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Resettlement news

1 March 1999

March 1999 in the news


The Resettlement Handbook provides guidance on the criteria and procedures for resettlement of refugees with special needs. UNHCR presented a Note to the Standing Committee in June 1998 on the resettlement of refugees with special needs. The Note discusses women at-risk, refugee children and adolescents, refugees with medical needs and survivors of violence and torture, as well as elderly refugees.

There is an undoubtedly large population of refugee women with special protection needs and a substantial number who correspond to the criteria of women at-risk as defined in the UNHCR Resettlement Handbook. An international workshop on women at-risk was convened in Toronto, Canada in April 1998, a joint initiative of UNHCR and Canada. As a consequence, Canada is preparing to initiate a pilot project which would make it possible to process women at-risk on an emergency basis. The plight of Afghan women in particular was discussed during the regional resettlement workshop in New Delhi in October 1998. The and these women at-risk are a focus for a pilot project initiated by Finland. The workshop participants welcomed UNHCR's efforts to engage local associations and NGOs to assist in identifying refugee women who need resettlement. The most significant challenge is how to more regularly, fairly and quickly identify those individual women who need resettlement because of the compelling circumstances of their flight and/or situation in refuge.

A second problem which has impacted negatively on UNHCR referrals of women at-risk has been the extended time and extensive documentation required for processing. Considerations of child custody, divorce and forced marriage of minors can be the source of the need for resettlement, but they also pose legal obstacles which can preclude (speedy) resettlement. The dilemma is: to the extent that the procedures for the referral of women at-risk can be slower and more complex than for the regular "stream" of resettlement referrals, UNHCR field staff are discouraged from flagging cases as women at-risk. This has a potentially negative impact on the availability of special services for these women upon arrival in the resettlement countries.


The focus on clarifying the standards and streamlining the procedures for resettlement is intended to improve the manner in which UNHCR delivers resettlement. A key reference for UNHCR in elaborating resettlement criteria and developing new approaches to policy definition is the Resettlement Handbook.

The Resettlement Handbook was introduced in June 1997 at the Formal Consultation on Resettlement and subsequently to Governments represented at the September meeting of the Standing Committee and to NGOs at the Pre-Executive Committee meetings in October. The Director of the Division of International Protection issued a memorandum to all UNHCR offices introducing the Resettlement Handbook and underlining the importance of a comprehensive and consistent approach to resettlement.

The Handbook was updated in 1998 and is now available in English, French and Spanish. Another update will be issued in 1999. The Handbook is also available for easy reference in electronic format on the resettlement page of the UNHCR website and on the Refworld CD-ROM.


UNHCR is initiating an electronic resettlement submissions system, combined with a database for enhanced statistical reporting and monitoring. In 1998, UNHCR undertook to overhaul its procedures for processing and submitting cases. The Electronic Resettlement Information and Submissions System (ERISS) is being finalised for initial roll-out to six or seven principal field offices in sending and receiving countries.

The key features of ERISS include

  • a standard, detailed electronic form;
  • a record of all internal and external events on a given case;
  • extensive help functionality, including integrated links to the Resettlement Handbook and other references;
  • speedy electronic transfer; real time statistics on all cases in the system; and
  • password-protected access by resettlement focal points in Headquarters and the field to individual files for monitoring and guidance.

UNHCR is also prepared to explore to what extent the information available on the ERISS form can be transferred to the systems or forms of some resettlement countries in order to minimise duplication and increase efficiency.


1998 witnessed a number of UNHCR initiatives aimed at improving its capacity to identify refugees in need of resettlement. Seven training workshops for some 160 UNHCR international and local staff were conducted (in Ashkabad, Beirut, Buenos Aires, Dakar, Douala, Geneva, Moscow and New Delhi), also involving officials of resettlement countries and NGO partners. Over the course of two years of intensive training, including components on resettlement in the global training of protection officers and induction training for Junior Professional Officers, 270 of the staff included on the resettlement human resource inventory benefited from specialised training. In addition, a number of senior resettlement staff engaged in a two-day open discussion of developments which have intervened since the publication of the 1995 UNHCR evaluation of resettlement.

For the coming year, an advanced training curriculum will be designed for key UNHCR staff and partners in the field. The Resettlement Section will also develop a more thematic emphasis on refugee status determination, family reunification and other relevant issues. Special training activities for Government officials and NGOs in new resettlement countries will be extended as appropriate, building upon the experiences of the workshops convened for Argentina and Chile in December 1998 and for Benin and Burkina Faso in February 1999.

Resettlement training is being used as a forum to help staff to identify their functional objectives, to reinforce their competencies and to favour cross-functional linkages within field offices. This has contributed in many UNHCR offices to a general improvement in the definition of management links and accountabilities as far as resettlement is concerned; a process which will be pursued in 1999.


