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An asylum seeker at a reception center in Helsinki. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

The maximum amount of assistance for voluntary return will be increased, starting today. Voluntary return assistance may be given, for instance, to third-country citizens who have sought international protection and who leave Finland voluntarily and permanently after canceling their application or after their asylum application has been rejected.

In future, the maximum amount of financial assistance granted to adults who decide to return to their home countries voluntarily could be 1,500 euros and to accompanying minors 750 euros. These are so called category A countries.

[toggler title=”Category A countries” ]Afghanistan, Angola, Bangladesh, Benin, Bhutan, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Haiti, Iraq, Kenya, Laos, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nepal, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Yemen, Zambia and Zimbabwe.[/toggler]

Previously, the maximum amount of financial assistance was 1,000 euros for adults and 600 euros for minors. In addition to cash, assistance may be paid as in-kind assistance or as a combination of these two.

In-kind assistance may consist of various goods or services, such as helping the person to find work. The maximum amount of in-kind assistance may be 2,500 euros for voluntarily returning adults and 1,500 euros for accompanying minors.

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Combined assistance, consisting of cash, goods and services, offers better opportunities for returnees to reintegrate. Returnees receiving in-kind assistance pay several visits to the office of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) or some other relevant service provider in their home countries and, at the same time, receive the necessary advice and support for their return.

By increasing the amount of assistance, Finland encourages voluntary return instead of non-voluntary return enforced by the authorities. Voluntary return is always the most humane option for returnees. The aim is also to increase voluntary return so that fewer and fewer people who have been refused asylum would stay in Finland without a residence permit.

[alert type=white ]Voluntary return is always the most humane option for returnees.[/alert]

By increasing the maximum amount of return assistance, Finland would bring the assistance payable to returnees more in line with the assistance available in the other EU countries. The EU has launched a pilot project that aims to harmonize the amounts of assistance granted for voluntary return within the EU. The project has proposed that the amount of return assistance is 2,500 euros.

The increased assistance also helps the authorities to promote voluntary return and better support the reintegration of returnees when the number of people who have been refused asylum is growing.

The Finnish Immigration Service has already earlier focused attention and resources on voluntary return; it has used EU funding to appoint advisers on return issues to reception centers, improved guidance on voluntary return and made information on voluntary return available in many different languages. The combination of increased assistance and enhanced advice aims to increase the number of voluntary returnees.

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Assistance for voluntary return may cover the costs of the return journey and financial assistance to enable the returning immigrant to start a new life in the home country. Assistance may be financial or consist of various goods or services helping the person to start a small business or secure entry to a degree program or find a place to live, for example.

The assistance is granted by the Finnish Immigration Service or the relevant reception center. Returns are carried out with the assistance of IOM. When deciding on the amount of assistance, consideration is given to the personal circumstances of the returnee and the conditions in the returnee’s home country. Granting assistance for voluntary return requires that a plan has been made regarding the use of assistance.

In 2016, the number of voluntary returnees totaled 2,113. By the end of August in 2017, a total of 1,034 people had returned to their home countries voluntarily. Of these, 79 percent returned to Iraq.

The relevant Ministry of the Interior Decree enters into force on September 25, 2017. The Decree will remain in force until the end of 2018.

Sources: The Ministry of the Interior, The Finnish Immigration Service