Explainer: Which voluntary return schemes exist for migrants in Germany?

Explainer: Which voluntary return schemes exist for migrants in Germany?
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For migrants in Germany considering going back to their home country, returning voluntarily is a viable option. On top of existing return programs, the German government supports a series of reintegration projects for returnees in various countries of origin around the world. We take a look at the different voluntary return and reintegration support schemes.

Of the some 29 million refugees and asylum seekers worldwide seeking protection beyond the borders of their home country, around 1.5 million have applied for asylum in Germany since 2015.

Some 247,000 of the 1.5 million refugees in Germany are currently obliged to leave (“ausreisepflichtig”); their number has increased steadily from around 204,000 since 2015.

In some cases, people who don’t have permission to stay in Germany return voluntarily. Some migrants might also decide to return because they do not wish to stay. In those cases, migrants may apply for counseling and assistance in case they are not able to cover their expenses. 

According to the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), roughly 16,000 people left Germany voluntarily last year with support from the government.



Here is an overview of available programs and support, both in Germany and in their home countries. Most of the information is based on the information provided by the platform returningfromgermany.de.

Note: Programs, requirements, durations, etc. are subject to change. In fact, they may have already changed since the publication of this article (December 2019).

Support in Germany

European Return and Reintegration Network (ERRIN)

Funded by the European Union, the ERRIN program supports returning migrants in their reintegration process. 

If you are a migrant returning from Germany, assistance through the ERRIN program is currently available for these countries (as of December 2019): Afghanistan, Armenia, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, The Gambia, Ghana, India, Iraq/ARK, Iraq/Central, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russian Federation, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Ukraine.

According to the website returningfromgermany.de, objectives of the program include:

  • Individual support after voluntary return or forced return/repatriation to the country of origin or a third hosting country through a network of local service providers and partners
  • Facilitation of the return and reintegration of vulnerable migrants
  • Development and implementation of innovative solutions in the field of return and reintegration

The assistance to migrants is granted in-kind. It includes: post-arrival counselling, help finding a job, basic equipment for the apartment, advice and support on official, medical, and charitable institutions, according to returningfromgermany.de. 

Support is possible for persons who return voluntarily as well as for forcibly returned persons. Applicants must fill out a form; certain documents such as passport, passport replacement documents, travel documents are required. You can find the application form in the download section.

REAG/GARP

REAG/GARP (Reintegration and Emigration Programme for Asylum-Seekers in Germany/Government Assisted Repatriation Programme) is a return program funded by Germany’s Federal Ministry of the Interior and federal states ministries as well as the EU’s Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF). Through these programs, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) organizes and supports returns.

If you are an asylum seeker without funds from a third country and lacking the means for a voluntary return, you can receive the following assistance:

  • Travel costs, including from the place of residence to the airport (bus or train only)
  • Travel assistance: Up to €200 per adult; people under 18 years of age receive

    €100; reduced travel assistance applies in several states including Georgia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Medical costs: maximum of €2,000 per person up to 3 months after arrival
  • One-time financial start-up assistance: €1,000 per person over 18 years (€500 per person under 18 years)
  • The maximum subsidy is €3,500
  • Early departures: You are eligible for a one-time payment of €500 in addition to the regular amounts; this payment applies to a “single return of the return of a family unit”

Migrants and their families are eligible to receive REAG/GARP assistance if they are asylum seekers, including those whose application has been rejected in Germany; persons with a residence permit (for example recognized refugees); those whose asylum procedure has not been concluded yet; and victims of forced prostitution or human trafficking.

Additional information about REAG/GARP:

  • The application: You can only apply for REAG/GARP at return counseling centers; you can find the nearest of over 1,000 centers in Germany here
  • Required documents: You must have a valid passport or a passport substitute paper for the respective country of return; applicants from Africa and those traveling to a third country need an IOM booking information and an immigration visa, respectively
  • Special medical cases: In case of health limitations, you need required medical reports; a proven pregnancy, for instance, requires a certificate that attests the person is fit for air travel
  • Unaccompanied refugee minors: While their return is generally possible under REAG/GARP, a “thorough check carefully determines whether voluntary return serves the best interests of the child”

Note that “due to the current security situation,” voluntary return to Syria, Libya and Yemen is presently not supported under REAG/GARP. Voluntary return to Eritrea and Somalia is “limited and requires more in-depth evaluation.” (as of December 2019).

