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3.8 Restoring Family Unity

Refugee family reunification in a third country may be achieved through one of the following channels:

(i) National procedures for family reunification

(ii) Sponsorship pathways 

(ii) Resettlement under this submission category, in cases where family reunification is not attainable through another pathway within a reasonable time period.

National procedures for family reunification

States have the primary responsibility for reunifying separated refugee families, in accordance with the principle of family unity, enshrined in international human rights and refugee law. Where dedicated national procedures are effective and accessible, close family members should, in the first instance, pursue family reunification directly with the relevant authorities, noting that, in practice, most national family reunification procedures only consider immediate family members.

All UNHCR colleagues are encouraged to make sure displaced persons have access to accurate and reliable information on their eligibility for family reunification, whenever relevant family relationships become known. Where possible, colleagues should refer individuals to legal partners for assistance and support with applications. Sources of reliable information include, which contains information on eligibility and procedures for family reunification and references to relevant organizations assisting refugees in different countries.

If a case that is potentially eligible for family reunification comes to light in the context of resettlement processing, factors to consider when determining whether to proceed with resettlement or encourage the family to pursue family reunification procedures directly with the concerned third country include:

  • whether all dependent family members wishing to be reunited would be eligible under the relevant national family reunification procedures;
  • whether the estimated family reunification processing time in the relevant State addresses protection needs within the family in a timely and effective manner;
  • whether family reunification procedures are likely to be accessible (considering case-specific protection risks as well as context-specific practical or logistical barriers), and
  • the likelihood of a positive decision, notably considering applicable financial or evidentiary requirements of the relevant State’s family reunification procedures.

Where it is decided that the family should pursue national family reunification procedures, resettlement colleagues may consider establishing a timeframe to check on the individual/ family concerned and assess whether protection needs have evolved and warrant referral back into the resettlement process.

Note that the above listed factors for consideration equally apply to a case in which there is an active application already in process for a sponsorship pathway.

Submission under this category

To be prioritized for resettlement consideration by UNHCR under this submission category, the following conditions must be met:

  • resettlement would reunite the refugee with a member of their family already residing in a resettlement country with whom they are in contact, and
  • the availability and accessibility of family reunification through national procedures or a sponsorship pathway have been reviewed in line with the guidance above and resettlement has been determined to be the most appropriate option.

Eligible persons under this resettlement submission category

Whereas national family reunification procedures are usually reserved for immediate family members, UNHCR promotes a broader interpretation of family under this resettlement category. Caseworkers should be guided by the principle of dependency, and identify the social, emotional and/or other ties that may exist between the refugee(s) and the individual(s) residing in the resettlement country. Such ties may be evidenced in different ways, including regular contact. Note that given UNHCR’s protection-driven approach to resettlement case identification and the expectation that caseworkers establish eligibility under two submission categories, there should, in principle, be other protection needs also being met through resettlement.

For considerations on family and dependency, see 3.1 Overarching principles in resettlement: Age, gender and diversity and family unity.

For guidance on restoring family unity in the case of unaccompanied or separated children, including assessing or determining the best interests of the child, see 3.5 Children and Adolescents at Risk.