Many people in need of resettlement are in African countries along the central Mediterranean route, according to the UNHCR
Many people in need of resettlement are in African countries along the central Mediterranean route, according to the UNHCR

As European countries struggle to agree on what to do about migrants crossing their borders, many are continuing to transfer people in need of international protection directly from danger zones to safety in the EU. By providing legal pathways, they are reducing the incentives for irregular migration. But the need for resettlement still far outstrips the number of places worldwide.

European leaders don’t see eye-to-eye on migration policy, but they do agree on one thing: Smuggler-assisted migration to Europe across the Mediterranean needs to stop.

To this end, EU states and the United Nations have pledged to boost programs to identify especially vulnerable people and bring them to Europe by safe, controlled and legal means.

The United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, has proposed an ambitious target – it aims to have resettled 50,000 people in Europe by the end of October 2019. By May this year, pledges from EU countries had already exceeded that number, with Germany and France topping the list at over 10,000 places each. Sweden has committed to resettle 8,750 people and the United Kingdom 7,800 under the program.

The EU's Office of Migration and Home Affairs told InfoMigrants that by mid June, 4,252 people had been resettled in Europe under the scheme so far.

What is resettlement?

“Resettlement” is a humanitarian reception program for people who have fled across the borders of their countries of origin and are in so-called first refuge countries. For example, Syrians who have fled to Lebanon or Turkey.

Refugees who are not receiving proper protection in these first-refuge countries, or who would be unable to settle there permanently, are considered eligible for resettlement in a European country.

Resettlement principles of the UNHCR

There are three basic principles for resettlement:

1. To receive refugees in particular need of protection

2. Refugees who have been in a third country for some time but who have no prospects of integration there and are unable to return to their home country should also be admitted

3. Resettlement should take place predominantly from countries that are affected by significant refugee movement

In 2016, thirty-seven countries took part in the UNHCR’s resettlement program. In recent years, the United States has been the world’s top resettlement country, with Canada, Australia and the Nordic countries also providing a large number of places.

Resettlement in Germany

The German resettlement scheme follows the UNHCR principles. Most people admitted in Germany fulfil at least one of the criteria for “special vulnerability,” according to the German Federal Office for Migration, BAMF.

In February this year, Germany filled its quota of resettlement refugees for the year 2016-2017. In this period, 1,600 people were brought to safety in Germany. It has committed to a significant increase for the year 2018-2019, agreeing to take in 10,200 vulnerable people under the scheme

Who is considered ‘vulnerable’?

Resettlement programs are aimed at protecting people covered by one or more of the following categories:

  • Legal and/or physical protection needs
  • Survivors of torture and/or violence, especially where repatriation or the conditions of asylum could result in further traumatization, or where appropriate treatment is not available
  • Medical needs
  • Women and girls at risk who are risk because of their gender
  • Family reunification, when resettlement is the only way to reunite family members who have been separated

Most states rely on the UNHCR to recommend individuals and groups of refugees for resettlement. Each state then assesses the submission from the UNHCR and decides whether to grant resettlement according to its own policies and laws.

In Germany, there are proportionally more women, children and older people among those who are resettled than among asylum seekers generally.

Under resettlement programs, families are accepted together wherever possible. In 2014, 88 percent of the total number admitted to Germany under the resettlement scheme came together with family members.

Easing the burden on first-refuge countries

Migrants admitted under resettlement programs come from several states in various regions of the world.

Resettlement admissions in Germany 2012 - 2017 by first-refuge country Source Bamf

Tunisia (202), Lebanon (177), Egypt (557), Sudan (204), Turkey (1458), Syria (207), Indonesia (114)

In 2017, refugees from Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo made up two-thirds of those identified for resettlement by the UNHCR.

Some first-refuge countries are themselves affected by refugee conflicts, such as Syria and Sudan. They also include countries that are near the regions where conflict is taking place, such as Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia and Indonesia.

Call to boost resettlement

The UNHCR has warned that there is a growing gap between the number of people in need of resettlement and the number of places made available by governments.

“Worldwide, only about 1 percent of refugees will be able to take advantage of the resettlement program: so the need is much greater than the actual number that we see,” said Dominik Bartsch, the UNHCR representative in Germany.

An estimated 1.4 million people will need resettlement in 2019, according to the UN. At the current rate of intake, it would take 18 years to resettle the most vulnerable refugees worldwide.

While the European Union helps member states to pay for resettlement – €500 million from the EU budget will go to the UNHCR’s “50,000 scheme”, each country is responsible for funding its own program. That means each nation has to pay for interview and selection missions, medical checks and pre-departure orientation, exit visas from the country of asylum, travel and on-arrival services in the new country of resettlement.

If the EU members are to stick to their resettlement commitments, they will have to convince their constituents that it is worth the cost.

Useful information is provided in the UNHCR Resettlement Handbook


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