Federal state programs

  • The “Bavarian Return Programme” offers reintegration assistance, a start-up grant, medical assistance, a “special program for Africa” and more
  • Those who live in the state of Hesse may receive support in the form of coverage of travel costs, financial start-up assistance, in-kind services for your voluntary return and reintegration in your country of origin
  • In Rhineland-Palatinate, people are eligible for services including reintegration assistance, medicine supply in the country of origin, interpreting services, start-up assistance and more
  • Note that Germany’s federal states (“Bundesländer”) guarantee return counseling in the reception facilities

International Organization for Migration

According to its own information, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has since 1979 assisted 1.6 million migrants worldwide under a program now known as Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration (AVRR). In Germany, IOM has allegedly assisted more than 700,000 migrants over the past 4 decades under the REAG/GARP program.

Here’s what IOM offers to voluntary returnees:

  • 2 “independent counselling centers,” one in Berlin (languages: German, English, Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian and Arabic), the other one in Brandenburg; these centers do not assist with REAG/GARP applications
  • SMAP (Special Migrants Assistance Program): Upon requiring, IOM can offer joint flight bookings to non-eligible persons. In addition to the fare, a processing fee will apply; airfare costs or a cost coverage guarantee have to be transferred to IOM prior to departure
  • Virtual counseling: Migrants in Germany considering a return can contact IOM staff in 9 African and Asian countries via Skype, WhatsApp or Facebook to “learn about return and reintegration options;” it can also be used by counseling centres during a regular face-to-face counselling session.

Reintegration support in home countries

The following reintegration initiatives are designed to get people up and running with their new lives back in their home countries. The services offered include financial assistance in different areas of life, support in their search for a job or vocational training programs.

Perspektive Heimat (“Returning to New Opportunities”)

Launched in 2017, Perspektive Heimat is a joint initiative by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the German Association for International Cooperation (GIZ). It is available both in 13 partner countries and in Germany.

  • At present, the partner countries are Afghanistan, Albania, Egypt, Gambia, Ghana, Iraq, Kosovo, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Senegal, Serbia and Tunisia
  • 17 advice centers in currently 10 partner countries offer reintegration counseling as well as assistance in job-seeking, vocational training and legal migration paths; 2 additional advice centers are planned
  • In Germany, 20 reintegration scouts currently try to “establish links with reintegration programmes in the returnees’ countries of origin”

Broadly speaking, Perspektive Heimat wants to help returnees in partner countries in 3 different ways:

  • Showing alternatives to irregular migration and offering concrete job offers
  • “Provide all returnees from Germany with a job offer”
  • Accompanying returnees before and during the return as well as after their comeback
  • Illustrate the “limited prospects for irregular migrants” in Germany in a realistic way and explain the prerequisites for regular migration paths)

Advice centers run by the Perspektive Heimat project for migrants returning from Europe  Credit BMZStarthilfePlus

Initially supplementing

REAG/GARP

and now fully inegrated into

REAG/GARP, the reintegration measure StarthilfePlus (“start-up support plus”) provides reintegration assistance to returnees in over 40 countries of origin.

  • Migrants who voluntarily return with IOM under the REAG/GARP-Programme can receive start-up assistance in 34 countries, including Afghanistan, China, Ivory Coast, DR Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, The Gambia, Ghana, Iraq, Kenya, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Togo, Tunisia and Zimbabwe
  • Migrants from Azerbaijan, Lebanon, Tajikistan or Turkey, who voluntarily return with IOM under REAG/GARP and receive financial start-up assistance, can get additional reintegration assistance in housing
  • Migrants from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia or Moldova who returned to their country of origin with REAG/GARP and have been tolerated to stay in Germany (“Duldung”) for at least 2 years, may receive complementary reintegration assistance in housing and medical costs

Ipso (Afghanistan)

The International Psychosocial Organization (Ipso) is a German-based humanitarian organization with a branch in Afghanistan focusing on mental health issues. Open to people of all backgrounds, its center in Kabul offers free psychosocial counseling and psychiatric treatment in 16 languages on six days a week between 8.30 am and 6 pm.

