According to the UK’s Home Office, 23,184 immigrants returned to their home countries in 2012 on a voluntary basis. Of these people, 16% accessed economic aid provided by the “Voluntary Return Assistance” programme, funding their return home. Is this programme too good to be true?
“I couldn’t work here. I wasn’t able to help my family. I was becoming a burden, so I thought that maybe going back home would be a better option…I also needed to be with my children”.
This is the story of Sintheni, a woman who decided to return to her home country, Zimbabwe, after living in the United Kingdom for 10 years.
She arrived in 2001 on a student visa and applied for asylum to prolong her legal stay in the country, but her application was rejected. Her official status did not allow her to work, and so, finally, she made the decision to return to her family.
Like her, thousands of immigrants have opted for this service.
According to the UK Border Agency (UKBA), from 2008 to 2011, a total of 10,000 people benefited from this “Voluntary Return Assistance”. Over the past three years, the project’s funding has totalled some €50 billion.
According to statistics, applications for this programme have been growing steadily since its creation, and furthermore, between January and October 2008, some 3,699 people benefited from the service and achieved a “dignified” return home.
In reality, there is not one singular service, there are a number of different programmes, depending on the applicant’s individual situation.
Since 2011, these programmes have been managed by Refugee Action, an organisation that both assesses applicants and passes on their requests to the bodies that grant assistance, i.e. the UK Border Agency and the Home Office.
For José Luis Sánchez, member of the organisation Lawas, the current relationship between two key players, the institutional Border Agency and non-profit organisation, displays cause for concern. He talks about this, and Voluntary Return (which requires more transparency if it is to guarantee the rights of immigrants), with The Prisma.
What is the typical profile of an applicant to one of these schemes?
In the majority of cases, these people are foreigners who sought asylum and had their requests rejected, people who feel that their period living or working in the United Kingdom has come to an end, or simply, people who just want to go back to their home country.
The programme has recently opened up to respond to requests by irregular or illegal immigrants. It is important to remember that the situation in the United Kingdom and Europe has continued to worsen, and that many immigrants have not had the opportunity of finding a good job or an acceptable standard of living.
Why do you doubt the confidentiality of the process?
Firstly, because of the relationship between Refugee Action, the Home Office and the UKBA. You have to question how they are ensuring that immigrant application forms containing personal information are kept confidential, when they were previously sent to border agencies.
I would call it voluntary deportation. It’s a way of getting rid of immigrants. The Government wants to reduce the number of immigrants in the United Kingdom.
The Home Office is heading a large campaign to promote the programme. They are advertising it everywhere, trying to get inside every organisation. Immigrants reading newspapers from their home countries will find messages like, “Colombians, do you want to come home?” or “Thinking about coming back?”
Why do you think that this is?
In politics many Governments try to put a stopper in a problem by using excuses. Immigrants are at the centre of blame for the economic crisis, and they are trying their hardest to attend to this.
They are saying if there are fewer immigrants, there will be more work for British workers. This is impossible, they aren’t adopting measures that diversify the labour market. Immigrants know that they are actually contributing to the country’s development by working and paying taxes.
Could an organisation that manages “Voluntary Return” act independently to the British Government?
In practice this isn’t possible, because even the act of sending an immigrant’s application form to the Home Office demonstrates working together. You have to consider who funds these organisations, how can they afford to put out all of the publicity campaigns that they do.
Do these organisations receive bonuses for sending back more people?
What is the situation for those that do go back?
Many of the immigrants that do go back end up regretting it, they remember why they emigrated in the first place. They feel like foreigners in their own country, their children don’t find it easy adapting to the new environment, there aren’t any services to help them find work.
On top of this, as they are leaving, at the airport, they have to go through rigorous examinations, have their passports seized, fingerprints taken….to make sure that they’re not coming back. This is awful, because while they are in the country, they are not accepted, and as they are leaving, they then make it hard for them to come back.
Yes, immigrants will have supported these countries a great deal by sending money home. The Governments should thank them for everything that they have done, help them reintegrate, find them work, offer them loans so that they can start up their own businesses with support. They shouldn’t turn their back on them.
What advice would you give to people who are thinking of going back home through this type of programme?
They should think about it beforehand, educate themselves before going to the organisations and make sure that the process is confidential. I would recommend asking for a copy of the form that you have filled out, as well as the part that says that it’s a confidential document.
I know that when you have your rights violated, the law can protect you. Suppose that after filling out a form, you change your mind, but the following week receive a visit from some UKBA agents and end up being taken to a detention centre. Well, with the help of a lawyer, it would be possible to be released on the assumption that you had been arrested after offering your personal information to an NGO, which supposedly offered you confidentiality.
Often these agencies don’t follow the law and will demand information that you simply do not have to give.