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Placement in the receiving society

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The focus of this section is on placement practices of different countries when placing resettled refugees in receiving communities. It is concerned both with the selection of specific geographic locations or communities as well as with processes for ensuring that individual refugees are matched with communities that best suit their needs and aspirations. It is important to note that there are wide variations in placement practices. In some countries, resettled refugees are assigned to specific local communities and strategies are undertaken to support the receiving communities. In others, resettled refugees are matched or choose to go to a municipality or province prior to their arrival. There are also innovative models being piloted to match refugees using a placement algorithm that aims to give countries a tool to improve refugee integration. This section has been written with a broad range of contexts in mind.

When establishing a new programme, think about:
  • selecting and supporting national and local authorities and communities to design and implement programmes that enable the long-term integration of refugees.
  • developing brief information on locations where refugees are placed.
  • developing a comprehensive placement system that takes refugees’ specific needs and aspirations into account.
  • developing a placement protocol which is disseminated to relevant officers involved in the refugee resettlement process.
  • ensureing that placement choices are effectively communicated to those involved at all stages of the resettlement process.


Facilitating placement of refugees

The challenge in placement is to ensure that there is an appropriate match between the needs of resettled refugees, and the resources and needs of the receiving community. In the longer term, resettled refugees may choose to move in search of employment, education, housing or social conditions which better meet their aspirations.

Careful planning of placement and the involvement of resettled refugees and receiving communities in placement decisions can help to ensure that refugees start out with the best prospects. Actively engaging with receiving communities prior to the arrival of resettled refugees can positively benefit welcome and social inclusion, for more information see the section on Welcoming and Inclusive societies.

Some refugees may opt to move soon after arrival, and the reasons can often be varied. For example, in the UK, some Syrian refugees resettled under the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS) that were placed in small towns and rural areas expressed that they would have preferred to be placed in other locations, usually close to or in major cities. Reasoning given by the families was firstly because employment and education opportunities were perceived to be greater in cities, secondly to be closer to relatives or friends. For more information, see UNHCR’s publication, Towards Integration. See also the following article, The Secondary Migration of Refugees Resettled in the US.

The first placement site is particularly critical since this is a time when resettled refugees are more likely to need intensive formal and informal assistance. Once a refugee moves, it can be difficult for services to be administered in the new community. For this reason many local municipalities and/or resettlement agencies counsel refugees on the impacts of moving soon after resettlement. Early secondary movements within the country of resettlement can also involve considerable costs for resettled refugees, such as transport and household establishment expenses, at a time when they are likely to be in receipt of a low or fixed income.

High rates of secondary movement in the early period of resettlement may create tensions or be problematic for receiving communities, involving both direct and indirect costs and creating planning dilemmas for communities receiving large numbers who have invested in structures. It can also present difficulties in already densely populated urban areas.  High levels of early secondary movements can also lead to a loss of public and official support for refugee resettlement in the primary site, in other communities and at governmental level. Planning for the arrival of resettled refugees can be resource and time intensive and where refugees move on to another location soon after arrival (which can be for a variety of factors unrelated to the preparations made), this can prove to be demoralizing. This may in turn impact the decision of a local municipalities, for example, to welcome resettled refugees.

Models in Europe

In the EU context, there are various strategies applied by States to place refugees, and States vary in their approach. Some counties apply a computer model to decide how many refugees an allocated municipality will receive. In such obligatory placement models, the number of refugees each municipality receives is calculated using a distribution key that considers factors such as population size, number of asylum seekers, and local employment rates. In other countries, for example Finland, it is voluntary for municipalities to receive resettled refugees, and decisions will often be made at a local political level.  In some countries, it may be that the communities where refugees settle are determined by refugees themselves, usually with the assistance of social support providers or family and friends. In further countries, obligatory and voluntary systems are combined, such as in France for example, where regions are obliged to meet specific targets, and municipalities can decide whether to join or not. A final example is Sweden, where national authorities empower regional authorities and bodies to negotiate the number and profiles of refugees that individual municipalities will receive, ensuring that regional-level refugee quotas – and overall national commitments – are fulfilled.  In all of these systems, similar factors are taken into consideration, including housing, medical care, and schooling. For more information, please see the following video on placement from the European Resettlement Network’s SHARE project.


