UNHCR welcomes adoption of Joint EU Resettlement Programme

Briefing Notes, 30 March 2012

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 30 March 2012, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR welcomes the adoption on 29 March by the European Union (EU) of a joint resettlement programme. We think this is an important step towards a more substantive contribution by the EU and its member states to the global resettlement programme.

We hope the EU's joint programme will help to increase resettlement places in the European Union as a whole and provide solutions for a greater number of refugees who find themselves in desperate situations. Twelve EU member states currently run resettlement programmes, together contributing to less than 8 per cent of the annual resettlement places on offer around the world.

While participation in the joint programme is on a voluntary basis, increased coordination and larger financial benefits arising from the programme are likely to create more resettlement places in Europe. The programme also allows EU countries to prioritize agreed upon refugee populations for resettlement, including people from Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Iraq, Myanmar and Somalia.

The joint programme will provide EU member states with additional funding for the reception and integration of resettled refugees in local communities, in particular those European countries that are considering developing a resettlement programme. Moreover, the joint programme envisages financial support for the resettlement of a greater number of highly vulnerable refugees or refugees from a larger number of priority situations.

Resettlement to third countries is a life-saving solution for vulnerable refugees who find themselves in asylum countries that are not able to offer them protection or a durable solution. Up to 80,000 refugees are resettled every year. Most go to the United States, Canada and Australia, while Europe takes in some 5,000 refugees. The adoption of the Joint EU Programme should alter that imbalance.

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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

Life in the Shadows: People Smuggling at the European Union's Edge

So far this year, nearly 200,000 people have entered the European Union (EU) through irregular routes - many undertaking life-threatening journeys across the Mediterranean. At the fringes of the EU recently, on either side of the border between Hungary and Serbia, several Afghans and Syrians explained to UNHCR why they turned to smugglers to flee war and persecution to try to find safety in Europe. Some were staying in an abandoned brick factory in Serbia, waiting for smugglers to get them into Hungary and on to other points inside the EU. Others had been caught making just such a journey and were temporarily being held in police cells in south-eastern Hungary. The following images were taken by UNHCR's Kitty McKinsey.

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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

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