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3.1 Overarching principles in resettlement: AGD and family unity

Age, gender and diversity

Forced displacement impacts people differently, depending on age, gender and other diversity considerations. As such, country offices apply an age gender and diversity (AGD) approach to know their population of concern and understand the ways in which the protection environment exposes certain individuals or groups to protection risks based on intersecting diversity factors and related forms of discrimination. Depending on the context, relevant factors in this regard may include a person’s legal status (including refugee status), ethnicity, age, sex, socioeconomic profile, religion, marital status, educational background, physical appearance, disability status and sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics. See UNHCR’s Age, Gender and Diversity Policy.

When identifying cases for resettlement consideration, country offices should therefore be guided by a wider protection analysis of the rights, needs, risks and priorities of refugees, as well as the intersecting diversity factors that can exacerbate protection risks in the host country.

Family unity

Family unity is a fundamental principle of international law. Maintaining and facilitating family unity of refugees promotes their physical care, protection and emotional well-being. The principle of family unity is a key consideration throughout resettlement processing, and UNHCR seeks to ensure that family members are considered and resettled together, when this is their common wish.

There is no single, universally agreed legal definition of family. As such, the question of what constitutes a family should be assessed on a case-by-case basis and informed by the principle of dependency and, in the case of children, Best Interests Procedures (BIP). Relevant considerations include biological and social connections, cultural variations as well as social, emotional and economic ties or dependency factors. Resettlement colleagues should adopt an open, culturally sensitive and inclusive interpretation to considerations of family membership. For processing guidance related to case composition, see Considerations on Resettlement Case composition in 4.3 The resettlement Needs Assessment and Initial Review and Confirm Resettlement Case membership and other relatives in 4.4 The Resettlement Interview.


  • Children may be biological, adoptive, foster, as well as children who are under custody, legal or customary, or with whom a strong personal relationship exists. In case of separation or divorce, the child is entitled to maintain personal relations and direct contact with both parents, except when contrary to the child’s best interests. Furthermore, a child shall not be separated from his or her parents against their will, except when necessary and in the best interests of the child (see The Convention on the Rights of the Child).

Spouses/ partners

  • Spouses or partners include legally recognized married spouses, individuals who have entered into a customary, religious or common-law marriage and as couples who have established a stable, long-term partnership, including same-gender couples. Partnership is demonstrated, for example, through cohabitation, the length of the relationship, and/or a commitment to each other by having children or by any other means. A lack of cohabitation, however, does not necessarily exclude the existence of a family, for example, in cases where one continues to support the other after separation. UNHCR also recognizes relationships that could not be officialized by marriage due to inaccessible legal procedures, and advocates with countries of asylum to help refugees obtain legal documentation of marriage when this is required for resettlement. Refer to 3.4 Women and Girls at Risk for guidance on polygamous marriage in the resettlement context. Couples who are engaged to be married may, exceptionally, also form a family.
  • A marriage is unlawful under international law when it is forced, i.e., entered without the free and full consent of one of the spouses, and/or when it involves a child. The unlawfulness of the marriage has no effect on the right to family life and family unity between children from such marriages and their parents. See 3.4 Women and Girls at Risk for further considerations on child marriage in context of resettlement.