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Information on UNHCR Resettlement

The daughter of Laotian refugees, pictured together, works as a community organizer in the US state of Rhode Island

What is refugee resettlement?

UNHCR defines resettlement as the selection and transfer of refugees from a State in which they have sought protection to a third State that has agreed to admit them – as refugees – with permanent residence status. The status provided by the resettlement State ensures protection against refoulement and provides a resettled refugee and his/her family or dependents with access to civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights similar to those enjoyed by nationals. Resettlement also carries with it the opportunity to eventually become a naturalized citizen of the resettlement country. Resettlement countries have established regular refugee resettlement programs, and agree to consider a certain number of submissions by UNHCR each year. Other countries may not have a yearly program, but also resettle refugees on an ad hoc basis and may maintain special resettlement programs benefiting refugees with specific needs. Governments have the essential role of establishing and maintaining effective resettlement programs, including services and support to assist resettled refugees to integrate into their new communities. More information about UNHCR's resettlement submission and departure figures can be found here.

How are refugees identified for resettlement?

UNHCR supports the resettlement of individuals who are determined to be refugees under UNHCR’s mandate for whom resettlement is the most appropriate durable solution, and who fall under UNHCR’s resettlement submission categories: legal and/or physical protection needs, survivors of torture and/or violence, medical needs, women and girls at risk, family reunification, children and adolescents at risk, and lack of foreseeable alternative durable solutions. The identification of refugees potentially in need of resettlement and the subsequent assessment of individual cases is an ongoing, active and systematic process. It requires detailed knowledge and documentation of the refugee population and of their specific needs and vulnerabilities, and collaboration between UNHCR protection, community-based protection services and durable solutions staff and implementing partners to identify and implement appropriate responses.

How are refugees submitted for resettlement?

Following a referral for possible resettlement, UNHCR resettlement staff verifies the registration and refugee status of the case referred and will set up an appointment for a resettlement interview. The resettlement interview will include all family members in the case, and an interpreter if needed. The resettlement interview can take 2-6 hours and includes a wide range of topics and question areas, including: counseling on resettlement process, verifying family composition, reviewing the refugee claim, and assessing resettlement needs. Following the resettlement interview, the UNHCR resettlement staff member will prepare and submit a Resettlement Registration Form (RRF) that includes biographical information on each person on the case, a comprehensive outline of the refugee claim and of the UNHCR determination for each adult on the case, a substantiated explanation of the need for resettlement, detailed information on any specific needs and vulnerabilities, and any additional information including dependency assessments.

UNHCR will also identify a suitable resettlement country. Major considerations include: family links, particularly those in resettlement States; resettlement submission priority, vulnerability, and the resettlement country’s average processing time and capacity for urgent processing; selection criteria and admission priorities of resettlement countries; allocation of annual quotas of resettlement countries; health requirements / availability of treatment; language abilities; cultural aspects; nationality; family configuration; and, if possible the refugee’s expressed preference for a resettlement country.

How do resettlement countries decide on accepting refugees for resettlement?

Resettlement depends on the willingness of the resettlement country to accept a refugee for legal stay in its territory, in accordance with its laws and regulations. Each resettlement country has its own regulations and procedures in respect to the resettlement, and may consider submissions on a dossier basis or conduct individual resettlement interviews. UNHCR will notify States of any case-related changes that come to UNHCR’s attention after the submission.

As soon as a UNHCR office receives a decision on a submission, it must inform all offices concerned with the case and ensure that the refugees are informed of the decision promptly unless this is done directly by a local embassy or an implementing partner. If the case is accepted for resettlement, UNHCR collaborates closely with governments, IOM and NGO staff involved in the pre-departure preparations. Where the decision is a refusal, UNHCR will review the decision and evaluate the case to determine if resubmission to another resettlement State is appropriate.

How do refugees prepare for and travel to their new home?

Each resettlement country sets its requirements for medical screening. This may include mandatory screening before acceptance, testing post-treatment and immediate pre-departure screening. In many countries, IOM is responsible for medical screening, processing and treatment of refugees before resettlement. In countries where IOM is not present, it may identify local physicians to screen refugees on its behalf. The specific protocols for these activities are defined by the individual resettlement country.

All resettlement countries are encouraged to provide refugees they have accepted with an orientation before departure. At a minimum, written material or videos will assist refugees in forming realistic impressions of the challenges they will face after resettlement. Proven to be more effective are multiple-day orientation courses, which provide an in-depth opportunity to introduce a more realistic picture of the country of destination, and the expectations that will be placed on them.

As refugees are not able to use passports issued by their country of origin, some other form of travel documentation is necessary. In rare cases, depending on the itinerary, the mode of travel and the administrative requirements of the countries involved, a letter instead of visa from the authorities of the destination country may suffice. Usually, however, a more formal travel document is needed, and resettlement States are encouraged to issue documents to facilitate travel. UNHCR will also work with States to ensure that the refugee has all of the necessary travel visas, including exit, transit and entry visas.

The organization and financing of the travel is the responsibility of the resettlement country. Travel costs for most resettlement cases are met by the receiving country either in total or under a refugee government loan scheme.