Assisted Voluntary Return (AVR) programmes are resettlement packages offered to asylum seekers and undocumented migrants to aid return to their countries of origin. These programmes are funded by the UK government and the EU; they are organised by the UK Home Office. AVR programmes, particularly those in the UK, have attracted significant criticism: many have questioned whether return can be labelled ‘voluntary’ when many people applying for AVR have had a negative asylum decision or are undocumented.
My research sought to understand how inequality occurred and was challenged within AVR programmes by focusing on two central elements of AVR: 1) the voluntary aspect of the return and 2) clients’ opportunities to make informed decisions about their return. I analysed institutional AVR publications and interviews with AVR staff from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and Refugee Action, the two former providers of AVR in the UK.
AVR applicants come from all over the world and speak, read and write many different languages – and to different degrees of competence. AVR staff members are responsible for ensuring that applicants have made ‘an informed decision’ about their return. In considering how AVR applicants could make an informed decision, I show how staff deal with institutional approaches to diversity. I demonstrate how there is a wide spectrum of responses to this situation and how staff members are resourceful in challenging linguistic inequality and building ad hoc communicative strategies into the administrative process in order to enhance applicants’ opportunities to access information about – and prepare for – return.
In this postdoctoral fellowship, I aim to share, publish and expand upon my research findings. My objectives are: to disseminate information by attending conferences in the fields of linguistics and migration; to publish papers in peer-reviewed journals and edited volumes; to develop my academic and professional networks; to work with AVR practitioners and stakeholders, and feedback findings to AVR staff.