Syrian refugees wait at the registration office of the UNHCR in Amman, Jordan | AP Photo/Raad Adayleh
Syrian refugees wait at the registration office of the UNHCR in Amman, Jordan | AP Photo/Raad Adayleh

Western countries took in less than five percent of refugees needing to be resettled from poorer regions last year, despite record numbers of displaced people around the world. Fewer than 56,000 refugees were given new homes in 2018 under the UN’s resettlement program, a decline from previous years.

Under its resettlement program, the UN refugee agency UNHCR decides who are the most vulnerable of the world’s refugees, such as children or those who have suffered violence, torture or illness, and asks developed countries to take them in.

In 2018, of a total of around 20 million refugees worldwide, it identified around 1.2 million especially vulnerable people who needed to be given protection in third countries. 

Yet figures just released by the UNHCR show that the number of persons actually resettled was far short of that target: just 55,692, or 4.7 percent of those in need.

The overall number of resettled refugees last year also declined from previous years: it was 10,000 fewer than in 2017 and less than half of the 126,291 in 2016.

Hosting and receiving countries

Of the 81,310 people referred for resettlement by the UNHCR in 2018, the largest number were Syrians, followed by people from the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

The main countries hosting the refugees prior to their resettlement were Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Uganda.

Just over half of the 81,310 resettlement submissions in 2018 were for children.

In 2018, the United States accepted the most refugees for resettlement with 17,000 cases, followed by Canada with 7,700, the UK with 5,700 and France and Sweden with about 5,000 each. (Relative to the size of its population, Sweden resettled around ten times as many as the United States).

The figures do not include people who directly applied for refugee status in developed countries and were granted protection there.

The UNHCR spokesperson in Geneva, Shabia Mantoo, said governments and communities around the world needed to share responsibility for responding to forced displacement crises.

"Resettlement remains a life-saving tool to ensure the protection of those most at risk," Mantoo said.

The agency is developing a three-year plan to increase resettlement numbers and to involve more developed countries in the program. It estimates that in 2019, 1.4 million refugees will need resettlement.


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