Assisted voluntary return is the primary option for persons who have sought international protection but whose asylum application has been rejected. Instead of cash assistance, in-kind assistance that takes account of the personal needs and the situation in the country of return could be more effective in encouraging asylum seekers to return home voluntarily, as it would provide the returnee with better and more stable opportunities to re-integrate into their home country.
Voluntary returnees can be given cash assistance, in-kind assistance, or both. The purpose of giving assistance is to encourage more asylum seekers to choose the voluntary return option. Assistance in-kind may involve, for example, providing help in finding accommodation or work, securing entry to a degree programme, or accessing health care services. The Ministry of the Interior has raised the maximum amount of in-kind assistance for 2019. Despite these measures, many asylum seekers still opt for appealing against the rejection decision or they file a new application rather than voluntarily return to their country of origin. The Government has issued a proposal on amending the Aliens Act with the aim of reducing the number of potential abuses of the subsequent application process.
The direct costs of the voluntary return programme amount to a few million euros, but the indirect benefits to state finances are considerably higher than that, provided that the programme is actively used. Voluntary return saves costs resulting from escorted returns and reception of asylum seekers and prevents and reduces potential costs associated with illegal residence in Finland. According to the review, the benefits to state finances could increase to tens of millions of euros if half of the asylum seekers whose application has been rejected would choose the voluntary return option. This would also reduce the processing times of asylum applications from the current level.
Based on the NAOF’s review, in principle, the voluntary return programme functions effectively and the costs involved are relatively low. It has become an established measure among authorities and reception services. The latest measures implemented by the Government can be considered correct. Compared with cash assistance, in-kind assistance can more effectively help returnees to re-integrate into their home country. The effectiveness of the programme could be ensured by assessing the measures implemented and by monitoring the benefits and impacts of the two assistance types.