In the context of limited staffing, and with a view to broadening the exposure of partners and UNHCR staff to each other's work, a secondment programme, made possible by contributions to the UNHCR Trust Fund for Resettlement since 1997, was extended through last year. NGO and Government experts have since been seconded to UNHCR resettlement operations in Benin, Chile, Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Germany, Kenya, Lebanon, Syria and Tanzania. The secondment programme will continue into 1999 under an umbrella project agreement with the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC). Governments also support UNHCR's resettlement work by funding Junior Professional Officers in Egypt, Ethiopia, Iraq, Germany, Senegal and Uganda.

UNHCR has initiated a year-long Middle East Resettlement Project to reinforce resettlement staffing in the region. The project will be helpful not only for improving resettlement practices, but also for expediting refugee status determination and impressing upon host countries the continuing commitment of UNHCR and the international community to enhance protection standards for refugees. The Project provides for a combined complement of international UNHCR staff, secondments of experienced resettlement personnel by NGOs and governments, and capacity-building through the temporary hiring of qualified national candidates. The three priorities of the Project are to take action on the resettlement needs as they are identified, to improve the quality of submissions, and to help the relevant UNHCR offices reduce the backlogs in refugee status determination.


On average, during the course of 1997, the Resettlement Section initiated more than one emergency submission per week, and the acceptance rate exceeded 90 percent. Emergency submissions involving refugees of 13 nationalities were made to nine receiving countries.

There was a further increase in the number of emergency cases handled by the Resettlement Section in 1998. Not all countries were as willing to consider emergency submissions, but very fortunately Denmark, Norway, Finland and Sweden were most responsive to the emergency resettlement needs of refugees from CIS, Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Emergency submissions usually require that a decision be taken speedily on the basis of a dossier review. In some countries, this procedure is not possible under current regulations, except in very exceptional cases. The continuing need for emergency places can unfortunately be foreseen. UNHCR would therefore appeal to resettlement countries to once again consider appropriate procedures to permit the fastest possible adjudication of UNHCR resettlement submissions. To facilitate this, the Resettlement Section will continue to work to ensure that all necessary justifications and documentation are provided for emergency resettlement submissions.

The willingness of these countries - especially Denmark, Norway and Sweden - to consider emergency submissions reflects a particular sensitivity to the protection needs of these refugees as well as flexibility in implementing resettlement. A priority in 1998 will be to work with resettlement countries to increase, where possible, capacity to address emergency and urgent resettlement needs, and to improve co-ordination so that the response time for regular submissions is reduced.


The prerogative to accept refugees for resettlement (with or without a UNHCR referral) rests with States. In so doing, States assume the responsibility to support the refugee upon arrival - for a shorter or longer period, depending on a variety of factors including the profile of the individual case, family and community links, and the prevailing social and economic situation in the country of resettlement.

Only a dozen or so States provide resettlement opportunities on a regular basis. These countries, by and large, also provide protection to important numbers of asylum-seekers and are among the most important donors to UNHCR. UNHCR continued to work closely with these countries in 1998 through a series of regular consultations to try to ensure that needs are equitably and effectively met, and to promote resettlement opportunities in other countries as well.

The intergovernmental Working Group on Resettlement, comprised of UNHCR, IOM and the ten principal resettlement countries (Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States) is chaired through June 1999 by Australia. The Working Group met four times in 1998 to address a diverse agenda of subjects. The next meeting of the Working Group will be on 12 May 1999. The agreed objectives of the Working Group are:

  • to raise awareness of resettlement issues in order to build consensus in the Executive Committee in favour of resettlement and to promote the establishment of new resettlement programmes;
  • to address operational issues and problems in order to improve implementation;
  • to regularly share information and assessments of resettlement needs and opportunities; and
  • to focus attention on UNHCR activities, given its key responsibility for case identification and referral.

In meeting these objectives, the Working Group strives for a problem-solving and pragmatic approach. The members all recognize the need to maintain the informal character of the meetings to facilitate discussion.

The third annual tripartite consultations, convened in June to coincide with the Standing Committee meeting on protection (including an item on the resettlement of refugees with special needs), was opened by the Assistant High Commissioner. Tripartite consultations were also convened in Australia and New Zealand, and a regional consultation of UNHCR and Nordic government officials was held in September 1998 in Oslo. The fourth annual tripartite consultations will be convened in Geneva on 15 June 1999.


UNHCR convened three regional resettlement workshops in Addis Ababa (April 1998), New Delhi (October 1998) and Amman (December 1998) with the participation of UNHCR officers and officials of resettlement countries. The fourth in the series is scheduled to take place in Baku, Azerbaijan in early February 1999. The principal objectives of the workshops are: to define UNHCR current priorities for resettlement in the regions, with specific reference to the Resettlement Handbook; to enable UNHCR resettlement activities in the regions through a well-defined plan of activities; and to promote a better understanding of resettlement country priorities and address their specific concerns relating to various refugee populations of concern. Each of the workshops has also addressed the prospects for finding resettlement solutions in the regions concerned.

