ERRIN and with funding from AMIF.