Transnational Exchange III Workshop I
The first workshop of the Transnational Exchange III Project took place in the Haus St. Ulrich in Augsburg from the 1st - 3rd of March 2016. 24 European and non-European experts of the assisted voluntary return and reintegration counselling field such as counselling coordinators, network leaders, reintegration partners etc. gathered in order to participate in the Kick-Off workshop. The following nationalities were represented: Belgian, Dutch, Norwegian, German, Congolese, Armenian, Russian and Ukrainian.
The agenda included presentations on the current AVR and reintegration counselling situation in the European and non-European countries. Afterwards, the topics of linking development aid and return, country-specific vulnerability criteria, professional qualifications as well as the challenge of assisting irregular migrants were discussed.
In the following, the most important findings shall be highlighted:
1. Linking development aid and return
Example: Caritas Armenia and Caritas Liechtenstein implement a project, providing community grants for communities with returnees. This leads to an increase of the social acceptance of returnees within the community.
In general, there might be more programs linking the two topics but neither development nor migration is clearly defined in the discussion, e.g. programs which target resettlement including IDPs (internally displaced people), programs for returning experts, students and various other groups. A return can turn out to be more problematic for skilled and educated persons who struggle more with corruption and the way how things get done in the country of return. The target group of AVR counselling usually is composed of a less skilled or little trained. It is therefore questionable how they can contribute to the development in their communities. Development can mean something completely different depending on the situation of the country of return: post-conflict countries vs. developing countries.
The linkage can be problematic in the following aspects:
- The empowerment in the community can lead to migration of people who want to continue their pursuit of education or prosperity
- Supporting communities linked to returnees might enforce migration
- Using returnees as actors for development aid might reduce the funds in other areas of the development aid
2. Country-specific vulnerability criteria
When working with vulnerable returnees, the vulnerability criteria might exceed the general definition of vulnerability criteria which includes unaccompanied minors, mentally and physically ill people, single parents, persons subject to rape or torture or any form of violence, etc. (taken for example from the Decision No 575/2007/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council Article 5 (2) of 23rd of May 2007). In the pre-departure process it is recommended, however, to consider "country-specific” vulnerability criteria. According to the reintegration partners vulnerability can differ between the countries of return. Therefore, the reintegration partners participating in the Transnational Exchange III Workshop in cooperation with the rest of the participants compiled a preliminary list of vulnerability criteria for Russia, DRC, Armenia and Ukraine. The lists are attached as pdf-files at the end of the article.
3. Professional Trainings
In several European countries qualification measures or professional trainings are considered a part of an encompassing pre-departure preparation. As mentioned above the majority of the returnees has little skills and has had usually little opportunity to gain further education or an income during their stay in Europe. In order to not let return them empty-handed, professional trainings are offered. These trainings can range from a few days acquiring a fork lift driving license to a couple of weeks learning basic professional skills such as carpentry.
The following points were developed with regard to professional training organized by AVR counselling offices:
Existing pre-departure professional trainings mostly fail its purpose due to the following facts:
- Trainings need to be country-specific
- Trainings need to be held in groups of 10 to 15 in order to be economical. Most courses consist of participants of many nationalities
- Professional trainings such as fork lift driving and welding often have little way to be applied in the countries of return; requirements for jobs vary greatly
- 90% of the returnees are not entrepreneurs and prefer to be employed (problem: not enough job opportunities)
- Trainings are compiled by Westerners in Europe who have little insight into the local needs
What are solutions for trainings?
The training needs to be customized from general to specific according to the stage of return process (pre- and post-departure).
• Pre-departure training: In the European countries, general trainings should be offered such as: language courses, basic mathematics, etc. The problem here is that returnees do not trust their fellow countrymen and the training offered in the countries of origin. Therefore, they want to receive good-quality training prior to the departure. Returnees want to show some sort achievement upon return (no return empty-handed)
• Training in country of origin after return: specific professional trainings; a great array of training exists in most countries of return. Most of the time they are cheaper and more helpful than in Europe. The problem here is that the trainings are mostly offered in the bigger cities (Who covers travel expenses from the countryside to the training location?). Aside from that income often needs to be generated directly after return. There is no time left for training; even a three-months-training might not be an option.
4. Assisting irregular migrants
Since the assisted voluntary return counselling offices offer assistance to (rejected) migrants and undocumented migrants, the question arise how to reach the second target group. Reaching in this context means to make information about AVR counselling and support known amongst undocumented migrants. Whenever undocumented migrants would like to receive help, the returnee faces greater organizational and psychological challenges in the pre-departure process than a regular returnee. In the following certain countries and their way of reaching undocumented migrants is portrayed:
Belgium: The civil societies aim at reaching the undocumented migrants cooperating with diaspora organizations. The hardest part is to trace and to find the unregistered persons. It also occurs that some nationalities establish a thriving subculture with businesses as far as that they are almost independent from the job market.
Netherlands: 10 years ago the black market activities were at its peak. It was relatively easy to stay as an illegal migrant. The laws have become stricter by now. Therefore, the undocumented are dependent on basic supply of food and medicine. This is mostly provided by churches and NGOs.
Germany: The employment laws are quite strict and have increased in the severity of punishment for illegal employment. The contact to illegal migrants is very rare because as soon as the person wants to receive help, he or she is forced to register. Many are beggars in the streets and refrain from getting official help.
Norway: The churches reach out to the undocumented migrants a lot since the churches are mostly run by migrants themselves. The Caritas Information Center in Oslo estimates that 7% of the visitors are undocumented.
Challenges in the assistance:
- It is hard to reach them in general; many are scared of possible consequences when they accept help. Counsellors need to actively search and pursue them.
- Many have stayed illegally in European countries for several years which had negative effects on their psyche, self-perception and possibility to execute basic life managing skills
- Due to the long absence from the home country many undocumented migrants do not have any social network in the country of return
- After years of street-life and homelessness many people are no longer connected to any kind of support system which makes it difficult to link them to the system
The last topic on the workshop agenda was the preparation of the Transnational Exchange III conference.