These workshops provide opportunities for experienced UNHCR staff to share views on resettlement processes and to develop recommendations. They provide a forum for discussions with representatives from various resettlement countries with a view to further enhancing co-operation and the integrity of resettlement programmes. The focus of the workshops is on policy definitions and the front-end processes of identifying and referring refugees for resettlement as well as their selection and adjudication by countries offering resettlement opportunities.

Each of the workshops feeds into UNHCR and Government planning by providing summary conclusions and recommendations, as well as overviews of the refugee populations in need of resettlement. The record thus provides a comprehensive tool for evaluating progress in addressing specific concerns as well as a reference for updating the assessment of resettlement needs.


Further a series of discussions with resettlement countries, UNHCR has suggested that a co-ordinated schedule for interview missions would help the process of identification, submission and selection to be more coherently phased throughout the year. A proposed schedule for selection missions in the Middle East for the first half of 1999 was initially discussed during the regional resettlement workshop in Amman in December 1998.


Subsequent to extensive discussion by the Working Group on Resettlement, in January 1997 UNHCR established the Trust Fund for Enhancing Resettlement Activities. Generous funding has been made available over time since then by the Governments of Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and the United States.

The principal objectives of this pilot project are to:

  • diversify resettlement opportunities in new countries,
  • find solutions for individual and groups of refugees, even on an ad hoc basis; and
  • improve implementation of resettlement activities

The Fund supports a variety of activities, ranging from training, public awareness and background research to selection missions and refugee travel, as well as reception and settlement assistance. Reinforcing operations through secondment arrangements and staff on mission is also provided for.

Increasing resettlement opportunities

UNHCR is making a concerted effort to use existing resettlement places, as needed. Further to Executive Committee conclusions, UNHCR is also encouraging other countries, assisted by athe Resettlement Trust Fund, to broaden the base of resettlement possibilities. This is a way to increase the opportunities for any individual case; and also to build on the preparedness of countries to offer protection for refugees in a very concrete way.

Several countries continue to resettle refugees for reasons of family reunification or, on an individual basis, at the request of UNHCR. The availability of such places on an ad hoc basis is very important. In 1998, almost one thousand refugees were resettled in sixteen countries at the request and with the support of UNHCR. The countries are: Austria, Belgium, Burkina Faso, Bulgaria, France, United Kingdom, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Lebanon, Peru, Romania and Spain.

During the course of 1998, four countries agreed to establish pilot resettlement programmes: Argentina, Benin, Burkina Faso and Chile. By the end of the year, 44 refugees were resettled to Burkina Faso and six refugees were accepted for resettlement in Benin. The Trust Fund was also used to help a small number of refugees resettle in the Republic of South Africa. A mid-term evaluation of the Trust Fund was made in March 1998 by an official nominated by the Nordic Advisory Group on Refugee Matters on behalf of UNHCR. A follow-up evaluation is foreseen in 1999.


UNHCR appreciates that important resources - financial and human - are being dedicated by central and municipal governments to receive resettled refugees. UNHCR in particular acknowledges the role which non-governmental organisations play in policy advocacy and providing resettlement services at all stages of the process in many resettlement countries. It is often through the work of NGOs and their community affiliates that the public first gets to know about refugees and the protection and assistance work of UNHCR.

UNHCR has shared its concerns that some refugees who have special needs or otherwise do not meet ill-defined notions of what is called "integration potential" are rejected for resettlement despite the compelling character of their protection needs. The challenge of settlement has many facets relating to resources, public opinion and broader refugee policy issues. The most common concerns are that prior experiences with groups, or even individual cases, considered to be difficult have stigmatised certain profiles of refugees; and that other trends in migration and asylum also impact on public opinion and on resources.

In the principal resettlement countries, there is a critical mass of public support for resettlement. However, there is a corresponding risk that the criteria used by countries to establish eligibility for resettlement are unduly influenced by negative attitudes toward foreigners, including, often unwittingly, asylum-seekers and refugees. As a result, it can sometimes be difficult for UNHCR to find opportunities for refugees with specific resettlement needs.

Discussions on these issues in the Working Group on Resettlement and other fora, for example at the annual conference of the United States Office for Refugee Resettlement (held in Washington DC in November 1998), reflect that there is ample opportunity for more direct collaboration among governmental and non-governmental entities on the reception of resettled refugees, especially those who will likely face more challenges to settle.

UNHCR advocates a proactive approach to responding to the special needs of women at-risk, minors, trauma survivors and the elderly. A principal feature of resettlement over the last several years is that UNHCR referrals include many nationalities with which the general public in resettlement countries is not familiar. Thus, in every resettlement country, there is a unique challenge for national and municipal government and for NGOs to actively lead, inform and assist communities to make resettlement work.