Placement decisions

Placement and site selection are complex processes which need to take into account a variety of factors including the attributes and aspirations of resettled refugees as well as context of the receiving community. While salient factors differ markedly for both individual resettled refugees and refugee groups, they could include:

  • the presence of friends and relatives. 
  • refugees aspirations and priorities. For example, related to access to education opportunities for older refugee children.
  • prior social conditions. For example, resettled refugees who lived in a rural community in their country-of-origin may feel more comfortable if they are placed in a rural environment. Where there is a large gap between the culture and prior life experience of resettled refugees and the receiving community, the presence of diaspora community support will be particularly important.
  • affordable housing. Access to affordable housing is a key factor in placement decisions, especially as many resettled refugees have large families and thus need more space - which can be prohibitively expensive in some cities.
  • family composition. A recent study in France found that some of the families with small children that were included in the research had a preference to be located in smaller municipalities. This was because they can provide a ‘soft landing’ as local orientation and integration can be less challenging than in larger urban areas. Key services, schools, healthcare, community facilities and places of worship are often located in proximity and the strong social networks in small communities making them more easily accessible.
  • employment skills, educational background and professional goals. For young adults wishing to pursue a university education, placement in remote areas with no accessible universities or higher education institutions will further limit their integration possibilities in relation to both education and employment.
  • age, gender, and diversity considerations. Where possible, there should be recognition of the diverse needs of different groups in placement decisions, e.g. different placement settings might provide different supports for refugee children and youth; for refugees with disabilities; LGBTIQ+ refugees, etc.
  • whether they have specific health or mental healthcare needs, e.g. access to transport and support services will be particularly important for groups such as sole parents and older refugees.
  • their language abilities. For example, Canada and Switzerland are both multilingual societies with communities that speak different languages in different regions.
  • perceptions of safety. For example, while densely populated urban neighbourhoods may be perceived negatively in the receiving society, some resettled refugees may feel safer in them than a quieter rural community.  Factors in the receiving society also influence both site selection and individual placement decisions.
Planning considerations

In some countries the emphasis in site selection and placement practices is on the needs of resettled refugees, while in others the needs of the receiving community are also taken into consideration (e.g. labour demand; regional and rural development objectives). In practice, there may be a need to balance these objectives since the long-term success of refugee resettlement will depend at least in part on the extent to which it positively impacts the receiving communities. Nevertheless, most countries recognise that their involvement in refugee resettlement is motivated primarily by a commitment to humanitarian principles.




Availability of secure and affordable housing

  • package received by resettled refugees.
  • compatibility between housing supply and common family formations (e.g. singles, large families).
  • rental costs relative to the earning potential or social/welfare benefit.

Access to employment opportunities

  • initial employment opportunities.
  • opportunities for advancement in the labour force.

Presence of appropriate sociocultural and religious support

  • established diaspora communities and institutions.
  • refugee and diaspora support organisations.
    places of worship (mosques, temples, churches of specific denomination).

Commitment of community participation

  • existence of local leaders willing to serve as advocates for refugee resettlement.
  • willingness of the local community to provide support through volunteer and other support programs.

Sufficient capacity

  • existence of infrastructure to resettle increasing numbers of refugees to make the site viable in both human and economic terms.

Availability of key resettlement services

  • existence of requisite infrastructure, including adequately funded, readily accessible and linguistically and culturally appropriate services such as language instruction, medical care, employment counselling and training and services for survivors of trauma and torture.
  • local work force capacity (i.e. do local personnel have the requisite expertise or will intensive work force development and/or transfer of personnel to the placement community be required?).



  • existence of adequate infrastructure enabling refugees to travel timely and affordably to relevant services, education and employment sites.
  • Alternatively, existence of the possibility of acquiring a driving license.

Partnership potential

  • existence of NGOs, local service agencies and civic or religious organisations to serve as partners in supporting newly arrived refugees.


Conducive  environment

  • extent to which the community exhibits an openness to strangers and a respect for  diversity.


