Following arrival, some family members may express a wish to return to the country they were previously in. Find out how to navigate this.
This resource has been written in conjunction with UNHCR.
During the time you support a resettled family, the family members are likely to go through some highs and lows. They might have unrealistic hopes for life in the UK such as feeling settled or finding jobs in a short amount of time. While coming to the UK will hopefully make them feel safe, other challenges will start to appear such as difficulties learning English, finding a job, or adapting to a new culture. In some cases, this could trigger nostalgic feelings about their country of origin or the host country where things might be have been easier in some aspects such as speaking the same language or having a similar culture. The family you support is also likely to have had to leave family and friends behind in these places. Events in their country of origin or host country may make it harder for them to focus on settling into your community.
The way family members process homesickness and nostalgia will vary. In some cases, these feelings might be presented to you as a Group in statements expressing how beautiful home was or how comfortable life used to be. And in some circumstances, refugees might express their intention or wish to return to their host country or even to their country of origin. While in many cases these statements are an expression or reaction to how challenging things are, sometimes they can be genuine intentions.
Your group’s role
If the family members you support express their intention to return to their host country or country of origin, it is important for you as a group not to encourage or discourage such a decision. While this can understandably be disappointing and seem to you like the wrong decision, this is not a reflection on the support you are providing. Your role in this situation should be supporting the individual or the family to seek further qualified assistance in such circumstances so that they can understand the consequences of such decisions.
Please note that it is illegal to give immigration advice to an individual unless the person giving the advice is specifically permitted to do so.
Returning to a host country
The host country is the country where the refugee family had sought asylum, registered with UNHCR and from where they have been resettled. Many refugees have spent several years in the host country and have left behind family members who continue to live there and the refugees you support may decide to go back for a visit. Your Group may decide that it is not your role to get involved in their plans at all. If you do decide that helping the individual or family return to their host country for a visit, your Group’s role could be to:
- Support the refugee to contact the host country’s embassy to find out if they will be allowed re-entry and their visa requirements. This will differ depending on the country as is their own immigration procedures
- If granted a visa, support the refugee to apply for a convention travel document from the Home Office
- Support the refugee to budget for their visit and book their ticket
The refugee should decide the length of time they wish to visit and they will need to check with an immigration advisor to find out how long they can be outside the UK without impacting their UK residency status.
If the refugee decided to remain in the host country for an extended period of time they might need to apply for a returning resident’s visa when they decide to return to the UK, which may incur a further charge to the individual. When applying for the visa, the UK government may re-assess their ongoing entitlement to live in the UK.
For more information about applying for a returning visa, please visit: gov.uk/returning-resident-visa. Embassies in that country will not usually provide consular assistance to refugees. Refugees or their representatives are able to contact UNHCR in the UK if they have further questions.
If refugees face issues once they return to their former host country they can contact their nearest UNHCR office. UNHCR cannot influence decisions about entry or exit to a host country, nor can they replace lost travel documents. Should they face difficulties in getting in touch with their nearest UNHCR Office they can reach out to the UK’s UNHCR office.
Returning to the country of origin
Returning to their country of origin is a more impactful decision and a complex process that should be approached sensitively and only after seeking qualified legal advice from an accredited person. In principle, someone is granted refugee status because they fear persecution in their country of origin and returning to that country may indicate that this fear of persecution no longer exists. If the refugee visited or moved back to their country of origin, the UK government may re-assess their ongoing need for international protection. Thus, there is a risk that they may lose their refugee status in the UK upon return to their country of origin. Alternative legal pathways to return to the UK cannot be guaranteed.
If the refugees you support are seriously considering returning to their country of origin, they should first and foremost access qualified legal advice. Your role as a Community Sponsorship group is to signpost them to different legal services but it is not your role to provide, source or pay for these services. Legal advice from a qualified legal advisor should be sought before contacting your Home Office Contact Officer, even if only to enquire about hypothetical steps.
If the refugees you support or their representatives have any additional questions they are always welcome to contact UNHCR’s UK office.
In all cases, you as a Group cannot and shouldn’t prevent refugees from returning if this is their wish.
However, you can help them to make an informed decision and help them to access the support they need to do so in order to understand the consequences of such a decision.