The International Organization for Migration's Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration program helps people who want to go back to their home country.
Refugee.Info met with IOM in Sofia, and here's what they told us about the program and how you can take advantage of it.
Who can apply
Not everyone can return to their home countries. You can apply for Assisted Voluntary Return:
- If you are living in Bulgaria with no documents or expired documents
- If you no longer want to stay in Bulgaria — even if you were granted international protection
- If your asylum request is pending
- If your asylum request has been rejected
- If you have voluntarily withdrawn your asylum application
- If you haven't received an expulsion or removal order yet
- If you are fit/healthy enough to travel
- If you are pregnant, but not in the 7th month yet
People under 14 traveling without an adult family member
If you are under 14 and you want to go back to your country, IOM first needs to ask your parents or close relatives in your home country for permission to return you.
You need to give IOM the name and contact details of your parents or close relatives.
If your family agrees, IOM will organize your travel and accompany you.
Where you can go through AVRR
You can return only to your country of origin. You cannot return to your home through AVRR if there is a war there. IOM’s list of unsafe countries changes each month. However, Syria remains on the list.
The route home can also change. Currently, due to security issues, there are no flights to Erbil. The only city in Iraq you can fly to is Baghdad.
Once you withdraw your asylum application, you cannot reapply for asylum.
If you cancel your asylum application, and you decide not to go home through the AVRR program after all, the police can detain you and deport you.
It's also worth noting that you can use the AVRR service only once.
How to use AVRR
Step 1: Approaching IOM
If you are thinking of returning home or have decided to do so, you should contact IOM.
You can approach any IOM employee in your registration and reception or accommodation center in Bulgaria, or ask an aid worker to help you find them.
If you are in Sofia, you can go to the IOM office at Tzar Asen 77, from Monday to Friday, 9 a.m.to 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.
They speak Urdu, Farsi, Pashtu, Arabic, Punjabi, Kurdish and other languages. On holidays, they may be closed or have reduced work hours.
Step 2: Counseling
The IOM team will gather your personal details, talk with you to understand your situation and make sure that it is your final decision to return to your home country.
If you have any questions related to your return, this is the time when you can ask them.
Step 3: Getting your travel document
If you don’t have a passport, IOM will issue travel documents for you and your family.
This can take some time, depending on your case and which country are you from. Not every country has an embassy in Bulgaria. Sometimes, IOM has to reach out to embassies in other countries, and this can prolong the procedure by a few months.
However, after your travel documents are ready, you should wait between 1 week and 10 days to be able to return to your home country.
Step 4: Buying your plane tickets
IOM will purchase your plane tickets. They will try to find the safest way to return you to your home country, taking into consideration your language and religion.
You will probably need to change planes a few times to get home. Usually, people traveling through AVRR go via Istanbul and Dubai or Doha before they get home.
Due to overbooked Christmas and New Years holiday flights, IOM Bulgaria cannot send people back to their countries of origin between mid-December and mid-January.
Step 5: Traveling
IOM employees will escort you to the international airport in Sofia and help you with check-in and passport control.
After passport control, you will travel alone as any other passenger, unless you are under 14 traveling without an adult family member. In this case, an IOM employee will escort you from Bulgaria to your family or relatives at home.
If you have health issues or other limitations, IOM staff can also accompany you through your entire journey.
Otherwise, you will receive a bag with the IOM logo that you need to keep with yourself. This shows airport staff that you are a beneficiary of the AVRR program.
A day before your travel, IOM will give you instructions. You will also receive some money for the journey.
Some people who return to their countries can get financial and other support with reintegrating into their home countries.
This integration support is available only to the most vulnerable people, including victims of trafficking, people under 18 traveling alone, single parents, and those with chronic medical conditions.
In Bulgaria, about 20 percent of all AVRR beneficiaries are considered vulnerable, IOM said.