A Congolese family heads to a new life in France, Cape Town International Airport, South Africa, March 2017 | Photo: James Oatway / UNHCR
A Congolese family heads to a new life in France, Cape Town International Airport, South Africa, March 2017 | Photo: James Oatway / UNHCR

The UN refugee agency UNHCR said that refugee resettlement was at a "record low" in 2020. The agency called on more countries to offer resettlement places in the future in order to save lives.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR released its annual statistics regarding resettlement on Monday, January 25. The figures show that resettlement places hit an all time low in 2020, with only 22,770 people being resettled via the agency. That is "barely 1.6%" of those with refugee status in need of resettlement, points out the news agency Reuters.

In a press release, UNHCR estimates that in fact during 2020 there were 1.44 million refugees in "urgent need" of resettlement places. The drop, said the agency "stems from low quotas put forward by states, as well as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on departures and programs."

Reuters points out that in 2019, by comparison, UNHCR resettled 63,696 refugees.

UNHCR calls for resettlement boost in 2021

Gillian Triggs, UNHCR's Assistant High Commissioner for Protection called on governments around the globe to "boost their programs this year, offer more places, expedite the processing of cases and help us save lives of those most in need and at greatest risk."

Triggs admitted that 2020 was "an extremely challenging" year "but even more so for many refugees who are already living on the margins, struggling to survive."

Although many countries closed their borders throughout much of the year in an effort to stop the spread of the pandemic, 20 countries did resume their resettlement programs, noted UNHCR. The agency said that a total of 25 countries globally received resettled refugees.

Syrians high on resettlement list

The countries which most benefited from resettlement were Syria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Somalia, and Sudan.

The majority of those applying for resettlement between January and December 2020 came from Syria with 18,220. In the same time period, 9,377 Syrians were actually able to be resettled.

The United States reported the greatest number of resettled arrivals with 6,740, although not all of those came through UNHCR programs, notes the agency. The figures for the United States were much lower than in 2019, when 21,159 refugees were admitted.

US will raise its resettlement quotas

According to Reuters, newly elected US President Joe Biden has said he will raise the cap for admitting refugees to 125,000 for the time span of a year which began in October 2020.

Sweden followed in second place of hosting countries, accepting 3,543 resettled refugees. Canada accepted similar numbers of resettlers with 3,496; Norway offered places to 1,504 and Germany to 1,396 refugees. Germany’s resettled refugees in 2020 came from Syria and Somalia.

The majority of France’s 1,211 resettled refugees also came from Syria, with numbers hovering just over and just under 100 from Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo.

According to UNHCR, about 51% of all resettlement requests submitted come from children and 50% from women and girls. The majority of those who apply for resettlement places have either legal and protection needs or are survivors of violence and torture.


More articles