Virtual Counselling, a project recently introduced in Germany is helping to address migrants’ concerns. This is because making the decision on whether to leave one’s country of origin is rarely one migrants take lightly. Deciding whether to go back home can be equally challenging.
Migrants in Germany considering a return to their countries of origin can now contact the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) staff in several African and Asian countries to learn about return and reintegration options.
Migrants can call and message IOM staff in nine countries of origin to speak in their native language about what reintegration is going to look like in their individual case. Those countries are Armenia, Bangladesh, Ghana, Guinea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Nigeria, The Gambia and Pakistan.
Via social media and online messaging services, IOM staff inform callers about all available reintegration options in each country. This can include, for example, financial assistance for a business start-up, support for housing or medical needs, psychosocial counselling or job counselling.
This pilot project is financed by the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees. Since the start of the project, more than 250 virtual counselling sessions have taken place.
Kobby Benjie is a Ghanaian returnee, who was supported by IOM. “The possibility to talk to a fellow countryman on WhatsApp and ask questions about returning home, is a great help for Ghanaians in Germany”, he explained.
One reintegration officer at IOM Nigeria, Jude Okoye Jonathan, added: “We get calls from migrants in Germany who had just started to consider a voluntary return and would like to get a first idea of their options. Migrants also ask concrete questions about reintegration support in their countries.”
He explained: “They trust us, because we speak their language and we are directly at the location where they plan to return to.”
In Germany, IOM engages with diaspora and important multipliers to raise awareness among migrants about this new counselling offer and to increase trust and transparency in a field active with multiple programmes and stakeholders.
“It is crucial for a successful reintegration to connect the two ends of the voluntary return process”, said one German return counsellor, who often refers migrants to the new Virtual Counselling. “I very much appreciate this type of collaboration between sending and receiving countries.”
“With Virtual Counselling, we are able to reach migrants outside of the traditional return counselling structure”, added Monica Goracci, Chief of IOM’s Mission in Germany.
Around 50 per cent of the migrants who had a virtual counselling session so far, had not yet visited a counselling centre in Germany.
“Access to timely, unbiased and reliable information is essential to dignified voluntary return and sustainable reintegration, allowing migrants to make an informed decision and take ownership of the voluntary return process in full respect of their human rights and regardless of their status”, IOM’s Goracci added.