Third country resettlement or refugee resettlement is, according to the UNHCR, one of three durable solutions (voluntary repatriation and local integration being the other two) for refugees who fled their home country. Resettled refugees have the right to reside long-term or permanent in the country of resettlement and may also have the right to become citizens of that country.
Resettled refugees may also be referred to as quota or contingent refugees, as countries only take a certain number of refugees each year. In 2016 there were 65.6 million forcibly displaced people worldwide and around 190,000 of them were resettled into a third country.
There are three stages of the resettlement journey: Pre-departure happens from their country of origin, departure is the during the process of resettlement and post-arrival happens in their new country.
Precondition for resettlement is to be registered as a refugee with the UNHCR and to have undergone the Refugee Status Determination (RSD) process based on the 1951 Refugee Convention refugee definition. Among those refugees the UNHCR or other organisations (e.g. RefugePoint or HIAS) make referrals for resettlement if they identify a high level of risk and vulnerability whilst being in the first country of asylum. Refugees cannot apply for resettlement themselves. Selection procedures can vary between UNHCR offices but the below criteria are generally used:
It is also possible for multiple refugees to be submitted for resettlement if they share specific circumstances, such as similar reasons for their flight and no prospects of return. Examples for group resettlement were the Lost Boys of Sudan from Kenya, Liberians from Guinea and Sierra Leone, Burundians from Tanzania and Eritreans from Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia.
Receiving countries tend to use their own criteria for selecting refugees for resettlement. Many governments prioritise women and complete families and deprioritise single males. This happens in order to minimise potential security risks.
Even the UNHCR resettlement officers who submit refugees' dossiers to potential receiving countries may themselves bias the selection. For example, it was revealed that UNHCR staff in Nairobi extorted money from refugees for resettlement places. Apart from that, large families are more likely to be considered for resettlement than singles, because resettlement officers have to work through fewer case files per submitted person when referring large families. Also single men, who are likely to receive a more thorough and time-consuming security screening from resettlement states, are less likely to be submitted.
To be referred for resettlement may involve a tedious game with refugee chairmen, agency personnel or security guards. Chairmen can help making up stories or can ignore real security issues. The refugees themselves may manipulate the selection process. They may not mention that they have recently married in order not to delay their departure or they make themselves younger or older in order to, putatively, increase their chances for resettlement. They may even exaggerate their level of vulnerability as has been noticed in Kakuma: men staged violent attacks on themselves or their dwellings and women pretended rapes; they may be hiding their military or rebel past, or change their ethnicity, in order to belong to a certain persecuted group.
After refugees are referred for resettlement and agree to be resettled they are suggested to suitable countries that run resettlement programmes. Each participating government can select from the referrals and refugees themselves cannot choose their country of resettlement. Even though receiving countries should not select refugees according to their own criteria, it may be that societal and political desires influence which groups of refugees are received. Countries make their decisions based on either just a dossier or following an interview with the refugee. After the selection process is completed there are additional government interviews and security checks. The interview process may be hard for children and young adults. According to the Lost Boys of Sudan study, 74% of the 304 surveyed Sudanese refugees in the local refugee foster care programs affiliated with the US Unaccompanied Refugee Minors Program reported that they found immigration interviews and processing emotionally difficult.
When the security checks are passed, health assessments and a cultural orientation training follow. The latter should emphasise on the potential challenges for refugees in the receiving country. The cultural orientation trainings do not always happen and they differ in duration and depth. The Gateway Resettlement Programme for example, used to provide two weeks of cultural orientation when it was launched in 2004; however this has shrunk to three hours in 2016. In addition to helping refugees begin to prepare for life in a new country, cultural orientation can also contribute to the uncertainty and stress associated with resettlement.
Refugees are assisted to travel into the receiving country, usually by airplane. From being selected for resettlement to actually arriving in the US, it usually takes between 18–24 months. Refugees who are resettled in the US have to pay back a loan for their flight tickets which is provided by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
In certain circumstances, where refugees have to be evacuated immediately from life-threatening situations in the first country of asylum, they can be brought to Emergency Transit Centres (ETC). These provide a temporary safe haven before receiving countries are ready to take them. The Timișoara Emergency Transit Centre in Romania, that opened in 2008, was Europe's first evacuation centre. The Humenné Emergency Transit Centre in Slovakia was opened in 2009. However, these ETCs together can only accommodate up to 300 people.
IOM staff escorts the refugees to the receiving country and can provide a medical escort, if needed. As most refugees have no experience of air travel, the escort assists them with the preparation for the travel and with the journey itself, guiding and monitoring them throughout the journey and until they are handed over to the post-arrival service of the receiving country.
Refugees are met at the airport and get immediate integration and orientation support in most countries. Upon arrival in the country refugees have the right to reside in the country and do not need to apply for asylum. Refugees who are resettled to the US have to pay rent after six months. Once a refugee is resettled in a third country the main focus is to help them become self-sufficient.
