Type of practice:
The ZIRF Counselling “Virtual Return and Reintegration Counselling” project’s objective is to enable migrants to make an informed decision on their voluntary return and, thus, contributes to a safe, dignified return and sustainable reintegration. VC was started in 2019 on the initiative of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees and IOM Germany. The project allows migrants that are interested in voluntary return to reach out to IOM reintegration specialists in the respective countries of origin via social messenger services, telephone and video calls and
1) receive tailor-made counselling on the reintegration support that is available after return and
2) country specific information that is relevant for potential returnees e.g. on the local labor market, access to housing, treatment options for medical issues, access to schooling, social welfare etc.
VC allows for low threshold, culturally sensitive counselling in the native language. VC is designed to complement the existing return counselling structure. There are more than 800 local authorities, NGOs and welfare organizations which provide AVRR counselling in physical counselling centers all over Germany.
Main beneficiaries are migrants in Germany interested in a voluntary return to one of the participating countries. In addition, the project also supports the work of return counsellors in Germany, as the virtual counselling provides them with another source of information on countries of origin and support in communicating with migrants. VC assures that migrants interested in return receive reliable, up-to-date information in their native language from IOM reintegration staff in the relevant country. This reduces uncertainties and builds trust in the AVRR programming. Moreover, VC allows for identifying and addressing specific needs of vulnerable groups of migrants who may require assistance at all stages of the return process, e.g. migrants with psycho-social needs, health issues, VoT and UASC.
Benefit and Impact
Since the project start in 2019, IOM has been able to reach communities that previously could not be reached through the traditional counselling structure. Throughout 2020, 1,021 initial and follow-up VC sessions have taken place for migrants based in Germany. Over 93 per cent of participants in the VC monitoring survey in 2019 and 2020 reported that the counselling session was useful to make an informed decision on return. Various social media campaigns on VC reached 339,727 people and generated approximately 1,8 million impressions. In addition, 18 information events and webinars on VC took place with over 500 participants including migrants and representatives from different civic and public entities and multipliers. This indicates a high interest in this type of counselling opportunity and emphasizes the importance to further expand this opportunity in future. VC also successfully addressed COVID-19 specific difficulties: firstly, migrants were able to learn about movement restrictions, quarantine measures, and health related issues from a trusted source in their native language; secondly, while the majority of German AVRR referral agencies limited their in-person counselling due to COVID-19, virtual counselling remained fully operational; thirdly, in providing migrants with the opportunity to speak to a counsellor in their country of origin, virtual counselling offered a safe space encouraging psychosocial resilience. Return counsellors in Germany have also provided feedback that VC has contributed to increase the trust between them and the migrants. While the current VC project duration will end in Dec. 2022, it is likely that the project will continue in 2023 as VC has become a key component of the German AVRR counselling programming.
- Data protection: Anonymization and depersonalization of every Virtual Counselling was ensured by the VC project team before statistics were shared with third parties. Moreover, for saving data online the CRM has different profiles, where sensitive data can only be accessible by certain users and people with login accounts.
- Follow up is ensured by the project development team that works closely with the VC team to identify lessons learned and incorporate them in the new project phase (the project is funded for a phase of 12 months). Workshops with German return counsellors and VC counsellors serve as method to collect feedback on the project. Additionally, the feedback of the migrants is collected via the IOM feedback tool "Community response map" - CRM.
Recommendations(if the practice is to be replicated)
Regular exchange between counsellors in the CoO and counsellors in the sending country via workshops to capture lessons learned.
Install accountability mechanisms that allow migrants to provide their feedback on the project to ensure it benefits the target group and identify areas for improvement .
Ensure that the project also has a comprehensive outreach strategy. IOM Germany's approach was based on different approaches: Development of traditional communication materials such as flyers, posters and brochures in the respective languages for migrants, counselling centres, volunteers, diaspora organizations and other relevant multipliers; engaging directly with migrants through information and outreach events in Germany with IOM virtual cousellors from countries of origin – through their direct interaction with the communities, they created transparency and trust in the return and reintegration process; engaging with migrants via social media on IOM Germany’s social media accounts (Facebook).
IOM's projects and programmes are subject to strict data protection rules and regulations during implementation, monitoring and documentation.
A customised version of IOM’s Community Response Map (CRM) was established within the project in 2020. It allows the tracking, monitoring, analysis and visualization of VC sessions results’, outreach events as well as qualitative and quantitative feedback from different stakeholders (community members, diaspora leaders, returnees, return and VC counsellors). This tool is used for monitoring purposes, but also for open communication with other stakeholders and the donor, as well as for accountability towards the project beneficiaries.