Finnish Immigration Service meets voluntary returnees in Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan

1.2.2019 10.33
Press release

What are the experiences of people returning voluntarily from Finland to their home countries? The Finnish Immigration Service met 32 voluntary returnees in Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan All of them had previously been asylum seekers in Finland or elsewhere in Europe, but either their application had been rejected or they had themselves withdrawn their application.

Some returnees talk about their return in videos that will be posted on the new website during the spring. The first videos were posted today. The website also contains information on how the assisted voluntary return system works and what kinds of support are available for the return.

Asylum seekers who return voluntarily to their home countries may receive financial assistance. Voluntary return is only possible if the applicant him/herself makes the decision and takes the initiative. The amount of financial assistance is discretionary.

"Some people have been absent from their home countries for a really long time, and the threshold for returning has been rising year on year. In that context, making the decision to return is not easy. Yet the people we met were for the most part content, and happy to be reunited with their families. Everyone had financial concerns, but there were also people who had managed to set up a small business for themselves with the support they received," says Tarja Rantala, project manager of the Auda project, which supports voluntary return.

Interviews with returnees and the organisations supporting them were conducted in Baghdad, Hargeisa, Mogadishu, Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif. Some of the interviewees said that they had not known enough about the criteria for being granted asylum before travelling to Finland or Europe. False information and attractive promises were spread particularly by traffickers.

Most returnees are Iraqi

All of the returnees met were asylum seekers who had had one or more asylum applications rejected. The largest group of returnees are Iraqi. The leading destination for voluntary returns from Finland is Iraq, with 449 returnees last year; by comparison, 18 people returned to Afghanistan and 11 to Somalia. In all, there were 646 returnees in 2018. In 2017, voluntary return was undertaken by 1,425 people.

"The most common reason for returning was having an asylum application rejected. Some withdrew from the process at their own initiative for various reasons. Many were surprised when they were told the criteria for being granted a residence permit. When things back home seemed to have calmed down, some asylum seekers felt that going back to their children or to sick parents would be more meaningful than sitting around in a reception centre," Ms Rantala explains.

Last year, the Finnish Immigration Service added resources to advisory services and publicity for applicants interested in returning home. Funding for these activities came from the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund of the European Union (AMIF).

At the moment, there are nearly 7,900 asylum seekers registered at reception centres whose applications have been rejected. Most of these are appealing their rejection to the Administrative Court. An asylum seeker is allowed to stay in Finland for the duration of the processing of his or her asylum application.

In-kind assistance for voluntary return increased at the New Year

The journey home of voluntary returnees is paid for them in accordance with the cheapest form of travel available. Returnees may also receive financial assistance; the amounts granted vary by country. Financial assistance for voluntary return is discretionary. It may only be granted to returnees who have no funds and cannot pay for their return journey themselves.

The support may be granted in cash or as in-kind support. The amount of cash granted in support varies from EUR 300 to EUR 1,500. In-kind support is, as the name says, given in the form of goods or services donated to the returnee upon return to his/her home country.

Returnees may use in-kind assistance: for instance, for setting up a small business, or for training. Some of the returnees met by Finnish Immigration Service employees had used the in-kind assistance to set up a business, such as a gym in Afghanistan or a café in Somalia, or to purchase commodities with which to set up a market stall.

The maximum amount of in-kind assistance for voluntary return was raised as of New Year 2019. The maximum amount for an adult is now EUR 5,000. A child returning home in the company of his or her family may receive a maximum of EUR 1,500 in in-kind support. The amount of financial assistance granted in cash depends on which country and what kind of circumstances the returnee will be returning to.

For further information on voluntary return, please visit In addition to Finnish, the website is currently available in English, Arabic, Dari, Sorani-Kurdish and Somali.

Further information for the media

Tarja Rantala, project manager of the Auda project for voluntary return, tel. 0295 433 973, email [email protected]

Akseli Saviranta, project officer of the Auda project for voluntary return, tel. 0295 433 638, email [email protected]

FACTS: Here’s how assisted voluntary return works

  • Voluntary return may be suggested to a person who is not granted a residence permit or who has no potential for being granted asylum in Finland.
  • The decision to return is up to the person himself or herself, and the time for executing the return is negotiable.
  • Returnees who have no funds may be granted support for the journey home. In addition to travel tickets, returnees may receive cash or in-kind assistance to help them return to their former lives in their home country.
  • In-kind support may take the form of goods or services. For instance, returnees may be helped with paying the rent, finding employment, or setting up a small business.
  • Return arrangements are handled by the Finnish Immigration Service and the reception centre where the returnee is housed.
  • The principal partner is the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM). The IOM assists returnees at the airport and during the journey home, and often also offers support after the return.