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What is resettlement

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Current global forced displacement remains at unprecedented levels. The UNHCR Global Trends 2020 report shows that displacement now affects more than one per cent of the global population, 82.4 million people. With opportunities for voluntary repatriation and local integration of refugees in the current global landscape increasingly limited, resettlement is becoming an even more important tool for protection and for finding solutions for refugees who are most at risk. The number of refugees in need of resettlement has increased dramatically, with needs for 2022 at 1.47 million.

The origins of refugee resettlement

Refugee resettlement programs have their origins in the aftermath of the Second World War when many thousands of people affected by conflict in Europe were offered refuge in countries across the globe.  However, prior to the 1950s, distinctions were rarely made between refugees and displaced persons and immigrants.Following the Second World War, it became increasingly apparent to the international community that many people lived under the threat of various kinds of persecution and would not be protected if left to the mercy of their own governments. A number of international legal instruments were subsequently developed with a view to securing a concerted and cooperative international response to human rights problems. Significant among these were the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was established in January 1951 with a mandate to provide international protection to refugees and seek durable solutions to their plight.

Refugee definition

A refugee is defined in the 1951 Convention, as someone who has left his or her country and is unable or unwilling to return to it ‘owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion’.

Durable solutions

A durable solution for refugees is one that ends the cycle of displacement by resolving their plight so that they can lead normal lives. Seeking and providing durable solutions to the problems of refugees constitutes an essential element of international protection, and the search for durable solutions has been a central part of UNHCR’s mandate since its inception.

The three durable solutions are:

Functions of resettlement 

Resettlement serves three equally important functions, which have been endorsed by a wide range of States. First, it is a tool to provide international protection and to meet the specific needs of individual refugees whose life, liberty, safety, health and other fundamental rights are at risk in the country where they have sought refuge. Second it is a durable solution for larger numbers or groups of refugees, alongside the other durable solutions of voluntary repatriation and local integration. Third, it can be a tangible expression of international solidarity and a responsibility sharing mechanism, allowing States to help share responsibility for refugee protection, and reduce the impact of hosting large numbers of refugees on countries of asylum.

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