• Text size Normal size text | Increase text size by 10% | Increase text size by 20% | Increase text size by 30%

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

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.