A group of refugees from Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Ethiopia, Iraq and Liberia attend a cultural orientation session with the International Organization for Migration before being resettled in the United States.
© UNHCR/R. Nuri

Information on UNHCR Resettlement

1) What is refugee resettlement?

Resettlement under the auspices of UNHCR involves the selection and transfer of refugees from a country in which they have sought protection to a third country that has agreed to admit them as refugees with permanent residence status. The status provided by the resettlement State ensures protection against refoulement [forced return] and provides a resettled refugee and his/her family or dependants with access to civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights similar to those enjoyed by nationals. Resettlement also carries with it the opportunity to eventually become a naturalized citizen of the resettlement country.


2) Which countries have resettlement programs?

A number of countries are considered traditional resettlement countries because of their long- standing resettlement programs, namely: Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the Netherlands, the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden) and the United States of America. Other countries established programs over the last decade, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Iceland, Ireland and the United Kingdom. Since 2007, 13 new countries have indicated their readiness to receive a limited number of resettlement submissions from UNHCR, eleven of which have formally announced the establishment of resettlement programs: Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Japan, Paraguay, Portugal, Spain, Romania and Uruguay.


3) Who qualifies for resettlement?

UNHCR supports the resettlement of individuals who are determined to be refugees under UNHCR's mandate for whom resettlement is the most appropriate durable solution, and who fall under UNHCR’s Resettlement Submission Categories:  Legal and/or Physical Protection Needs, Survivors of Torture and/or Violence, Medical Needs, Women and Girls at Risk, Family Reunification, Children and Adolescents at Risk, and Lack of Foreseeable Alternative Durable Solutions. 


4) How many refugees are resettled under UNHCR’s auspices each year?

The volume and scope of resettlement activity expanded considerably in recent years, reaching more than 75,000 submissions and 70,000 departures in 2012. However, the pace of UNHCR’s resettlement submissions in recent years has far outweighed resettlement countries’ capacity to process cases and resulted, in some situations, in a processing backlog. Submission levels have declined due in part to UNHCR’s decision to align submission levels more closely with resettlement country processing capacities in order to prevent increasing case backlogs for certain refugee populations and the problems of worsening protection situations, frustrated expectations, and lengthy processing times that can result. Reduced submission levels were also due to the time involved in resolving complex case processing issues in regard to certain refugee populations undergoing large-scale resettlement processing.


5) What is the role of resettlement countries?

Resettlement countries have established regular refugee resettlement programs, and agree to consider a certain number of submissions by UNHCR each year. Other countries may not have a yearly program, but also resettle refugees on an ad hoc basis and may maintain special resettlement programs benefiting refugees with specific needs. Governments have the essential role of establishing and maintaining effective resettlement programs, including services and support to assist resettled refugees to integrate into their new communities.


6) How are refugees identified for resettlement?

The identification of refugees potentially in need of resettlement, and the subsequent assessment of individual cases is an ongoing, active and systematic process. It requires detailed knowledge and documentation of the refugee population and of their specific needs and vulnerabilities, and collaboration between UNHCR Protection, Community Services and Durable Solutions staff and implementing partners to identify and implement appropriate responses.


7) How quickly must countries make decisions?

UNHCR recognizes that different priorities should be used to help manage specific resettlement needs. Emergency cases, which typically involve immediate life-threatening situations, are expected to depart for resettlement within a period not exceeding seven days; urgent cases should depart within six weeks; and normal priority cases are to be resettled within 12 months. These benchmarks are used by UNHCR to gauge whether resettlement activities are efficient and responsive to the protection and resettlement needs of refugees.


8) How does UNHCR address concerns about security and fraud?

It is in the interest of all parties involved in resettlement to ensure that fraudulent claims and/or individuals who fall under the ambit of Article 1F of the Refugee Convention are excluded from resettlement programs globally. UNHCR takes such matters seriously and has instituted several measures to protect the integrity of its resettlement program. To this end, it should be noted that international refugee instruments do not provide a safe haven to terrorists or war criminals. The refugee definition, properly applied, leads to exclusion of people responsible for serious criminal, including terrorist acts. All UNHCR staff, irrespective of grade or function, have the responsibility of ensuring that protection activities, including resettlement, are carried out to the highest standards possible, and to prevent fraud and malfeasance in all activities.


9) What happens after refugees are resettled?

Just as with the other durable solutions, integration is essential to the durability of resettlement. The status provided in the country of resettlement should ensure protection against refoulement and provide a resettled refugee and her/his family and dependants with access to civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights similar to those enjoyed by nationals. It should also carry with it the opportunity to eventually become a naturalized citizen of the resettlement country.


10) What role do NGOs have in refugee resettlement?

Non-governmental organization (NGO) partners are involved throughout the resettlement process from identification to integration. UNHCR is pleased to be working together with NGOs to promote resettlement through advocacy efforts, as well as with direct engagement of stakeholders through training and operational capacity building. UNHCR continues to strengthen partnerships with NGOs across the continuum of resettlement activities, including through sub-agreements and the deployment of NGO personnel to UNHCR operations.


11) What about the family members of resettled refugees?

UNHCR promotes the unity of the family and urges all countries to have generous and flexible programs to facilitate family reunification. Indeed, a number of countries have special programs to facilitate family reunification of refugees without requiring the direct involvement of UNHCR. However, UNHCR has a responsibility, as part of its mandate to protect refugees, to promote and facilitate the reunification of refugee families. This means it should assist family members of a person who has been recognized as a refugee to join her or him in the country of asylum or resettlement. This applies whether or not the family members are still in their country of origin.


12) Who funds the refugee resettlement programs?

Refugee resettlement programs are essentially funded by countries. In certain situations, such as new/emerging resettlement countries in Latin America, UNHCR provides financial and technical support by way of contributions from donor countries. However, in most cases, UNHCR would consider it a requirement that countries fund their respective programs. Resettlement countries are therefore expected to cover the costs associated with resettlement, such as: interview/selection missions, medical checks and pre-departure orientation, exit visas from country of asylum, travel from the country of asylum and on-arrival services in the new country of resettlement.