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Virtual Counselling Helps Migrants Learn More about Return and Reintegration Options

Collection of IOM portraits displayed as phone calls for virtual counselling
Collection of IOM portraits displayed as phone calls for virtual counselling

In 2019, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has introduced the Virtual Counselling project. Funded by the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, this project allows migrants living in Germany to contact IOM staff via social media and online messaging services in 16 countries of origin and receive Assisted Return and Reintegration (AVRR) counselling.

For the past 40 years, IOM’s AVRR programme in Germany has been the largest support programme of its kind used by migrants living in the country. Since 1979, more than 700,000 migrants have benefited from the programme.

Since 2017, the German AVRR landscape has become more and more complex. For this reason, through this innovative approach, native speakers at IOM offices in the participating countries provide comprehensible information on the situation in the countries of origin. The counsellors inform migrants who consider to return voluntarily about the variety and technical details of return assistance programmes provided by the German government.

Through the Virtual Counselling project, migrants also receive a culturally sensitive overview of the reintegration opportunities in their country of origin. In this regard, IOM staff inform callers about available reintegration options in each country. This can include, for example, financial assistance for a business start-up, support for housing or medical needs, psychosocial counselling or job counselling. Additionally, they learn about local i agencies that provide reintegration support.

Virtual Counselling uses different forms and technical means for communication such as Skype, WhatsApp, Facebook and other online messengers. Through this approach, IOM has been able to reach migrant communities and important multiplicators that were not previously reached through the traditional counselling structure and information channels on AVRR in Germany. As of 2020, Virtual Counselling is available in the following 16 countries: Albania, Armenia, Bangladesh, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ethiopia, Georgia, Ghana, Guinea, The Gambia, Iraq, Kosovo, Montenegro, Nigeria, the Republic of North Macedonia, Pakistan and Serbia.

IOM staff in the countries of origin are trained on the technical modalities of  the Reintegration and Emigration Programme for Asylum Seekers in Germany/Government Assisted Repatriation Programme (REAG/GARP), StarthilfePlus  and  other return programmes funded by the German Government, the counselling structure in Germany and the administrative processes for migrants residing in Germany who wish to apply for assisted voluntary return and reintegration. Training material, including a Frequently Asked Questions document, country-specific presentations and guiding questions for counselling are developed and distributed for this purpose.

Facts & Figures for the period March-December 2019
  • Out of the 297 counselled migrants and even more family members, at least 120 migrants returned to their country of origin thus far.

  • 90% of migrants that participated in the virtual counselling monitoring survey reported that they have been provided with sufficient and useful information.

  • Between March and December 2019, the Virtual Counselling page on the Information Portal on Voluntary Return and Reintegration ( received over 5,887 clicks. The project flyers were downloaded almost 1,000 times in the same period.

  • Social Media Ads on Virtual Counselling were posted on the Facebook pages of the respective IOM Missions with the target of reaching migrants of those nationalities based in Germany. The ads reached a total of 14,500 people.

"One of the migrants who was counselled through VC and was consequently referred to a counselling center in Germany has returned to Pakistan and has visited the IOM Pakistan office last week. I gave the migrant the address of two counselling centers near them. They were the second person who called so I remembered them quite well. I am happy for their family because their son kept thanking me that their parent only made up their mind to return after speaking to me." – VC Counsellor from IOM Pakistan

Virtual Counselling workshop 2019 at IOM Germany in Berlin. ©IOM/2019
Virtual Counselling workshop 2019 at IOM Germany in Berlin. © IOM/2019

For more info about the Virtual Counselling project, please contact Ms. Welella Negussie, Project Coordinator at