ERSO partner meeting in the Netherlands and Belgium

Representatives from 20 countries exchange on return and reintegration in September/October 2017

At the end of September, ERSO partners from Armenia, Iraq, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Ghana and Somaliland came to the Netherlands to exchange experiences on return and re-integration counselling.

They used the chance to visit various locations, both in the municipality and at Reception Centres. They gave presentations about their reintegration activities and entered into discussions with clients from the Dutch Council for Refugees who are considering return. For our clients who have almost exhausted all or part of their legal remedies, this was an excellent opportunity to have face-to-face contact with the partners and to discuss practical and emotional obstacles to return.

The next stop for the group was in Pauluskerk in Rotterdam for a plenary meeting. We received positive feedback from external parties who were able to approach the partners with their individual questions about reintegration counselling. Among the attendees were delegates from the Municipality of Rotterdam, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and various NGOs working with rejected asylum seekers.

After the days in the Netherlands, the delegation went to Brussels for a partner exchange among the ERSO partner organizations from Europe and overseas, organized by Caritas Belgium. They were joined by representatives from Georgia, Ukraine, Russia, India, Mongolia, Nepal and Pakistan as well as partners from Austria, Denmark, Germany and the UK.

Lively debates and fruitful discussions evolved around different topics, such as the focus on the well-being of returnees, how to work on future perspectives of returnees and the assistance of vulnerable returnees. The participants also gained insight on the impact of European policies on voluntary return and re-integration.

Partner week in the Netherlands

Exchanging ideas and information about return during the partner week: "We remove as many concerns as possible"

Representatives from four partner organisations outside the Netherlands with whom the Dutch Council for Refugees works on its Return Programme were our guests in September 2016. They attended workshops, held presentations, visited reception centres and talked with our clients. We experienced how we are all very much involved with our clients who are thinking of returning to their own country.

The Dutch Council for Refugees is working closely with its partners on its return programme by email and Skype. Representatives from partner organisations in Nigeria, Northern Iraq, Ethiopia and Armenia were our guests in the Netherlands from 19 to 23 September 2016; the purpose of the week was getting to know each other better and sharing knowledge.

Removing concerns

Our Nigerian partner Roland Nwoha knows that deciding to return to one's own country is a difficult decision. "Migrants are very concerned about what their life will be like when they return. We make every effort to remove as many worries as possible.' Volunteers and consultants from the Dutch Council for Refugees help and support asylum seekers who have exhausted all legal means and who want to return to their own country. And prepare them for a future in the country they come from. Our partners in these countries are invaluable in obtaining good up-to-date information on the country of origin.

Fruitful week

"We learnt a great deal from each other during the partner week," says Annet IJff, our Return project leader.  "We all know from experience how difficult things can be: each person is different and situations vary. Returning is not easy; that is the dominant feeling." She looks back on a productive week. "We really managed to bring people closer together. The ties created during this week can never be achieved in a hundred emails. Our partners saw how involved we are – how our clients' interests are our first priority. And the other way round as well: I was particularly impressed by the individual discussions of our partners with the clients from their own country. Critical questions were answered with understanding, but also realistically."

Added value

Hajjaj Mustafa Hussein, our partner from Northern Iraq, also found that it had real added value to meet each other at a fairly early stage of the programme. "It was something I had never experienced before." And the intensive contact will be continued: in the coming two months visits to the partners are planned. Then consultants from the Dutch Council for Refugees will be travelling to Nigeria, Armenia, Northern Iraq and Ethiopia.

More information

Please contact Annet Ijff ( if you have any questions or want further information.

These projects are made possible by funding of the European Union.



ERSO member Caritas International Belgium is working in partnership with CARDET and the University of Nicosia on the first pilot AVR project in Cyprus, MICAR, to provide access to ERSO's international network of civil society organisations providing expert support to those who decide to return voluntarily to their countries of origin.

The pilot will run until the end of June 2015. For more details please contact the ERSO Operational Manager.

Two more short videos have been added to the Being Back collection: Ghana and Nigeria. Follow the link for more information.

ERSO Bi-Annual Members' Meeting

The next ERSO Members' Meeting will be held in Brussels on Monday 20th and Tuesday 21st April 2015.

