Refugee Action is an independent national charity that works with refugees to build new lives in the UK. Founded in 1981, Refugee Action has over 30 years of experience in reception, resettlement, development and integration, and provides advice and support to asylum seekers, refugees and irregular migrants in many regions across the UK.
We run many different services for refugees, asylum seekers and irregular migrants. Some of these include:
Refugee Action’s One Stop Service - an independent advice and advocacy service to asylum seekers and refugees who need help accessing mainstream services and accommodation, or with broader difficulties for example racial harassment, domestic violence, trafficking and destitution. Refugee Action provided advice in more than 36,000 casework sessions last year.
Refugee Action’s Community Development services – to support and promote positive integration and long-term settlement of refugees and displaced people in different parts of the UK. Workers assist refugee community organisations and support groups to develop services and build their organisation to help the integration of refugees.
The Choices service – to provide confidential, independent, and impartial advice, information, and informal counselling to refugees, asylum seekers and irregular migrants who are considering assisted voluntary return to their country of origin. Refugee Action has delivered the pre-decision element of the Choices service for over 10 years. Since April 2011, Refugee Action has run the Assisted Voluntary Return programme in its entirety – this includes the practicalities of return, pre-departure planning and post-departure support, delivered by an increasing network of local community based organisations in countries of return.
Refugee Action also runs projects and activities around specific areas of need such as employment, gender, and families, in partnership with other organisations.
What is the Choices service’s aims?
Choices’ aims are:
• To help people make informed choices in a non-pressurised environment;
• To promote better understanding of voluntary return issues through outreach work to other agencies
• To involve refugees, asylum seekers, irregular migrants and their communities in the development of the service
• To advocate for the long-term needs of those considering voluntary return (resettlement grants, training and employment, needs for particular groups etc)
• To work with trusted local community based organisations in countries of return to support recent returnees to reintegrate sustainably
Choices does not take part in forced or involuntary return.
Who is the Choices service for?
• Asylum seekers and refused asylum seekers
• Families and children
• People in the UK with no legal status (irregular migrants)
• People with discretionary leave to remain
What does the Choices service offer?
• Confidential, impartial and non-directive advice and information to help people to decide whether or not to return voluntarily to their country
• For those who decide not to return, referral to other services
For those who decide to return to their country,we will support them with:
• Planning for the return - for example the journey from the airport to their home town / village, where they will live, what they would like to do, contacting family
• Applying for travel documents and booking flights
• Assistance at the airports, both in the UK and overseas if required
• Financial support with the flight, and in some cases for temporary help with reintegration
• Information on packages of support that may be available in the country of return; - education, employment, training, business packages
How do we run the service?
Like all Refugee Action’s advice services, we offer independent, confidential and non-directive advice. In other words, we give people the information they need to empower them to be able to make an informed decision. We do not try to persuade people either to return or not to return – we respect their decision.
Our main Choices offices are in London, Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds. We also have staff in Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Leicester, Liverpool, Newcastle, Portsmouth, Sheffield and Wolverhampton.
Refugee Action is funded by:
The UK Border Agency and European Returns Fund.
Target group of the ERSO member (in the context of return and reintegration):
Asylum seekers, refused rejected asylum seekers, those who have some forms of temporary leave to remain in the UK, irregular migrants.
Does the ERSO member offer pre-departure counseling?
Yes - Choices offers face-to-face and telephone counselling to people who are considering voluntary return to their country of origin. Some of these people will decide to return and some will not. Choices aims to enable people to reach a decision about return which is the best for them.
Choices advisers discuss with the potential returnee – what is their main motivation for return (if they wish to return); their immigration status in the UK; their situation and support in the UK; their health; any concerns they may have about return; what is their family situation in the UK or in country of origin; whether they will need any assistance in their country or origin; what travel assistance is available, what documents will be needed and what route they may take to return. If a person decides to return then Choices will help in completing the application to the UK Border Agency for the Voluntary Assisted Return and Reintegration Programme (VARRP), Assisted Voluntary Return for Families and Children, or Assisted Voluntary Return for Irregular Migrants, depending on their situation. If the UK Border Agency approve an application, Choices assists with travel documents, flight bookings and planning for departure, to increase the likelihood of a sustainable return.
What kind of reintegration assistance does the ERSO member offer to returnees?
People returning under AVRFC or VARRP receive an initial £500 to cover arrival expenses. People returning under VARRP then receive an additional £1000 reintegration assistance, people returning under AVRFC receive an additional £1,500, but this can only be paid for services or goods – it cannot be accessed in cash. It is either paid directly to the returnee on proof of a receipt that meets the relevant criteria, or paid directly to the supplier. It can be used for essential medical expenses, rent, business set up, training, education, counselling. Choices is building up a network of international community based organisations to offer support to the individual in the country of return.
Partners in the context of voluntary return and reintegration:
National level: Wolverhampton Refugee and Migrant Service, North East Refugee Service, Northern Refugee Service.
EU level: Choices is a member of the ERSO network.
Countries of origin: Choices currently has partners in Bangladesh, India, Iraq, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Jamaica, Brazil, Nigeria and China.