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Migration and Home Affairs
News article13 February 2020

EMN Inform package on return counselling

Counselling is a crucial service to ensure that migrants obtain correct information and support to return and reintegrate in their country of origin, as well as about their legal possibilities to remain in Europe. The European Migration Network (EMN) inform package offers an overview of the policies and practices regarding the counselling on return and reintegration opportunities of migrants in the EU Member States and Norway. The three informs have been developed on suggestion of and with the collaboration of IOM.

The first EMN Inform of the series of three looked into the policy and approaches to return counselling. It found that across government and non-government providers, the counselling pursues two main inter-linked purposes: to help the migrant to make an informed decision and to ensure the effective implementation of migration policies by encouraging voluntary return and ensuring compliance with return procedures. While available to all third-country nationals, counselling occurs generally when an irregular situation is detected and during the return procedure. As such, it was mainly taking place in immigration offices, detention centres and offices of non-governmental organisations. Some countries have adopted migrant-centered approaches whereas others put emphasis on compliance; close to half of the countries studied declared to have a mixed approach. Good practices included a tailoring the counselling approach to the specific circumstances and needs of the individual, as well as the need to develop clear indicators and tools to measure impact and process of return counselling.

The second Inform explored the policy and operational support available to return counselling to undertake their tasks. It found that there was no national legal or policy frameworks in place to ensure a standardised approach for minimum qualifications and training requirements of counsellors. Minimum standards were upheld relying on well-established practices or in some cases guidance and expertise provided by the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Most of the trainings in place focused on knowledge and skills and could target different levels of expertise of the counsellors. Ways to provide professional support to return counsellors included trainings, refresher courses, handbooks, guidelines and helplines. In some cases, monitoring practices were also in place. One of the main challenges detected was the limited personal support to help counselors to deal with difficult and emotionally draining work.

The third Inform looked into outreach and information activities, which while being different from counselling, are closely interlinked to it. Besides state actors, a broad range of non-state actors, such as civil society, health and education services and international organisations, were involved in information dissemination. 19 countries and the IOM implemented information campaigns between 2010 and 2019. Outreach activities were found to be more successful when the dissemination tools were varied, the timing carefully considered and when many languages were made available. The research found that Member States have made specific efforts to reach out to vulnerable groups, such as minors and suspected victims of trafficking.


Click here to download the Inform on Policies and practices on return counselling for migrants in EU Member States and Norway.

Click here to download the Inform on Policies and practices for the training and support of return counsellors in their role to provide migrants with timely, unbiased and reliable information on return.

Click here to download the Inform on Policies and practices on outreach and information provision for the return of migrants in EU Member States and Norway.

Relevant EU Policy:

EU Return Directive 2008/115/EC of 16 December 2008 on common standards and procedures in Member States for returning illegally staying third-country nationals.


Publication date
13 February 2020