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4.11 Pre-Departure arrangements

Pre-departure formalities

When a refugee is accepted for resettlement, a number of formalities must be undertaken prior to their departure, often including:

  • Collection of biometric data (for cases processed by States on a dossier basis);
  • Issuance of travel documents and visas/ residency permits;
  • Pre-departure counselling and orientation, including the collection of additional information relevant to reception and integration support;
  • Medical examinations and follow-up;
  • Exit visas and travel arrangements, and
  • Escort and transit arrangements.

Each resettlement State establishes its own specific pre-departure requirements and is responsible for covering their cost. Each State also determines which pre-departure orientation services they will offer refugees and whether they will contract a partner organization or deliver these services directly.

The importance of UNHCR oversight

Refugees undergoing pre-departure arrangements remain under UNHCR’s mandate. As such, UNHCR must ensure that ongoing protection risks, including child protection and gender-based violence risks are understood and addressed throughout pre-departure preparations and that available services and support are provided as needed.

UNHCR’s specific responsibilities with respect to pre-departure processing can vary depending on:

  • the presence of other resettlement partners in a given country;
  • the resettlement State’s presence and arrangements with IOM and/or other resettlement partners;
  • UNHCR’s partnership with IOM and/or other resettlement partners.

UNHCR plays an important coordination role between IOM and/or other contracted partners, the authorities in the country of asylum and the resettlement country. To ensure that this oversight function is carried out effectively, resettlement SOPs should appoint a focal point responsible for monitoring pre-departure arrangements conducted by the different partners and stakeholders and reporting on any delays in the departure of emergency and urgent Cases. The Accountable Officer is responsible for following-up with the resettlement States regarding the impact of delayed departures.

Resettlement SOPs should specify the local arrangements and procedures developed with IOM (or other partners) and the related accountabilities.

Expedited Travel

UNHCR offices and partners must take measures to ensure expedited departure arrangements for emergency and urgent cases. In addition, UNHCR may need to monitor the situation of individuals at risk within normal priority cases, and advocate for their timely departure.

Each resettlement country sets its own requirements and procedures for medical assessments and related assistance, often in coordination with IOM. These procedures may be conducted before a decision is taken on the resettlement submission or related visa application, before departure, and/or immediately pre-departure to ensure that individuals are fit to travel. In many countries, IOM is responsible for health assessments, management of significant medical conditions (including tuberculosis), vaccinations, and assessing fitness to travel (FTT) and other pre-departure medical checks. When needed, medical escorts can be provided during movement operations. The specific protocols for these activities are defined by the individual resettlement country.

Pre-departure orientation

Pre-departure orientation (PDO), or cultural orientation, is a key aspect of resettlement programmes, and today most states that resettle refugees offer pre-departure training. This is generally provided after refugees have been selected for resettlement and before their departure.

By enabling refugees to ask questions and clarifying misunderstandings, pre-departure orientation programs can help to reduce anxiety among the refugees. Some countries also use it as an opportunity for resettled refugees to acquire skills to prevent, or deal more constructively with, difficulties in the resettlement country. PDO can also provide an opportunity for the resettlement country to collect additional information and increase their understanding of refugees’ needs, which can be helpful to the preparations of arrival services.

Many PDO trainings are delivered by IOM, on behalf of, and in close consultation with, national governments, while some are conducted directly by officials from the resettlement State. While each PDO is tailored to fit specific resettlement countries and/or refugee groups, common topics include travel procedures, information on legal status, rights, benefits and obligations as well as practical information about everyday life in the resettlement country, including common values, behaviours and social norms.

The duration varies between a few hours up to several days or even weeks (average being 3-5 days). Most countries provide PDO shortly before departure. Some countries also arrange shorter information sessions at the time of the selection interview. For further information, including country examples, see UNHCR’s Integration Handbook.

Travel documents

Where refugees are not able to use their national passports to travel, the issuance of another form of travel document is necessary, such as a Convention Travel Document issued by the country of asylum, or a document provided by the resettlement State to facilitate travel.

In States party to the 1951 Convention and/or its Protocol, UNHCR advocates for the issuance of Machine Readable Convention Travel Document (MRCTD) by the authorities of the country of asylum, in accordance with UNHCR’s Guidance Note: Travel Documents for Refugees and Stateless Persons (2018) and ExCom Conclusion on Machine-readable travel documents (2017).

When no other travel document is available, an ICRC Travel Document may be obtained from the International Committee of the Red Cross.

For guidance on entry and transit visas for specific countries, refer to the relevant resettlement Country Chapter and PMQs. In some countries, individuals may be required to submit a formal application to the competent authorities for an exit visa. In such cases, UNHCR intervention with the authorities of that country may be necessary.

Travel expenses

The planning and financing of the travel is the responsibility of the resettlement State. Travel costs are met by the resettlement country either in total or under a government loan scheme. Other sources of funding include NGOs, loan schemes administered by IOM, and in certain contexts, IOM’s Rapid Response Transportation Fund (RRTF).


In many countries, IOM makes transportation arrangements on behalf of UNHCR or the resettlement country concerned. If there is a local IOM office, the UNHCR Office should arrange travel directly through the IOM office when refugees are ready for travel and final destination and suitable date of reception are confirmed by the resettlement country. Coordination between UNHCR and IOM on transportation varies among different regions and country offices. Travel arrangements should be made only after the necessary exit and entry visas have been obtained.

Where IOM is not present or where agreements with IOM are limited to certain functions, the UNHCR office may have to cover the following tasks:

  • Arrange the movement of refugees from camps or other areas to points of departure. If this necessitates transfer to another country, the offices should liaise to obtain entry permission from the Governments concerned and, if required, with the RCPS so that travel may be arranged for a minimum stopover period.
  • Advise the RCPS when the individuals are in possession of the necessary travel documents and visas and are ready to travel, so that IOM Geneva may book appropriate flights. IOM will then confirm flight details to the UNHCR Office, the receiving country and the RCPS.
  • Confirm a Resettlement Case departure to IOM, the receiving country and the RCPS.
  • If for some reason a person is unable to travel as scheduled, immediately inform IOM, the resettlement country and the relevant regional bureau and RCPS, as applicable. Depending on the circumstances, IOM may then be requested to re-book the travel and keep the resettlement country informed in order to arrange reception.