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Information Note on UNHCR's Resettlement Handbook

Standing Committee, 15 August 1997


1. UNHCR promotes resettlement in order to provide protection by guaranteeing the physical safety of refugees whose life, liberty, safety, health or other fundamental human rights are at risk. In the broad context of UNHCR's principal mandate to provide international protection and seek durable solutions for refugees, resettlement policy also aims to provide a durable solution for refugees unable to return home or to remain in their country of refuge. Resettlement may also be necessary to address exceptional humanitarian needs which cannot be met in the country of asylum. As part of a more comprehensive approach, resettlement contributes to international solidarity and to strengthening the goodwill of first asylum countries.

2. The provision by States of resettlement opportunities represents a generous contribution to refugee protection. Ten countries have established annual resettlement programmes and other countries offer resettlement places on an ad hoc basis. Successive conclusions by the Executive Committee of UNHCR have affirmed the continuing importance of resettlement as an instrument of protection and a durable solution in specific circumstances, and have called upon countries in a position to assist to establish resettlement programmes.

3. To ensure that resettlement operations are efficient and timely, UNHCR is taking a critical look at how it considers and implements resettlement. In January this year, the Senior Management Committee of UNHCR endorsed the following steps for improving the management of resettlement operations:

  • Joint reviews of resettlement needs conducted by the Resettlement Section and Operations;
  • The designation in a situation, where needed, of an officer responsible for resettlement;
  • An intensive training programme for resettlement staff in the field;
  • Streamlining the submissions process, equipped with electronic data processing and other monitoring features; and
  • Maintaining an effective information-exchange process among all partners in resettlement.

4. The introduction of an electronic submissions procedure will enhance the responsibilities of UNHCR field staff and also allow for regular monitoring and automated statistics collection by the Resettlement Section and by focal points in the field. The further decentralization of resettlement work, however, depends upon reinforcing UNHCR's field capacity. This, in turn, depends upon improved management of staff doing resettlement work in the field, as well as more and better training, and a broadened exposure of resettlement through outreach and public information activities. Regular consultations with Governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are proving essential to the exchange of information about resettlement needs and opportunities. Such consultations reflect that resettlement is a collaborative effort of many partners to provide protection and find durable solutions.

5. UNHCR's Resettlement Handbook is central to promoting a better understanding of resettlement. The Handbook is a public document aimed at enhancing consistency in the practice of actors working in resettlement. It is, of course, specifically aimed at UNHCR staff, NGOs, Governments and other UNHCR partners. The Handbook presents an overview of the history of resettlement and places it in the context of protection and durable solutions. It offers a detailed discussion of UNHCR's standards and procedures, explaining, for example, when staff should refer a refugee for resettlement and how to make a resettlement submission. The Resettlement Handbook offers practical guidance on counselling and on several special issues (such as the best interests of children and adolescents) and also includes useful background information on partnerships in resettlement. It should be recalled that while UNHCR has a fundamental responsibility to take action when resettlement is needed, the decision to accept or reject candidates for resettlement rests finally with States. Integral to the Resettlement Handbook, therefore, are the Country Chapters drafted by the Governments concerned. This compilation of documents reflects the diversity of criteria and priorities which must be accommodated in a coherent approach to resettlement.

6. After the Resettlement Handbook was issued last year, a series of seven workshops were organized to discuss its contents and to encourage constructive feedback. More than 100 UNHCR staff and a total of 60 Government and NGO representatives participated in these workshops. The 1997 version of the Resettlement Handbook incorporates many of the issues raised in the workshops. The chapter on UNHCR resettlement criteria was further refined, Country Chapters were standardized in a more comprehensive structure and the overall presentation of the Handbook is intended to be more user-friendly with added graphical elements and a resettlement processes flow-chart.

7. The Resettlement Handbook emphasizes the importance of a comprehensive and active approach to resettlement. This relates, in particular, to the initial phases of identification, assessment and referral of cases of refugees in need of resettlement.

8. UNHCR will be pleased to respond to queries related to the Handbook or to resettlement in general. Considering the dynamic nature of resettlement and UNHCR's desire to support transparency, Governments are encouraged to continue to make use of available mechanisms for providing feedback on updates to the Resettlement Handbook, particularly through the Working Group on 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

Abdu finds his voice in Germany

When bombs started raining down on Aleppo, Syria, in 2012, the Khawan family had to flee. According to Ahmad, the husband of Najwa and father of their two children, the town was in ruins within 24 hours.

The family fled to Lebanon where they shared a small flat with Ahmad's two brothers and sisters and their children. Ahmad found sporadic work which kept them going, but he knew that in Lebanon his six-year-old son, Abdu, who was born deaf, would have little chance for help.

The family was accepted by Germany's Humanitarian Assistance Programme and resettled into the small central German town of Wächtersbach, near Frankfurt am Main. Nestled in a valley between two mountain ranges and a forest, the village has an idyllic feel.

A year on, Abdu has undergone cochlear implant surgery for the second time. He now sports two new hearing aids which, when worn together, allow him to hear 90 per cent. He has also joined a regular nursery class, where he is learning for the first time to speak - German in school and now Arabic at home. Ahmed is likewise studying German in a nearby village, and in two months he will graduate with a language certificate and start looking for work. He says that he is proud at how quickly Abdu is learning and integrating.

Abdu finds his voice in Germany

Through the Clouds to Germany: One Syrian Family's Journey

On Wednesday, Germany launched a humanitarian programme to provide temporary shelter and safety to up to 5,000 of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries. A first group of 107 flew to Hanover in the northern city of Hanover. They will attend cultural orientation courses to prepare them for life over the next two years in Germany, where they will be able to work, study and access basic services. Among the group are Ahmad and his family, including a son who is deaf and needs constant care that was not available in Lebanon. The family fled from Syria in late 2012 after life became too dangerous and too costly in the city of Aleppo, where Ahmad sold car spare parts. Photographer Elena Dorfman followed the family in Beirut as they prepared to depart for the airport and their journey to Germany.

Through the Clouds to Germany: One Syrian Family's Journey

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