UNHCR urges more countries to establish refugee resettlement programmes

UNHCR estimates that over the next three to five years more than 805,000 refugees will need resettling in third countries, as there will neither be a possibility for them to return to their homes nor there will there be integration options in countries presently sheltering them.

For many refugees, resettlement in a third country is the only way to find lasting safety and a new and permanent home. While voluntary repatriation remains the preferred solution among most of the world's refugees, persistent conflict or fear of persecution often prevent people from returning to their countries of origin. More than 80 per cent of the world's refugees live in developing countries where many cannot remain safely and have no possibility of integration.

Currently, only a small number of nations take part in UNHCR resettlement programmes, accepting refugees in quotas on an annual basis. As a result the number of resettlement places available has neither kept pace with increased submissions by UNHCR nor with resettlement needs. For 2010, UNHCR's multi-year projections were that 747,000 persons would need resettlement. For 2011, the same projections now pass the 805,000 mark, a record high. Meanwhile, the annual quotas offered by states have remained unchanged at 80,000 slots.

"We need to act. There is a growing gap between resettlement needs and available places. I strongly hope more countries will establish resettlement programmes or increase resettlement opportunities," said António Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. "This is all the more important since new crises continue to displace more people while old conflicts are failing to resolve. Voluntary returns are at their lowest level in two decades."

The widening gap between global resettlement needs and the quotas offered by states will be at the core of annual tripartite consultations between governments, the non-governmental sector, and UNHCR, starting this week. This year's consultations, which are taking place in Geneva from July 6th to 8th, are co-chaired by Sweden and UNHCR. Dan Eliasson, Director-General of the Swedish Migration Board, and High Commissioner Guterres will together open the meeting.

"I am truly disappointed with the states in Europe not taking a higher humanitarian responsibility for resettlement, and I am seriously concerned considering the situation for refugees suffering in camps and cities all over the world" said Dan Eliasson.

With an annual resettlement quota of 1,900 places, Sweden tops the list of 13 European countries (Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Iceland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden and the UK). Last year Belgium, Germany, Italy and Luxembourg also implemented ad hoc resettlement programmes.

In September 2009, UNHCR welcomed the European Commission's proposal for the establishment of a Joint EU Resettlement Programme. UNHCR encourages greater European engagement in refugee resettlement. At present, 90% of the refugees resettled every year are accepted by the United States, Canada and Australia. All European countries together provide roughly six per cent of the world's resettlement opportunities.

In 2009, UNHCR presented over 128,000 refugees for resettlement. Some 84,000 refugees were resettled with UNHCR's assistance. According to government statistics, 19 countries reported the admission of 112,400 resettled refugees during 2009 with or without UNHCR assistance. The United States accepted the highest number (80,000).