Somalia Reintegration Program (SRP)

Introduced by the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) in 2015, the SRP initiative is to support the Somalian government and local communities with the reintegration of internally displaced people and returnees who have suffered under the civil war there.

The program, which is to run through 2021, offers help in starting your own business, including training opportunities, start-up kits as well as the admission to microcredits with local finance systems. It also facilitates various vocational training programs in carpentry, tailoring, electrics or gastronomy as well as solar technology.

URA & AWO (both Kosovo)

URA is a reintegration project designed for migrants returning to Kosovo. It offers reintegration assistance based on an assessment of individual needs. This can include free social counseling, help with finding a job, one-time financial assistance (for things like medical costs and living expenses), language courses, tutoring for children and minors, vocational training, help in setting up a business and other forms of support.

  • Who’s eligible? Those who have lived in one of the following states for at least 6 months: Baden-Württemberg, Berlin, Bremen, Lower Saxony, Northrhine-Westphalia, Saxony, Rhineland Palatinate, Schleswig-Holstein, Thuringia (only voluntarily)
  • How to apply: Only in the return center in the Kosovar capital Pristina, where your case will be processed; there can be long waits due to high demands
  • Documents needed: all documents on the asylum procedure, such as the asylum seeker registration certificate (“BÜMA”), birth certificates of any children born in Germany as well as school certificates from Germany for minors (if applicable)

The second initiative tailored specifically to Kosovo is the AWO Nuremberg in Kosovo project. AWO return counseling centers are available in Bayern, Brandenburg, Hamburg, Hessen, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Rheinland-Pfalz, Saarland; the goal of the project is the “sustainable reintegration” of returnees. At the centers, perspectives, possibilities and opportunities are discussed. The AWO Nuremberg also runs a center in Pristina, Kosovo where returnees can go for counseling after return. If in Kosovo a person cannot access the center in Pristina, home visits and mobile consultation are also available. 

CAROB (Armenia)

Launched in September 2019, CAROB (Cooperation for Assistance in Reintegration OFII-BAMF) is a Franco-German reintegration cooperation that supports the reintegration of voluntary returnees in Armenia. The program offers in-kind services including

  • assistance in finding accommodation, school attendance for children, and in dealing with the authorities; and
  • support in medical matters, finding employment and vocational training as well as in setting up a business.

Additional resources and information

  • The online portal returningfromgermany.de on voluntary return and reintegration provides both a good overview and detailed information on different voluntarily return schemes and reintegration support in one’s home country as well as virtual counseling options.
  • Germany’s Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) has a return hotline (+49 911 943-0); it is available Monday to Friday between 9 am and 3 pm in German and English
  • On the Startfinder online portal, you can enter your home country (currently 10) and your language to find opportunities and advice there
  • ZIRF-Counseling provides “up-to-date information researched by IOM on-site regarding medical care, the labour market, the housing situation, education and trainings or social welfare.”
  • A list of vocational and academic courses in Germany that can serve as preparatory programs for those interested in a voluntary return
  • The Sankt Barbara Foundation offers trainings on “post-war pioneers” with an emphasis on hazards from “explosive remnants of war” to migrants interested in a voluntary return.
  • Caritas Serbia has a counseling center in Belgrade that offers free “counselling, orientation and in-kind support to returnees”
  • Nolawi Services Ethiopia offers services in Addis Ababa including reception at the airport, support with launching a small-scale business or finding a job and referral to healthcare institutions
  • The European Reintegration Support Organizations (ERSO) network, which has members in Germany, UK, Spain, Austria, Belgium, France and the Netherlands, is another resource.
  • Return counseling should be individual and non-binding; using it neither means that you have to leave Germany, nor does it affect your asylum procedure
  • When returning voluntarily, you have to sign that you withdraw your asylum application and waive legal means.
  • Medical assistance is available during your journey back to your country of origin.
  • If you’re an unaccompanied minor, you have the right to be picked up at the airport in your home country.
  • If you return to your home country and then come back to Germany permanently, you have to pay back the received assistance.
  • The application for support for voluntary return and its usage is the responsibility of the returnee; the same applies to the voluntary return in a conflict area and the withdrawal of the asylum request

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Also see our other explainers for migrants and refugees in Germany:



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