Citizens may be broadly in agreement with government immigration policy and acknowledge the consequent logic of illegality and deportation, but its actual practice can be deeply unsettling, challenging liberal respect for physical integrity and freedom of choice. State funded ‘Assisted Voluntary Return’ (AVR) programmes seem to resolve these contradictions and are on the increase across Europe. Returnees are not subjected to outward mechanisms of enforcement (handcuffs, guards, etc.) but rather ‘choose’ to return and are granted a support package to reintegrate. NGOs are becoming heavily involved in these programmes, and in the UK the entire programme is implemented by a refugee charity, Refugee Action.
This briefing will draw on ‘Tried and Trusted ? the Role of NGOs in the Assisted Voluntary Return of Refused Asylum Seekers and Irregular Migrants’ a joint research project between the Centre for Population Change, University of Southampton and COMPAS, Oxford University. It will discuss how ‘choice’ is understood in the context of state enforced destitution and ‘illegality’. Does AVR make immigration enforcement more acceptable in liberal democracies? Does the focus on choice mean we miss questions of justice? How do NGOs implementing the programme negotiate these tensions? Can NGOs maintain independence when funded by governments? Does this relationship open space for weighty advocacy’ or are NGOs simply ‘doing the government’s dirty work’? These issues will also be discussed in relation to detention centres, where the Home Office has recently removed access to AVR. AVR is a laboratory for the development of new forms of co-operation between states and NGOs.