Involvement in placement decision-making and freedom of movement are particularly important to resettled refugees, many of whom will have experienced restrictions on their civil and political rights in countries-of-origin and first-asylum. In some resettlement countries, refugees are consulted during the process of deciding their placement community, while in others they are assigned to particular locations. Similarly, while some countries allow resettled refugees to move from their initial location without sanctions, in others refugees risk losing their entitlement to integration support in the event that they relocate. The reality is that the range of initial placement sites available to resettled refugees is constrained by factors such as the availability of affordable housing and specialist integration supports. Moreover, it is difficult for resettled refugees to make informed choices about their first placement given that they have little advance knowledge of the receiving society. Nevertheless, involving resettled refugees in placement decisions can help them to re-establish control over their lives, reduce anxiety and prevent placement being perceived as something done to or for them. Importantly, it can also help to prevent secondary movements and its associated costs.

Development of receiving communities

New site development

The selection and development of communities for refugee resettlement are necessary processes in countries with minimal prior experience in culturally diverse migration. A number of established resettlement countries have also endeavored to identify and develop specific communities to increase the range of placement possibilities, and in many cases to meet other social and economic objectives.

Developmental initiatives may also be useful where a potential resettlement community offers some critical integration resources (e.g. employment and diaspora community support) but lacks others (e.g. social support services). In these cases, investing in social support may be worthwhile. In some countries, specific interventions have also enhanced the viability of placement communities. Conscious selection and development of placement communities has some potential to promote integration by matching resettled refugees with communities with particular integration resources such as secure and affordable housing or employment. However, due regard needs to be given to advance preparation and if feasible, engaging with refugees during decision-making on placement decisions.

Where new sites are being developed in areas or countries with less diverse communities, support can be facilitated by offering groups of resettled refugees placement nearby or with sufficient transportation possibilities to visit each other (particularly if friendship bonds have formed among them prior to arrival). Peer support can be especially helpful in the early integration period, see for example the Amal project in Scotland. 

Placement matching processes and protocols

Most countries endeavour to offer resettled refugees placement in communities that best meet their specific needs and attributes.  Matching is a highly individualised matter. While for some refugees, access to tertiary and post-secondary education may be an important factor, for others social connections may have higher priority. Sound destination matching is a reciprocal process. It enables the resettlement country to develop an understanding of the needs and attributes of resettled refugees (e.g. education, life skills, language capabilities, resettlement priorities and existing supports in the resettlement country) and provides resettled refugees with information about potential resettlement communities and their advantages and disadvantages. Destination matching is particularly important for resettled refugees who have additional needs such as intensive medical and rehabilitative support.

Positive Impact on Receiving Communities

Resettlement has a positive impact on the lives of those refugees who are resettled, since they are provided access to protection and a durable solution. As well as providing protection and safety to individual refugees, resettlement can also have a broad positive impact in receiving societies in the country of resettlement. Some countries will factor this into their decision-making when considering geographic locations to place refugees. This recent report, The Impact of Government-Sponsored Refugee Resettlement: A Meta Study of Findings from Six Countries examines findings from a meta-study of the integration outcomes and resulting impacts on receiving societies of government-led refugee resettlement across six country contexts, including Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, Sweden and the United States. The study explores how specific program and contextual characteristics have both enabled and constrained the possibilities for high quality research that can inform improved policy responses and practices.

Utilizing the pre-departure phase

Local authorities, service providers, and other stakeholders in the receiving community also benefit from being informed regarding arriving refugees, which in turn can inform placement decisions. Those responsible for receiving and supporting resettled refugees are more likely to do so appropriately if they understand the expectations and history of the arriving refugees. Information that could be collected to better inform placement can include the refugee community’s culture, social diversity, religious practices, epidemiological and health profile, and history, and indicate the effects their experience of flight and exile might have on their psychosocial and physical well-being. Such information could inform, for example, placement of refugees near a school that provides supplementary support to refugee children who may have had breaks in their education, or where expertise might exist to provide psychosocial support.

Pre-departure interviews to facilitate placement in the United Kingdom (UK)

The UK’s resettlement scheme uses pre-departure video and telephone interviews to identify arriving refugees’ needs. These interviews are usually between municipalities and the refugees held prior to their departure from their country of asylum. Refugees are also invited to raise their concerns and discuss where they might wish to be placed. This has also supported UK resettlement program to match refugees with specific municipalities and plan appropriate integration support after arrival.

