UNHCR-NGO Toolkit for Practical Cooperation on Resettlement. Operational activities - Identification of refugees in need of resettlement: Definitions and FAQs

Resettlement, June 2011

a) What do we mean by identification of refugees in need of resettlement?

It is a global priority for UNHCR to ensure that refugees who are in need of resettlement have fair and transparent access to resettlement processes, irrespective of their location. Properly identifying refugees in need of resettlement is one of the most crucial, yet challenging, aspects of resettlement. Refugees can be difficult to identify in general and more specifically because the most vulnerable amongst them are sometimes the least visible and vocal. Failing to identify refugees in need of resettlement in a correct and timely manner means they would be denied protection and subject to unnecessary insecurity. While resettlement is not a right, the refugees who are most in need should have access to the resettlement process in a timely and proactive manner.

Identification of refugees in need of resettlement should be based on a refugee's objective need for resettlement and not on their subjective desire for it. Nor should identification be based on the desire of any specific actors, such as the host State, resettlement States, other partners, or UNHCR staff themselves.

The responsibility of identifying refugees at risk does not rest with UNHCR alone. The involvement of partners such as NGOs, especially those involved in the provision of medical assistance, social and legal counseling is central in this respect.

b) What is the difference between identification, referral and the submission of refugees for resettlement?

Ensuring that refugees most in need of protection and resettlement have access to those services is a fundamental aspect of UNHCR's mandate responsibility. Given their expertise and knowledge of the refugee population, NGOs are particularly well-suited to make important contributions to the identification of such vulnerable refugees facing protection problems and are in need of resettlement.

It is essential for UNHCR to have effective referral systems in place that involve internal and external partners who bridge gaps in protection and resettlement delivery. Referrals are sourced internally, externally, and directly from the concerned refugee (e.g. self referral). The most effective and responsive resettlement procedures will consider referrals from all three sources and will encourage proactive identification.

While internal referrals occur through UNHCR staff, external referrals are usually made by NGO partners assisting UNHCR with implementation, NGOs who are otherwise involved in refugee work and other external partners such as governmental agencies. External referrals are important means of expanding access to resettlement and increasing capacity for identification. Some NGOs make resettlement submissions directly to resettlement States and/or referrals to UNHCR for its assessment and submission to the resettlement country.

Upon receipt of internal or external referrals of cases potentially in need of resettlement, UNHCR assesses resettlement needs of the referred cases in line with UNHCR resettlement criteria, guidelines, priorities and policy considerations. Once the decision has been made to submit the case for resettlement, UNHCR prepares a resettlement submission. This process includes preparing the Resettlement Registration Form (RRF) and appropriate documentation, depending on the applicable resettlement criterion. Upon reaching a final decision based on a thorough review of documentation, UNHCR submits the case to a resettlement State.

c) What are the key elements / considerations in partnerships on identification, referral and submission of refugees for resettlement?

It is important to document the process well and to develop and implement transparent identification / referral / submission procedures. To ensure accountability and oversight, all arrangements should specify in writing the roles and responsibilities of the NGO and UNHCR.

NGO and UNHCR representatives should meet regularly to discuss activities and concerns and should conduct regular spot-checks (i.e. inspection of casework) to ensure compliance. Such liaison and status reports / updates throughout the resettlement process need to be conducted in accordance with confidentiality considerations.

The identification / referral / submission system should endeavour to respect the concept of universality, which means if cases of a certain profile are identified and subsequently considered for resettlement; steps should be taken to identify all cases of the same profile and to submit those for resettlement to the extent possible. The absence of sufficient capacity to identify all cases of the same profile should not, however, pose a barrier in principle to moving forward with the case already identified.

Safeguards should also need to be introduced into any identification / referral / submission mechanisms to mitigate the risk of fraud, abuse and threats to refugees' and staff safety. Where there is a formal partnership arrangement in place, all parties should comply with UNHCR's Code of Conduct and work in accordance with the ethical standards of the United Nations.

d) Why should UNHCR and NGOs partner on the identification of refugees in need of resettlement?

In the absence of effective State protection, UNHCR is instrumental in providing protection and solutions for refugees in countries of asylum. Resettlement efforts, including partnerships between UNHCR and NGOs, must fit within this protection and solution framework in order to be effective.

NGOs can help expand the reach of resettlement to remote and less-known populations of refugees with whom they have contact and who may not have easy access to UNHCR processes. NGOs often have contact with refugee individuals and groups in the course of their regular activities and are in a position to learn about their needs outside of the resettlement context. So too, NGOs can oftentimes bring their own resources, including specific expertise (e.g. Best Interest Determinations for children and psycho-social assessments), to bear on resettlement identification efforts and related assessments, increasing the overall resettlement capacity.

e) What are the different ways NGOs can engage with UNHCR in the identification and assessment of refugees in need of resettlement?

NGO involvement in case identification for resettlement can range from a low to high level of involvement, depending on the willingness, capacity, and resources of the NGO and also the particular arrangement made between the NGO and its UNHCR counterparts.

NGO involvement in identification might also be characterized as either "incidental" or "integral," the former being when an NGO identifies individuals potentially in need of resettlement in the course of performing its regular activities (not related to resettlement), and the latter being when an NGO identifies individuals in need of resettlement as an integral part of its regular activities. Either method is acceptable and helps to broaden the reach of resettlement.

Incidental identification: NGOs may flag individuals potentially in need of resettlement on a case-by-case basis and bring them to the attention of UNHCR for further assessment and interview. This may take the form of a verbal referral or a simple written referral. Written referrals are preferable as they can be tracked and reported on. "Flagging" vs. "referring" implies that the NGO has reason to believe the refugee has grounds for resettlement consideration by UNHCR, but the NGO does not have the expertise, capacity or mandate to conduct a resettlement-related interview to fully assess the resettlement needs.

Integral identification: NGOs may undertake deliberate identification exercises among refugee populations to determine who may be in need of resettlement. UNHCR may also seek the assistance of NGOs to carry out such identification efforts, through a variety of profiling mechanisms. States may also request the assistance of NGOs to pre-screen refugees for their direct referral resettlement programmes or otherwise bring appropriate cases to the State's attention.

Case assessments related to identification: NGOs with appropriate expertise may carry out other components of the identification process, such as assisting with Best Interest Determinations for unaccompanied and separated minors, or conducting psycho-social evaluations of certain refugees for whom such an evaluation is integral to the resettlement identification process. These evaluations are very important and often are pre-requisites to cases moving forward for resettlement. Without sufficient capacity to carry out these evaluations, many highly vulnerable individuals experience long delays for resettlement consideration. NGOs with appropriate expertise are encouraged to engage more actively with UNHCR in this area.