The first exchange on return counselling took place in the Netherlands 10-14 December 2018.
This was part of a learning cycle initiated during the ERRIN Working Group on Return Counselling held in Berlin in September.
Overall, the cycle will comprise four operational exchange visits, each focusing on different contexts and environments. The aim is to facilitate peer-to-peer exchange for operational return counsellors and develop shared support tools.
This first visit was hosted by the Repatriation & Departure Service (R&DS) in the Netherlands, with a focus on ‘pre-departure counselling in closed and semi-closed environments’. A mixed group of return counsellors and frontline workers from governmental institutions and NGOs in eight Member States (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, and Sweden) took part. Representatives from FRONTEX, R&DS and ERRIN PMU also attended.
A number of site visits were arranged including to the COA run – Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers – semi-closed centre for irregular families with minor children in Katwijk and a detention center in Rotterdam. This enabled participants to meet directly with case workers and gain an insight into the organisations in other countries. Participants highlighted the benefit of not only sharing learning and insight with peers from other countries, but also of taking a step back from the daily routine to look at the bigger picture.
To follow-up, ERRIN PMU is now coordinating a number of practical tools and guidance materials, including:
- Outline structure for individual counselling meetings with persons in (semi) closed settings
- Listing of key competences required for return counsellors
- Guidance on minimising risk of absconding of persons staying in semi–closed settings
All participants emphasised the need for empathy as well as impartially as core qualities for counsellors and underlined how important it is for returnees to maintain a ‘sense of agency’ and control of the situation. The next visit will take place in Germany in February.