Email the ERSO Operational Manager for more details.

Being Back - info videos about returning home

In the summer of 2014, the Danish Refugee Council visited a group of people who chosen to return after years abroad. Some of them were rejected asylum seekers and some were people with legal residency going back with reintegration support.



Caritas International presents 10 years of experience in reintegration. Caritas International has been active in the field of voluntary return since 1984 and has offered reintegration support since 2004. Experience has shown that a return to the country of origin is not an easy decision and involves many actors. This exchange aims to highlight the model for reintegration support and the co-operation with local partner organisations.

Surprising Europe is a multimedia project about African migration to Europe. It consists of a 9 part TV series, a documentary and a website.

The ERSO member Maatwerk bij Terugkeer piloted a project HOME to improve support for victims of trafficking returning to their home countries. The report and expert guidelines can be accessed here.

ERSO West Conference

"Reintegration in the country of origin, after a voluntary return, is a long process that is not completed from one day to the other. Returnees need additional support, tailored to their needs. That is one of the main conclusions of the ERSO West conference "Towards a sustainable return - ERSO conference on best practices and new insights on reintegration assistance,"  held on Wednesday 20 November 2013.

 "This conference discussed the process after return and the work that local partner organisations provide in the 5 ERSO West countries (Sierra Leone, Senegal, Cameroon, Togo and Morocco). European governments decide often that asylum seekers cannot stay in Europe. NGOs within the ERSO network therefore want to take up - with the support of European funds - responsibility and assist them in their return and reintegration process."

Different profiles

Returnees to West Africa – on which the conference focused –have very diverse profiles. "Returnees to Cameroon, for example, often studied in Europe here and thus return to their country of origin with a lot of potential", Anne Dussart and Lenie Van Goor explain. For instance, in 2013, 54.4% of the returnees to Cameroon had a master degree. "If they receive the necessary support, they can rebuild their lives and start up a project.”

Moroccan returnees have a completely different profile: they are often less educated and have fewer opportunities to integrate in the labour market. “They often worked in Europe on the black market and have not studied here. The role of their family in the country of origin is of crucial importance: they often refuse to or cannot afford the daily costs of the returned family member." The partners of the ERSO-West programme therefore point out that flexibility within the reintegration support is indispensable. "Only by an individual approach we can respond properly to those differences," they added.

Moreover, the partners of the ERSO-West programme regret that such support can only be provided on a short term project basis. "Thanks to the support of the European Union, 350 retrunees in West Africa could be supported during their reintegration process over the past three years. We believe that these are sustainable returns. Hence, it is regrettable that we have to examine how we can keep providing this support after the termination of the project at the end of this year."

NGOs and their expertise

The second part of the conference dealt with more detailed aspects of the cooperation between African and European NGOs and local and European authorities. The following question was raised: “How can prevention campaigns be used to raise awareness in the countries or origin? "We think it is very important that NGOs, with all their expertise and experience, remain involved," Lenie Van Goor said.

"The strength of this programme is that we built experiences, and that forces are joined at a European level. This cooperation enabled us to contribute together to a strong reintegration policy." 



Transnational Conference Germany - November 2013

From 12th until 14th November 2013 member organisations of the ERSO Network participated in the conference International Exchange to improve Reintegration Measures in Countries of Origin in Geltendorf (Germany), organized by Caritas Augsburg.

Lenie van Goor (Maatwerk bij Terugkeer) presented the ERSO Network and its current projects, while Catherine Lennox (Refugee Action) and Anne Dussart (Caritas International Belgium) focused on the cooperation and partnership with local partner organisations in Ghana resp. the Russian Federation. Various other organisations presented their reintegration work, but interventions included also the topics monitoring, sustainability and networking in the field of return and reintegration. During different working groups and discussions the ERSO members could share their thoughts and best practices with the other participants.


Awareness Campaign ERSO West Essen - May 2013

In May, three ERSO partner organisations working in Cameroon, Senegal and Togo were invited to Europe in the framework of the ERSO West awareness campaign. This event was organized in Brussels, Paris and Essen, aiming to promote the ERSO project and to facilitate a direct contact between the organisation representatives and interested returnees. The three awareness meetings were organized by Caritas International Belgium, France Terre d’Asile and Raphaelswerk.

