UNHCR calls for more resettlement places and better support for resettled refugees

News Stories, 4 July 2011

© UNHCR/L.Taylor
Resettled refugees from Myanmar attend a language class in the Czech Republic.

GENEVA, July 4 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency called on Monday for increased resettlement places for the most vulnerable among the 10.5 million refugees under its mandate.

"If states do not come forward with more places, almost 100,000 vulnerable refugees in need of resettlement will remain without any solution this year," Wei-Meng Lim-Kabaa, head of UNHCR's resettlement service, said at the opening of the Annual Tripartite Consultations on Resettlement.

"It is of paramount importance to understand that these people have no alternative solution and failure to resettle them means these people remain in an agonizing limbo," she added.

Most refugees either eventually return to their home countries or are allowed to settle in countries of first asylum. But for some, resettlement in a third country offers the only possible solution.

Currently, 80,000 resettlement places are available each year. It is estimated that 780,000 refugees will be in need of resettlement as a solution over the next three to five years, of whom 172,000 will be prioritized for next year.

UNHCR is also observing a significant drop in departures of refugees accepted for resettlement. This is due to stringent security checks and various challenges that resettlement countries face in managing their resettlement pipelines.

In 2009, almost 85,000 refugees were resettled while in 2010 the figure dropped to about 73,000. UNHCR is concerned that in 2011 the number of refugees departing for resettlement will be significantly fewer than the 80,000 places available.

This widening gap between global resettlement needs and available places, as well as the drop in actual departures, will be the focus of this week's tripartite consultations between UNHCR, governments and the non-governmental sector. The three-day meeting is being co-chaired by the United States Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, the Refugee Council USA, and UNHCR.

As well as the shortage of resettlement places and problems with the management of the resettlement process, the consultations will focus on the strategic use of resettlement to provide solutions for refugees otherwise not eligible for resettlement, in a number of priority situations in Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America.

"Resettlement can bring about positive results beyond those that benefit the individual. Resettling a considerable number of refugees, thus alleviating a burden on the country of first asylum, helps to negotiate better conditions for the refugees who stay, or new refugees who arrive," said Larry Bartlett, director of refugee admissions for the US Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.

The agenda for this year's consultations also includes the promotion of measures to improve the reception and integration of refugees once they reach their new destination. UNHCR and governmental and non-governmental partners are seeking to improve help for refugees with integration on arrival in the resettlement country.

"Integration does not happen by itself but needs efforts by both the refugee and the receiving community. It also involves many others including government departments, NGOs, employers, trade unions, health care providers, and so on. We need to have all partners on board," said Dan Kosten, chairman of the Refugee Council USA.

The consultations will provide a forum for UNHCR to draw attention to the acute resettlement challenges for refugees who have fled violence and serious human rights abuses in Libya and are now stranded at the borders of Tunisia and Egypt. In the wake of the mass outflows, UNHCR launched a Global Resettlement Solidarity Initiative and mounted an emergency resettlement operation, which is unique in its volume and complexity and poses considerable challenges for all partners concerned.

UNHCR is calling on states to make available resettlement places for these refugees outside their regular quota. UNHCR is asking states to speed up their decision-taking procedures as well as their departure clearances to bring these refugees to safety as quickly as possible.

In 2010, UNHCR presented more than 108,000 refugees for resettlement. Some 73,000 refugees were resettled with UNHCR assistance. According to government statistics, 22 countries reported the admission of over 98,000 resettled refugees last year, with or without UNHCR assistance. The United States accepted the highest number, more than 71,000.

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Advocacy

Advocacy is a key element in UNHCR activities to protect people of concern.

Resettlement

An alternative for those who cannot go home, made possible by UNHCR and governments.

Resettlement from Tunisia's Choucha Camp

Between February and October 2011, more than 1 million people crossed into Tunisia to escape conflict in Libya. Most were migrant workers who made their way home or were repatriated, but the arrivals included refugees and asylum-seekers who could not return home or live freely in Tunisia.

UNHCR has been trying to find solutions for these people, most of whom ended up in the Choucha Transit Camp near Tunisia's border with Libya. Resettlement remains the most viable solution for those registered as refugees at Choucha before a cut-off date of December 1, 2011.

As of late April, 14 countries had accepted 2,349 refugees for resettlement, 1,331 of whom have since left Tunisia. The rest are expected to leave Choucha later this year. Most have gone to Australia, Norway and the United States. But there are a more than 2,600 refugees and almost 140 asylum-seekers still in the camp. UNHCR continues to advocate with resettlement countries to find solutions for them.

Resettlement from Tunisia's Choucha Camp

A Place to Call Home(Part 2): 1996 - 2003

This gallery highlights the history of UNHCR's efforts to help some of the world's most disenfranchised people to find a place called home, whether through repatriation, resettlement or local integration.

After decades of hospitality after World War II, as the global political climate changed and the number of people cared for by UNHCR swelled from around one million in 1951, to more than 27 million people in the mid-1990s, the welcome mat for refugees was largely withdrawn.

Voluntary repatriation has become both the preferred and only practical solution for today's refugees. In fact, the great majority of them choose to return to their former homes, though for those who cannot do so for various reasons, resettlement in countries like the United States and Australia, and local integration within regions where they first sought asylum, remain important options.

This gallery sees Rwandans returning home after the 1994 genocide; returnees to Kosovo receiving reintegration assistance; Guatemalans obtaining land titles in Mexico; and Afghans flocking home in 2003 after decades in exile.

A Place to Call Home(Part 2): 1996 - 2003

Out of Harm's Way in Romania

Peaceful days and a safe environment is probably more than these Palestinian and Sudanese refugees expected when they were stuck in a desert camp in Iraq. Now they are recovering at a special transit centre in the Romanian city of Timisoara while their applications for resettlement in a third country are processed.

Most people forced to flee their homes are escaping from violence or persecution, but some find themselves still in danger after arriving at their destination. UNHCR uses the centre in Romania to bring such people out of harm's way until they can be resettled.

The Emergency Transit Centre (ETC) in Timisoara was opened in 2008. Another one will be formally opened in Humenné, Slovakia, within the coming weeks. The ETC provides shelter and respite for up to six months, during which time the evacuees can prepare for a new life overseas. They can attend language courses and cultural orientation classes.

Out of Harm's Way in Romania

Celebrating 10 years of refugee resettlementPlay video

Celebrating 10 years of refugee resettlement

Iraq: Uprooted and living in a warehousePlay video

Iraq: Uprooted and living in a warehouse

An Iraqi man who turned down resettlement to the U.S. in 2006 tells how it feels now to be a "refugee" in his own country, in limbo, hoping to restart life in another Iraqi city.
Emergency Resettlement – One Family's Journey to a New LifePlay video

Emergency Resettlement – One Family's Journey to a New Life

After their family fled Syria, young brothers Mohamed and Youssef still were not safe. Unable to access medical treatment for serious heart and kidney conditions, they and the rest of their family were accepted for emergency resettlement to Norway.