Monday 25.05.2020

391 asylum seekers from 35 countries got assistance for voluntary return in 2019

Obtaining refugee status or another form of international protection is a process that can take months or even years. However, when asylum seekers request help for voluntary return, the authorities may organize their return trips and travel documents in just two weeks. In 2019, the vast majority of people who used this mechanism were Iraqis, Russians, Georgians and Iranians.

A traffic jam in Baghdad. Photo: Abdulmomn Kadhim from Pixabay.
A traffic jam in Baghdad. Photo: Abdulmomn Kadhim from Pixabay.

In December 2019, the office in Finland of the United Nations Migration Agency (IOM) assisted 23 persons to return voluntarily to their countries of origin. This is a slightly lower number compared to the same month in the previous year, when 27 people got this kind of assistance.

In the whole of 2019, the agency assisted a total number of 391 beneficiaries to return voluntarily to 35 countries of origin. Most people who used this mechanism returned to Iraq (187), the Russian Federation (42), Georgia (26) and Iran (22), the UN agency detailed in a news release.

Most of those returnees were men between 18 and 34 years old. 62% travelled alone and the remaining 38% did so as a couple or family. Among the returnees there were 67 children and 324 adults.


Source: IOM Finland

IOM Finland's assistance to voluntary returnees from Finland is based on an agreement with the Finnish Immigration Service (Migri). Returnees can be granted either cash grants to help them reintegrate or in-kind-support such as assistance for starting a micro business

Precisely in 2019, the Finnish Government raised the amount of aid which can be granted to the persons who express their will to return to their home country.

Cash or in-kind support

Finnish authorities emphasize that the amounts are not the same in all cases. "People who return voluntary to Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia, for instance, can receive in-kind assistance totalling 5,000 euros", stressed the Ministry of Interior one year ago in a press release.

For an adult, the maximum amount payable in cash is 1,500 euros,  though there is an increased grant of 2,000 euros for sick people.

Any asylum seeker willing to return home voluntarily can ask for official support directly from Migri or at the reception centre. For those who want more information, the Immigration agency launched a website in English in which the mechanism is presented as "a dignified way of returning home and reintegrating."


Source: IOM Finland.

Organized in two weeks

According to the aforementioned website, returnees can get cash, commodity support, or both in order to re-establish life at home. The amount of financial support depends on the country and the circumstances in which the person returns.

In-kind support can be supplies or services, for example help with buying an apartment, paying rent, training, getting health care, employment or setting up a small business. 

Returnees can also receive cash assistance of up to 1,500 euros for adults and 750 euros for minors who accompany their families. There is an increased cash grant of 2,000 euros, but this one can be obtained under exceptional circumstances, for example if the returnee suffers an injury or an illness.

The Finnish immigration authorities also explain that "organizing a voluntary return takes an average of two weeks from the application. Travelers are paid travel tickets to their home country and, if they do not have a passport, they are assisted in obtaining a travel document."

The returnee travels on a regular scheduled flight like any passenger, without police accompanying him.

The conditions for voluntary return

Migri specifies in its website the cases in which assistance for voluntary return can be obtained:

  • People who received a negative decision on their asylum applications.
  • Those who withdraw their asylum applications.
  • Victims of human trafficking without a municipality of residence in Finland.
  • Beneficiaries of temporary protection.
  • People who have been granted a temporary residence permit because they cannot be removed from the country, but they do not have a municipality of residence in Finland.
  • People whose international protection status in Finland has been withdrawn or cancelled and a decision has been made to deport them.
  • People who have been granted humanitarian protection, but whose residence permit is about to expire or has expired.

There are still additional conditions established by Finnish law:

Anyone willing to get assistance for voluntary return must withdraw all his pending applications for asylum, residence permit or an alien’s passport, and all appeals against decisions concerning these matters. And only people who can not pay their return by themselves will get this official support.

Iraqi killed after voluntary return

IOM emphasizes that voluntary return "should always be the preferred mode of return, as it is the most sustainable alternative in view of the reintegration of migrants." However, this mechanism sometimes does not fulfill the purpose for which it was designed and becomes the last resort for people about to be deported.

This was the case of Ali, an Iraqi who arrived in Finland in search for refuge in 2015 and in 2017 returned to Iraq with assisted voluntary return after being threatened with forced deportation. A month later he was shot three times and killed in a street in Baghdad.

His daughter Noor took the case to the European Court of Human Rights. The court concluded that Ali's return had not been voluntary and sanctioned Finland for violating Articles 2 and 3 of the Convention on Human Rights.

One week later, the Finnish Immigration Service (Migri) announced its intention to review "approximately 500" negative decisions issued against as many asylum seekers facing deportation.