For 20 years, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has been providing voluntary return and reintegration assistance in Switzerland. Globally, IOM assists the voluntary return of about 30,000 people in more than 160 countries every year.
The Swiss Red Cross (SRC) was one of the pioneering organizations in voluntary return assistance in Switzerland, introducing Switzerland’s first return counselling contact points in 1985 in Lausanne and in 1986 in Geneva. Consequently, the SRC played a significant role in establishing the foundation of the national return assistance programmes that are being implemented today.
This paper shall provide a new impetus to the field of return counselling, as well as return and reintegration assistance in Switzerland in a view to discuss and develop these further with all relevant stakeholders in this field. The paper also aims to provide a common assessment of all currently used instruments, as well as discuss innovative ideas that could help advance the modern mechanisms and general structure of return and reintegration assistance programmes.
In this paper, the IOM and SRC propose the following main initiatives for the future management of public return assistance programs: (a) opening up of return assistance programmess to a wider group of people; (b) introducing innovative approaches to return assistance; and (c) strengthening cooperative work in Europe, particularly the European Union.
The instruments employed in today’s departure, return and reintegration assistance programmes in Switzerland were generally developed during the large influx of refugees from the Balkans to Switzerland in the late 1990s. However, in light of significant changes in migration flows in recent years, mechanisms and services in return assistance will be adapted accordingly. Considering the experiences gained by the IOM and SRK in assisted voluntary return and reintegration programs (AVRR) from Switzerland in recent years, it can be put forward that people residing in Switzerland under the Federal Act on Foreign Nationals or Asylum Act should be offered the same basic AVRR services with minimal Swiss-wide standards.
Future return counselling should be divided into pre- and post-return services. To ensure a needs-based, appropriate and sustainable socioeconomic reintegration for a returnee, the detailed needs assessment and final determination of services offered should be conducted only after the actual return in the country of origin (CoO). Instruments that support the reintegration of returnees shall be designed to contribute to the general socioeconomic setting of the society in the CoO. To allow for a more efficient reintegration of returnees, as well as cost reduction, it is crucial to cooperate with new partners (for example, in CoO, partnering with existing development and social projects; and with NGOs and the private sector for the diaspora).
Furthermore, all mechanisms and instruments of Swiss return counselling should be provided throughout Switzerland in the same manner and should offer the same services. These services and mechanisms should be subject to frequent evaluation and adaptation – in form and content, methodologically, as well as structurally.
At the international level, a greater involvement of Switzerland within the Schengen / Dublin Agreement for the development, introduction and implementation of common departure and return assistance standards in all Member States would be desirable. Ideally, these standards should be based upon best practice examples of reintegration assistance programmes and not on the lowest denominator.