Information session held in Essen (Germany) –  May 17, 2013

The meeting in the city of Essen was well received and joined by more than 25 participants from all regions of Germany and different professional backgrounds. The one-day event aimed at informing return and reintegration counsellors and representatives of migrant organisations in Germany about the ERSO West project and related reintegration experiences and practices in Cameroon, Senegal and Togo. The first-hand accounts of the country representatives and the experiences of the participants led to a very lively discussion of questions and issues about voluntary return and reintegration.

It was clarified that the governments of Cameroon, Senegal and Togo do not provide support for returnees. At the same time, reintegration support by the ERSO West Project serves as a start-up assistance only. Returnees often try to find better paying jobs or self-employment afterwards. If they succeed, the initial business is only occasionally given up or family members decide to take it over or continue with it. This practice meets the project policy of sustainability in reintegration support.

Further, it was stressed that reintegration work starts in Europe already and that returnees should be connected with the local partner organisation as early as possible. This first contact can help them to develop a relationship of trust and to catch a realistic picture of the situation awaiting them upon return.

Destitute returnees may fear to face their family’s rejection because they lack financial means. Local caseworkers therefore often act as mediators between the family and the returnee.

Finally, it was strongly emphasized by all project partners that paid work is the best ‘tool’ for reintegrating into society, as it provides the returnee with an income without having to make large investments. 



Training Counsellors ERSO SURE-VD - April 2013

An ERSO training for reintegration and return counsellors took place in Vienna from 25th until 26th of April. Counsellors from different European countries were invited to learn more about the ERSO SURE-VD project, which was launched in November 2012.

Intent of the training was to introduce the ERSO SURE-VD to counsellors from Belgium, the Netherlands, United Kingdom, Greece and Austria, as these 5 countries are involved in the project. The programme included workshops about the role of return and reintegration counsellors, risk assessment for unaccompanied minors and victims of human trafficking, as well as a discussion about the vulnerability criteria as defined during the Kick-Off meeting last year. In this way, experiences from different organisations and countries were exchanged and example stories were discussed in detail. These discussions proved to be very fruitful and enriching as new insights were gained and counsellors could discuss how to judge one’s vulnerability and how to better assess one’s needs. 

There was also a direct phone contact with the local partner organisations in Mongolia, Iraq and Pakistan to make clear how highly their input is valued. It was concluded that it is of crucial importance to gather as much information as possible before return in order to facilitate a better reintegration and adaptation after return, especially for vulnerable and disadvantaged people.

METAction visits Caritas International Belgium - January 2013

Two project workers of the Greek organisation METAction came to Belgium to visit the Voluntary Return and Reintegration Department of Caritas International Belgium (CIB). The aim of this visit was to get to know the approach of CIB towards reintegration. “Until now, METaction was particularly involved in the social and judicial support of asylum seekers,” explains Hermien Wittouck from the Reintegration Unit of Caritas International. “METAction wants to establish procedures to facilitate voluntary return from Greece to different countries of origin. The demand is high, but presently they lack the right expertise and network to organise these returns. Hence, they visited Belgium in the framework of the ERSO programme, to explore the way of working of CIB and their use of the voluntary return network in Belgium.


Interview with Antigoni Angelaki and Maria Nakasian (METAction) after a busy week.


Could you describe the main differences, according to you, between Greece and Belgium regarding the reception of asylum seekers?


“Our country is marked by a very limited reception capacity. The majority of the asylum seekers have to find a way to meet their daily needs themselves: they don’t receive any material support and need to find shelter on their own. In Belgium, asylum seekers receive a work permit if they did not receive an answer to their asylum request within 6 months. In Greece, however, asylum seekers are allowed to start to work immediately upon arrival. Yet, Greek citizens are often prioritized in their search of a job… What is more, reception is not centrally organised, as it is the case in Belgium. Hence, NGOs are the main providers of language courses, social and judicial support and general advice.  The only target group that can “benefit” from well-organised and clear procedure concerns unaccompanied minors (UAM). Asylum seekers who reside on the Greek territory without having applied for asylum usually get detained in detention centres.”


