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2.4 Communication with communities about resettlement

Communication and transparency in resettlement

Proactive communication about the use of resettlement in an operation, including to whom it may be available and why, promotes the circulation of accurate information among displaced communities and other stakeholders. It also supports a risk management approach by helping to manage expectations and mitigate fraud and corruption in resettlement. See 2.8 Preventing security incidents through communication with communities

UNHCR’s Policy on Age, Gender and Diversity contains organizational commitments about how we communicate with displaced persons. These commitments are applicable to resettlement activities and must be duly considered in resettlement communication plans:

UNHCR’s core action in communication and transparency (#3) is:
At a minimum, all country-level protection and solutions strategies will detail the operation’s approach to communicating with women, men, girls, and boys of diverse backgrounds, through means that are appropriate and accessible to all groups in a community.

UNHCR’s core action in feedback and response (#4) is:
At a minimum, all UNHCR country offices will establish and promote feedback and response systems, including for confidential complaints.

Developing a communication plan

1. Identify information needs

Refugees need access to timely, relevant and consistent information about resettlement. Information products and communication with communities should be developed and based on the key resettlement information set out below, while also including and responding to specific information needs of diverse groups, identified through existing community-based consultation processes in the operation.  

Key information on resettlement

  • Resettlement is one of the three possible durable solutions (in addition to voluntary repatriation and local integration).
  • Resettlement means the voluntary transfer of a refugee from the country where they currently reside to another country that has agreed to admit them, based on UNHCR identification, referral and agreement by the resettlement country.
  • All UNHCR services, information and documents, including those for resettlement, are free of charge. Genuine resettlement processes do not involve any payment.
  • While UNHCR continues to advocate for increased resettlement of refugees globally, the majority of refugees cannot be considered due to the lack of sufficient places allocated by resettlement countries.
  • Resettlement is conducted according to the prioritization of cases identified by UNHCR based on individual protection needs and the subsequent selection by resettlement countries based on their own national criteria and policies.
  • The refugee’s family and community links are taken into account where possible, but refugees cannot choose or decide to which country they will be referred for resettlement.
  • The final decision to accept a refugee for resettlement rests with the resettlement country, not UNHCR.
  • Refugees do not have a right to resettlement. State resettlement programs are voluntary and humanitarian in nature and there is no international obligation on behalf of states to resettle refugees.
  • After being resettled, it will be difficult to return to the previous country of asylum or to move to a different country for several years. Returning to one’s country of origin is likely to result in cancellation of residency in the resettlement country.
  • Refugees accepted for resettlement will be expected to attend language classes to learn the official language spoken in the resettlement country, and become self-reliant over time through employment, social participation and integration, with appropriate support from government authorities and service providers. School aged children will normally be expected to attend school.

Key information on complementary pathways

  • Complementary pathways describe other pathways to a third country, such as employment offers or education opportunities/scholarships, sponsorship pathways or humanitarian corridors and visa programmes. Through these pathways, refugees can move to other countries through safe and legal routes and obtain lawful stay in these countries, often leading to a more permanent solution. UNHCR cannot initiate these programmes but will facilitate access to them wherever possible.
  • The process for identification of complementary pathways is separate and distinct from case identification for resettlement. Eligibility for complementary pathways is determined for example on the basis of skills, education or family connection, whereas candidates for resettlement are identified on the basis of assessed protection risks.
  • For education or labour opportunities, individual refugees will need to meet the requirements to qualify for university or work for an employer, as well as fulfil related visa requirements of the destination state. Identification of individuals for these programmes lies with universities and employers directly. UNHCR may support with certain issues related to departure.
  • UNHCR sources of information on complementary pathways: Homepage | UNHCR Opportunities for scholarship opportunities and for country-specific family reunification procedures.

