Research Programme

Tried and Trusted? The role of Non-Government Organisations in Asylum Seeker and Irregular Migrant Voluntary Returns 

Derek McGheeBridget Anderson, Claire Bennett, Sarah Walker

This is a co-leveraged research project funded by the ESRC. The project was conducted jointly with the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society at the University of Oxford.


Project summary


This project examined the Assisted Voluntary Return (AVR) programmes available to migrants in the UK. There is little research on AVR programmes in the UK; what we do know is that non-government organisation’s play a central role in the administration of the programmes and advisors of potential returnees.

This research investigated; what governs different NGOs’ reasons for suggesting particular return options; what are the differing roles of NGOs who administer AVRs and those who do not; how and why NGOs (and the Welfare Officers in Detention Centres they work with) advise on particular return modes; how is the place of ‘safe country’ determined; what is the meaning of ‘sustainability’ in the advice given to returnees; what are the advantages and disadvantages of ‘directive’ and ‘non-directive’ approaches in NGO consultations with AVR applicants; what is the wider NGO sectors’ perspective on the current political focus on programmed returns for asylum seekers (rather than irregular migrants) and foreign national prisoners; what information do NGOs  need to support people faced with return; what is the relationship between those NGOs directly involved in administering AVR and the wider asylum/irregular migrant focused NGO sector.


Using UKBA and NGO data we created a database on the take up of AVRs (disaggregated by scheme type gender, age, single individual/family and country of origin). In addition, we collected data through individual interviews with; 1) Refugee Action Staff in their four regional offices, IOM (London) staff, Welfare Officers, Refugee Action Migration staff, and IOM staff in Detention Centres; 2) representatives from UKBA and the Home Office. 


In our preliminary review of available literatures we found that; (1) returnees prioritise advice from friends, families and NGOs; (2) NGO involvement is sensitive and there is a danger that ‘facilitation’ can be perceived as ‘encouragement’ by potential returnees and their supporters; (3) there is a lack of information available to NGOs and individuals who are supporting migrants facing return.


Project activities

Date Activity Description
16 May 2015 COMPAS Breakfast Briefing held at the University of Oxford. Derek McGhee and Claire Bennett presented the briefing "What is the role of NGOs in the assisted voluntary returns of asylum seekers and irregular migrants?"
23 April 2014 Presentations at the BSA Conference 2014 "Changing Society" held at the University of Leeds Presentations by Bridget Anderson and Sarah Walker "Between a Rock and Hard Place: Assisted Voluntary Return and the Choice to Return" and Claire Bennett and Derek McGhee "The Assisted Voluntary Return Programme in UK: How Does the Receipt of Government Funding Impact on the Relationship, Advocacy and Independence of the Refugee Sector?"



McGhee, D., Bennett, C. and Walker, S. (2015) The combination of 'insider' and 'outsider' strategies in VSO–government partnerships: the relationship between Refugee Action and the Home Office in the UK. Voluntary Sector Review, 7 (1), 27-46.

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Media activities

Journey of a refugee, article - 19 June 2015.

Assisted Voluntary Return (AVR): Government Funding and the Refugee Sector, blog - 28 May 2014.

You can also browse all CPC media outputs and population-related articles from CPC members on our! page.