How is voluntary return organised in Greece?


“At present, voluntary return is mainly organised by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the Greek police. They merely focus on the voluntary return itself, not on the durable aspect of reintegration after return. In practice, we often notice that asylum seekers who want to return to their country of origin, simply do not dare to go to the police to discuss their voluntary return. Nevertheless, it is the Greek police that can provide them with the flight tickets. Therefore, METAction wishes to intermediate between the returnee and the police in order to make voluntary return more easily approachable. Every asylum seeker wanting to return to his country of origin should – at least- have access to the procedure itself. We also notice that, considering the harsh living conditions in Greece, the demand for voluntary return is very high. We should be able to meet this demand.”


What did you learn during this week at Caritas International?


“It was very enriching to see the procedures followed by Caritas International. To see and understand the different steps before return, which information is given to the candidate returnee at which moment etc., was very instructive! Thanks to everything we have seen in Belgium, we will be able to establish a clear procedure at home, which can serve as a directory for our organisation. We would like to discuss these guidelines with the Greek police and use them as base for the future.”





Vienna - December 2012

Project partners of the new ERSO project "SURE-VD" (Sustainable return for vulnerable or disadvantaged people returning to Mongolia, Pakistan and Iraq) had a joint kick-off meeting on 3rd-5th December, 2012, in Vienna.

Aim of the meeting was to introduce the project and its' activities in detail to all partners as well as to share and clarify practical issues like communication lines, reporting and accounting, common working methods and the usage of the ERSO platform (online-tool), but also getting to know each other.

Additionally the European and the Asian partners held presentations about their current working methods and individual response possibilities and developed together a list of vulnerability criteria for the three countries of origin involved in the project. The involvement of the Asian partners in defining vulnerability criteria for each country was not only fruitful but crucial. Since they are local NGOs working with local staff, they know best about the difficulties, challenges and response possibilities for certain groups in the three countries of origin. Therefore the criteria list was mainly based on their experience and knowledge.

Jamaa Nasanjargal, member of Caritas Mongolia, presenting what means "vulnerable" in terms of returnees to Mongolia

ERSO West Meeting in Casablanca : Halfway, and right on track!

Meeting in Casablanca - January 2012

From 16 until 20 January, a training session took place in Casablanca to evaluate the ERSO III project. As this project started in January 2011, the time was right to give the participating partners the opportunity to exchange their ideas, experiences, difficulties and possibilities. The training sessions and workshops focused mainly on capacity building, awareness campaigns and monitoring.


The aim of capacity building is to enable the African ERSO members to further develop their skills in order to facilitate a tailor-made support for people who have returned from Europe to their country of origin. It is equally important to establish a network and to be able to rely on other organisations that already have the necessary expertise to provide returnees with a tailor-made assistance. In this framework, new action plans are and will be made on a yearly base to define the needs of the African partners and to be able to respond to these specific requests properly.The awareness campaigns are aimed at the sensitization of people in the countries of origin by explaining the risks of (illegal) migration as well as to inform them about the often limited opportunities in Europe. The presence of the African member organisations helps to translate this message into a credible and realistic story.

It’s crucially important that returnees can receive a good support once they are back in their country of origin. This support is more than one single meeting with the local partner organisation, but comprises  a continuous tailor-made support, meaning that the returnee stays in touch with the local partner organisation to further develop his/her project or to have a point of reference during their process of reintegration. Monitoring thus requires several (home) visits, professional and social accompaniment, and the necessary advice of the local partner organisation.


All these measures are taken to respect the main aim of the ERSO project: contribute to a better social and professional reintegration of African returnees in their country of origin. The quality of reintegration can therefore be improved by an enhanced cooperation between the organisation in the host and return countries.


The present organisations expressed their positive prospects for the coming 2 years of the project, as 65 people have returned to 5 African countries in the first year of the ERSO III project. In 2012 and 2013, they will further focus on the sensitization of legal and illegal migrants and the capacity building of the African organisations. In this framework, meetings will be organised between organisations of one and the same African country, of which some will be attended by the returnees themselves, so-called peer-to-peer groups. In this way, we hope to reach all targets by the end of 2013, which is the end of the ERSO III project.