Key information on fraud in resettlement

  • Resettlement and related processes are free.
  • Anyone can send a confidential complaint specifically about people working for UNHCR and/or one of its partners to the IGO directly ([email protected]).
  • Be aware that imposters may claim that they can organize resettlement in exchange for money or services. This will not work. It is important to report possible imposters to UNHCR.
  • Disinformation, fraud or other suspicious activity should be reported via a confidential feedback mechanism, for which the address (email, postal and/or other communication channel) must be widely communicated in the office of UNHCR and partners, as appropriate.
  • Fraud means any act or omission that intentionally misleads someone in order to obtain a benefit for oneself or somebody else.
  • Intentionally misrepresenting identity, family composition, providing false information, or concealing information about any association with political organizations or armed groups, including State military service, or other potentially contentious groups, is fraud.
  • If fraud is discovered after a refugee has already been resettled, it can have serious consequences including the cancellation of their residence permit by the resettlement country, denial of applications for family reunification and possible expulsion.
  • Refugees have a duty to provide truthful and complete information to UNHCR and to request correction of any wrong information. If individuals do not know exact and complete details of, for example, date of birth, place of origin, time of events, etc. they should say “I don’t know” instead of giving approximate answers.

See 2.6 Fraud and misconduct.

The following FAQ resources on the UNHCR website are publicly available:

Resettlement – UNHCR Frequently asked questions
Reporting fraud, misconduct or sexual abuse – UNHCR Frequently asked questions
Seeking help with UNHCR – UNHCR Frequently asked questions
Family reunification – UNHCR Frequently asked questions

2. Use communication methods preferred by the targeted communities

A plurality of channels should be used to communicate and reinforce resettlement information, as appropriate. UNHCR offices should:

  • use existing communication channels and methods within the refugee community to communicate on resettlement, notably by engaging community leaders, structures and organizations, and
  • identify complementary communication channels preferred by different groups to ensure people of all ages and backgrounds are reached, including marginalized or excluded groups and individuals.

Depending on the operational context, communication channels may include:

public meetings to provide general information about resettlement;
– focused group discussions tailored to specific groups, e.g., women and girls, refugees with disabilities, ethnic or national minorities, LGBTIQ+ refugees and other diverse or marginalized groups;
– community volunteers who liaise between UNHCR and their own community, facilitating two-way exchanges of information;
– individual counselling on resettlement, including through remote means, e.g., by telephone;
– pamphlets, posters, bulletins and other written materials with standardized information posted in community centres and other locations frequented by displaced persons;
– information notices on processing of personal data;
transmission of video, audio or radio sensitization in waiting areas;
NGO platforms and projects engaged in communication and information-sharing, and
– digital systems enabling individuals to securely check on their own case and to receive general information.

Engaging and informing other functional units within UNHCR as well as partners and relevant host government authorities ensures all stakeholders in contact with refugees understand key information on resettlement clearly. Nevertheless, to ensure consistency, it is good practice to limit the number of UNHCR colleagues authorized to discuss resettlement with refugees.

UNHCR should meet protection partners on a regular basis to ensure an informed and coherent partnership and to communicate on individual cases and provide case updates, in line with data protection and privacy principles

3. Use accessible formats and plain language

To increase accessibility, communication methods should:

  • use plain language;
  • take account of the different languages spoken in the target communities;
  • use a mix of different formats (e.g., text, image, video) and
  • benefit from input, including translation support, by members of the refugee community to ensure community understanding, trust and awareness about resettlement.

Simple, unambiguous messages help reduce the spread of rumours and misinformation, which are major risks in resettlement. Information and messages should be tested with a section of the community first to ensure they are easily understood by different groups. Further guidance on engaging communities can be found in UNHCR’s Operational Guidance on Accountability to Affected People (AAP).

Using social media

Using social media to communicate information in a digitized environment can have a positive impact in certain humanitarian situations. It can greatly increase information coverage, awareness, participation, engagement, transparency, outreach and advocacy. In the resettlement context, it can, for example, be an effective means of reaching a large audience on frequently asked questions and publicly correcting misinformation and rumours about resettlement, including online misinformation such as imposter accounts using UNHCR’s logo. UNHCR’s Guidance on Using Social Media in Community-Based Protection is a comprehensive resource to guide decisions about setting up or improving this communication channel.

Feedback and response

Feedback from displaced or stateless persons may be formal or informal communication – it can be positive or negative and may or may not require action or response.

All UNHCR offices are required, under the Policy on Age, Gender and Diversity, to establish and promote feedback and response systems, including for confidential complaints. Safe, structured and accessible feedback systems in each office enable the systematic collection, storing, documenting, and analysis of feedback and response. Appropriate referral pathways should be built into the feedback system so that a specific functional unit or manager in the office is informed when their action or response is required.