Pre-departure data collection to facilitate placement in the United States (US)

Refugees processed for admission to the US provide detailed biographic information that informs placement. This includes information about the languages they speak and read, their prior schooling and employment histories, and their physical and mental health concerns. Refugees may also indicate friends or family members in the US with whom they would like to reunite. Resettlement agencies in the US review this information well in advance of arrival in order to place refugees in the most appropriate location. Refugees are informed of their placement location prior to departure so some refugees may be able to research their new community before arrival.


Choosing diverse locations

In some resettlement countries, resettled refugees have traditionally gravitated toward large urban centres, many of which have established and diverse communities and well developed services to support refugees and migrants. Some of these centres, however, are affected by overcrowding, housing shortages and high unemployment rates. Some governments have sought to encourage more equitable distribution for refugee resettlement by identifying and developing other communities, particularly in regional and rural areas and encouraging or mandating resettled refugees to settle in them.

In contrast, in other countries, greater emphasis is placed on strategies to build the capacity of existing communities to support and welcome newcomers. Indeed, in many countries the presence of family and community support is a criterion for selection for resettlement and therefore influences subsequent placement in areas with established diverse communities. Promoting distribution of refugee resettlement and allowing freedom of placement choice are not necessarily mutually exclusive. For example, in the Canadian Province of Québec, resettled refugees are encouraged, but not compelled, to settle in regional communities outside of the city of Montreal. However, resettled refugees will not have access to funding in order to resettle to a new location and not have access to housing, furniture, etc. if they already received it in the original settlement. They could still be supported in different ways by the resettlement agency - if existing - present in the new location and would also continue to have access to social welfare

Distribution of refugees or obligatory placement models can:

  • prevent overcrowding in urban areas.
  • reduce the costs of resettlement, with housing in particular being more affordable outside of major urban centres.
  • promote refugee economic self-sufficiency, by matching refugees with communities with labour demand.
  • promote a ‘whole-of-country’ approach to refugee resettlement by engaging all communities and supporting a sense of solidarity between municipalities.
  • provide placement communities which are more compatible with the needs of some resettled refugees.
  • fulfil regional economic development and social goals in receiving countries.

It is important to consider the following during new site development in countries where diaspora communities are well established in specific areas:

  • advance site assessment and development. The resources involved in this process will be a significant factor in considering the cost effectiveness of developing new communities.
  • freedom of choice and movement.
  • the critical role of family and community support in the resettlement process. Through families and friends, resettled refugees receive not only day-to-day practical support in their own language, but valuable moral and emotional support from individuals with whom they share a common experience and culture. Established diverse communities offer resettled refugees opportunities to participate in a range of cultural activities, from attending places of worship and participating in celebrations and festivities to shopping in global food outlets.
  • the role of family and community support in contributing to refugee economic self-sufficiency. These communities can offer employment in industries compatible with the skills and experience of resettled refugees; link them with employment opportunities through informal social networks; and offer other resources required to achieve economic self-sufficiency goals (e.g. child-care and transport).
  • that family and community support cannot be readily substituted by other support networks.
Good practice features

Overall, a sound integration programme would:

  • be clearly planned, with clear guidelines for assessment and ongoing monitoring, taking into account relevant criteria.
  • incorporate ways to engage refugees in placement decision-making.
  • be flexible to changing domestic and external factors affecting refugee resettlement.
  • where practical, have a range of placement options flexible to the needs of different groups of refugees.
  • undertake advance assessment and preparation of communities in which resettled refugees are offered placement.

Specific placement protocols would ensure that:

  • resettled refugees are ‘matched’ with appropriate receiving communities.
  • resettled refugees are actively involved in placement decision-making.
  • resettled refugees, like other members of the receiving society, are free to move from their initial placement community while retaining an appropriate level of resettlement support.
  • resettled refugees have information about placement communities prior to their arrival. 
  • placement processes are well coordinated so that the preferences are observed or taken into consideration wherever possible.