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UNHCR-OECD study: 2 million displaced people granted entry permits over a decade to rebuild lives

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UNHCR-OECD study: 2 million displaced people granted entry permits over a decade to rebuild lives

3 July 2023
France. A mother and daughter reunited in France

Solange (left), a Cameroonian refugee living in France, is reunited with her daughter Fabienne (right) in Paris-Charles-de-Gaulle airport in 2021 after three years of separation.

GENEVA – A new report released today shows that more than 2 million people displaced by conflict and crises received entry permits granted by 37 OECD countries and Brazil between 2010 and 2021.

These permits have offered a vital lifeline for refugees, allowing them to reunite with their families, pursue education and work opportunities and be nominated for sponsorship support.

The latest edition of the joint study by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), “Safe Pathways for Refugees,” highlights the progress made in granting entry permits to refugees from seven selected countries; Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Syria and Venezuela.

The COVID-19 pandemic and its associated travel restrictions and border closures inevitably led to a decline in visa issuance in 2020. However, the report shows that the overall number rebounded in 2021, with 160,000 permits granted, surpassing the number in 2011, a decade earlier, by more than 50 per cent.

“We applaud the commendable efforts by governments and partners to create additional pathways for refugees, going beyond traditional resettlement solutions,” said Gillian Triggs, UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection. “These pathways have opened opportunities for refugees to make positive contributions to their new communities. It is through these empowering approaches that we can truly build resilient and inclusive societies.”

Family reunification entry permits accounted for a significant portion – over 1.2 million, or 64 per cent – of all the permits issued. This highlights the importance placed on keeping families together and ensuring their safety and well-being. Private sponsorship programmes have also played a crucial role, with thousands of individuals benefitting.

In 2021, Germany and Canada emerged as frontrunners, granting visas for work, study or family purposes to refugees from the seven countries analysed. The United Kingdom, Sweden, and the United States also played significant roles, rounding out the top five countries in terms of entry permit issuance. Overall, Europe accounted for 54 per cent of all entry permits issued, while the Americas followed closely behind with 38 per cent.

The progress achieved, however, has not been without challenges. The report also highlights existing barriers that prevent refugees from accessing these entry permits, including a lack of travel documents, high administrative costs, inflexible documentation requirements, and insufficient information and assistance. UNHCR calls for these hurdles to be removed to allow equity of access. 

“As we continue to witness an increase in global displacement, it is imperative that we work together to expand safe pathways to support refugees. Increasing access to third-country opportunities better protects those forcibly displaced and alleviates the strain on current host countries.” Triggs said.

In anticipation of the 2023 Global Refugee Forum in December, UNHCR urges governments and relevant stakeholders to reaffirm their dedication to expanding secure pathways for refugees. Through the ongoing development of multi-stakeholder pledges on skills-based complementary pathways, family reunification and travel documents, concrete steps can be taken to increase the number of opportunities for refugees in third countries.

“Together, we can provide tangible support and open new avenues of protection for those seeking safety,” Triggs added.

Note to the editor

This is the third edition of “Safe Pathways for Refugees”. The publication results from a joint project between UNHCR and OECD to address information gaps and build a foundation of evidence on complementary pathways. The project began in 2018 and examines statistical information from 2010 until 2021. The bi-annual report compiles data from 37 OECD countries and Brazil. It specifically focuses on the pathways of family reunification, education and labour mobility of seven nationalities (Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, and Venezuela); ongoing work aims to expand analysis to sponsorship and humanitarian admissions. Given the ever-changing nature of asylum needs and refugee recognition trends, these nationalities have been selected on the basis of several indicators and factors, such as the fact that these seven groups together account for more than half of the world’s refugees recognized under the UNHCR mandate in each of the years covered by this data collection (2010-2021), and they also show high refugee recognition rates in OECD countries and Brazil, ranging from 43 per cent to 90 per cent in 2021.

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