Information about confidential feedback channels should be clearly posted inside and outside of the UNHCR office and other areas of high frequentation by displaced persons. Feedback mechanisms may be agency-run (suggestion box, hotline and email), community-based (using community structures) or interagency (operated by one agency on behalf of multiple agencies).

Effective feedback and response mechanisms are vital for detecting and receiving complaints about SEA, corruption and fraud in resettlement. Refer to AAP materials in UNHCR’s Operational Guidance Toolkit, including in particular UNHCR’s Compact Guidance for Senior Managers. See also 2.6 Fraud and misconduct.

Feedback mechanisms also support a risk management approach and are an important component of a robust resettlement communication plan. Actively soliciting and receiving feedback about the clarity and quality of resettlement information circulating among the refugee population allows UNHCR to check and monitor whether critical information is being understood as intended and to adapt its communication approach to respond to ongoing information needs and gaps. In particular, it enables UNHCR to swiftly respond to harmful rumours and misinformation about resettlement as well as suspected fraud and corruption related to resettlement.

UNHCR colleagues across all functional units should be attentive to feedback and work together to respond to and counter misleading information about resettlement in the community. Distorted information, whether intentionally circulated or the result of a misunderstanding, can create false hope, unrealizable expectations, mistrust and uncertainty – and poses a major fraud risk for actors ready to exploit the information vacuum.

The importance of individual counselling

Individual counselling is an essential part of communicating with communities and its place cannot be overstated. UNHCR must make itself available for individual counselling about resettlement, whether conducted in person or remotely, for example, by telephone.

Individual counselling enables UNHCR to fill information gaps about resettlement and tailor general information to an individual’s personal situation. Resettlement counselling should aim to improve understanding among individual refugees about resettlement eligibility and case processing. This in turn helps manage expectations and reduce the number of refugees approaching the office for repeated counselling. Common questions asked during counselling should feed into the development of tailored, country-specific FAQs. They may also indicate or reveal false rumours or resettlement exploitation schemes in the community.

In order to provide informative, relevant and individualized counselling, a detailed counselling history should be available and recorded in the Counselling entity in proGres. Lack of information on previous counselling can create a fraud risk, since information provided by UNHCR that is perceived as vague or lacking in relevance may lead individuals to turn more easily to other actors that present themselves as having concrete answers or solutions.  

Significant efficiency gains can be achieved by establishing digital systems that enable refugees to access and update their personal data, check on their resettlement status and receive information through an online self-service platform or kiosk. Making this information accessible online enables UNHCR colleagues to better prioritize counselling for individuals with urgent needs or more complex cases that do require individual counselling. Establishment of digital systems for the purposes of counselling must be in line with the data protection and privacy principles set out by the General Policy on Personal Data Protection and Privacy. See also the Guidance on Electronic Storage and Transfer of POC data outside PRIMES.

Communication with individuals remotely

When communicating remotely in the course of resettlement processing, from notification of interview appointment to telephone interviews to exchanging files or receiving copies of personal documents, particular cautions must be applied. Consider the following principles:

  • The platform or technology should be secure, accessible, affordable and familiar to refugees. Some applications are more or less commonly used in different regions, or by different population groups and communities. Some individuals will only be confident communicating by phone and standard text messages (SMS), others may have never or rarely used email. Some individuals will incur additional, potentially prohibitive costs for using cellular data. DIST can provide advice on the most secure option(s) to use in each local context, with due regard to practical considerations and feasibility as well as cybersecurity.
  • Usage of SMS or other unprotected messenger services is discouraged for sharing of sensitive personal information – in that case, rather a link to a web service providing this information should be shared, access to which is securely protected through multi-factor authentication (e.g., through usage of one-time passwords). The Personal Data Controller in the regional bureau and Chief Data Protection Officer may be consulted in relation to compliance with data protection and privacy principles.
  • For remote interviews and counselling, caution must be applied to reliable authentication of both parties involved in the communication. For example, asking “secret” questions, i.e., the answers to which only the individual concerned would know can contribute to ensuring interlocutors are who they claim to be. Interviews and counselling should be held in a confidential and safe environment (e.g., partner office).
  • UNHCR colleagues should be mindful and informed of the risks associated with using their personal accounts when communicating by telephone or digital means, and generally use instead an account which is associated with a UNHCR phone number or other professional user credentials.