Ana Amor Alameda is Project Manager at the Organisation of Ibero-American States for Education, Science and Culture (OEI). With a head office in Madrid, OEI is the intergovernmental organisation responsible for Ibero-America and the flag bearer for multinational cooperation in the region for over 70 years.
OEI was the service provider for four countries in ERRIN programme between 2016 and 2019. Although decreasing numbers of returnees to Latin America from the ERRIN sending countries meant that the contract closed by mutual agreement, OEI has much valuable insight and experience to share.
In total OEI assisted 55 cases in Argentina, 84 in Paraguay, 99 in Brazil and 77 in Honduras. OEI had also worked in various other several voluntary return projects before ERRIN, supporting over 400 people in the Latin American region.
“I started working in this field almost eight years ago, when I joined OEI. Back in 2012, the impact of the economic crisis in Europe was devastating, with migrant populations especially affected. This was undoubtedly a push factor for large-scale migration flows from Europe, and in particular, from Spain to Latin America,” Amor Alameda explains.
Growing demand for migrant returnee services
OEI already had a department focused on research and technical assistance provision on the migration topic, and more specifically on issues related to integration of migrant students in Spain. However, the severity of the economic crisis sparked other issues: massive return flows created surging demands for support for reintegration in countries of origin.
OEI responded to these new challenges, designing and implementing several EU funded projects on voluntary return and sustainable reintegration. This experience led to the partnership with the European Reintegration Network (ERIN) – since developed into the current European Return and Reintegration network (ERRIN).
The support provided by OEI was in line with the reintegration packages elsewhere in ERRIN return countries. This means that returnees received an in-kind allocation that they can use to cover one or several services from the ‘menu’. This included, for instance, help to start a business, referral to medical or legal aid, vocational training and help for enrolling children in schools, or bespoke assistance for vulnerable groups (such as people with health issues or unaccompanied minors).
Returnee profiles varied from country to country. Nevertheless, for OEI, the goal was always the same – ensuring the sustainability of return by helping the returnees quickly get back on their feet.
“At OEI, our approach built on two cornerstones. First, we ensured that comprehensive networks of services and institutions were available to returnees as soon as they came back. And secondly, we made sure that each reintegration package was tailored to the needs and interests of the returnee.”
That was certainly the case of M.G*. She returned to Honduras after more than ten years in the UK to live with her relatives while suffering from emotional, psychological and psychiatric issues. ERRIN facilitated support from local NGOs that covered the costs of her medication, a local psychiatrist assisted M.G for free and her reintegration grant was spent in launching up a dairy product business.
Key to success
OEI stressed a number of factors needed to make the process as smooth and efficient as possible. Firstly, it is crucial to receive as much information as feasible beforehand about the returnee, their needs and correct contact details. The service provider then needs to ensure quick contact with both the institutions and support services, as well as with the returnee him/herself. Lastly, building a close relationship based on mutual trust will reinforce the commitment of the returnee towards their reintegration plan, and hence, future sustainability.
“The communication flow between all involved parties of the process is essential to ensure success.”
“This communication flow between all involved parties of the process is essential to ensure success. All service providers also need to have a broad network already in place with public institutions, private sector and civil society organisations to ensure fast delivery of services,” says Amor Alameda.
Another success story is of J.R and A.S* who returned to Brazil from the UK with their children. Initially they found it difficult to get back into the job market but thanks to the ERRIN reintegration, they were able to purchase equipment to launch a furniture business which is developing well.
In terms of skills required by the service provider and field staff, Amor Alameda underlines the need for active listening, empathy, creativity and a proactive approach.
“Every returnee is confronted by different circumstances. Our field staff needed to be equipped to deal with so all the challenges, in particular for vulnerable cases, such as victims of domestic violence. It can be emotional and requires much dedication from our counsellors.”
One of those was A.A* who returned to Argentina after escaping domestic violence. With ERRIN support, she was able to rent a small apartment, enrol her children in the public education system and gradually build up a new circle of friends. She has recently edited an astrology handbook, which is being sold online and teaches online courses on this subject.
Likewise, L.S* also escaped an abusive relationship and returned to Paraguay. ERRIN provided legal support to help her get back custody of her children and marriage annulment of financial obligations. The programme also helped her enrol in chemistry and pharmacy studies that she had left a few years ago. She is now continuing her studies, while also working with elderly people.
Amongst the recommendations for improving the programme, OEI considers that greater coordination between countries and service providers could facilitate mutual learning. More group activities for returnees could also be organised as way of enabling them to share their concerns and find joint solutions to problems encountered.
“ERRIN contributed to a genuine reintegration process for a wide number of returnees and families in different Latin American countries.”
Overall, Amor Alameda says that the programme worked well and produced good results:
“ERRIN contributed to a genuine reintegration process for a wide number of returnees and families in different Latin American countries. It would be useful to build on this experience and transfer knowledge to other regions and countries facing similar challenges.”
*Names changed to protect the beneficiaries’ identity.