Since 1995 Annual Tripartite Consultations on Resettlement (ATCR) are held. The UNHCR, involved or interested governments as well as NGOs come together to discuss global and national resettlement strategies, cooperations and make agreements on resettlement. In 2012 there were 26 third countries which run specific and ongoing resettlement programmes in co-operation with the UNHCR. The largest programmes are run by the United States, Canada and Australia. A number of European countries run smaller schemes and in 2004 the United Kingdom established its own scheme, known as the Gateway Protection Programme with an initial annual quota of 750. The smallest is run by Japan which offers 30 resettlement places per year.
In September 2009, the European Commission unveiled plans for new Joint EU Resettlement Programme. The scheme would involve EU member states deciding together each year which refugees should be given priority. Member states would receive €4,000 from the European Refugee Fund per refugee resettled.
The United States helped resettle roughly 2 million refugees between 1945 and 1979, when their refugee resettlement program was restructured. Refugees destined for the United States are screened by six different federal agencies. The average time it takes from the referral to the arrival of a refugee is 18 to 24 months. The United States has an Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) that aids the refugees in resettlement through programs that provide them with critical resources that help them become integrated members of the American society.
In a recent exploratory study of approaches used in ORR Programs, they identified a number of key factors that contributes to successful employment: 1) pre- and post-employment services, 2) individualised goal-oriented approaches with each refugee, 3) culturally diverse staff, 4) refugees that are survivors with high levels of motivation, 5) clear message about the ORR's mission statement in all programs, and 6) proper coordination among refugee providers and between refugee and mainstream services at the system level. The ORR has also identified a number of areas of improvement in these programs such as need for understanding of employment structure of the community by refugee service agencies, more focus on the difficult to employ, increased creativity in identifying job opportunities and overcoming barriers, creating more appropriate levels of subsidy and training for each position, more understanding of cultural issues that influence program design, etc.
The number of refugees resettled to the United States is statutorily limited by an annual ceiling that the President determines each fiscal year(FY). Since 1980, around 50,000 refugees resettled each fiscal year. This year (FY 2019) the number dropped from 45,000 to 30,000, the lowest it has been in history after the brief period after 9/11. In September 2019, the Trump administration announced its intention to further reduce the refugee quota to 18,000 for the incoming fiscal year (FY 2020).
As a result of the 1980 Refugee Act, the US State Department and federal refugee resettlement program formally acknowledges and coordinates with 11 "Voluntary Agencies" (VOLAGS), which are non-governmental organizations that assist the government in the resettlement process  . These organizations assist the refugees with the day-to-day needs of the large transition into a completely new culture. The US State Department and Office of Refugee Resettlement offers grants for the purpose of providing for refugees' day-to-day needs, and many VOLAGS additionally draw from their own resources and volunteers. Most of them have local offices, and caseworkers that provide individualized aid to each refugee's situation. They do rely on the sponsorship of individuals or groups, such as faith-based congregations or local organizations. The largest of the VOLAGS is the Migration and Refugee Services of the U.S. Catholic Conference. Others include Church World Service, Episcopal Migration Ministries, the Ethiopian Community Development Council, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the International Rescue Committee, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, and World Relief.
There are a number of advantages to the strategy of using agencies other than the government to directly assist in resettlement. First of all, it has been estimated that for a federal or state bureaucracy to resettle refugees instead of the VOLAGS would double the overall cost. These agencies are often able to procure large quantities of donations and, more importantly, volunteers. According to one study, when the fact that resettlement workers often have to work nights, weekends, and overtime in order to meet the demands of the large cultural transition of new refugees is taken into account, the use of volunteers reduces the overall cost down to roughly a quarter. VOLAGS are also more flexible and responsive than the government since they are smaller and rely on their own funds.
Around 1,100 refugees, mainly Colombians, were resettled within South America between 2005 and 2014 through the "Solidarity Resettlement Programme". However, as many refugees expected to be resettled to the US or Europe 22% of them left again, possibly returning to the country of first asylum or the country of origin.
In 2011 the combined quota of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay together was 230 resettlement places.
The refugee resettlement gap refers to the number of refugees judged eligible for third country resettlement compared to the number of refugees who have been resettled in that year. The difference between these two figures occurs due to fluctuations in refugee needs and due to UN member state policies towards resettlement within their borders. In 2017, the UNHCR judged the number of refugees in need of resettlement to be 1.19 million. That same year, 75,200 refugees were submitted for resettlement, across all UN member states. In 2018, at the 24th Annual Tripartite Consultations on Resettlement, the UNHCR stated its intention to expand resettlement pathways and strengthen state partnerships.
|Region of asylum||Number of refugees with resettlement need||UNHCR submissions for resettlement||UNHCR assisted departures|
|Asia and Pacific||56,136||38,404||37,975|
|Middle East and North Africa||35,462||22,493||7,833|