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Refugee Resettlement Numbers Fall To Lowest In Two Decades: UNHCR

Refugee resettlement numbers will be at a “record low” this year, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Wednesday, with only 15,425 people resettled in the first nine months of 2020, compared to more than 50,000 in 2019.

In 2016, resettlement numbers globally stood at 126,291, according to agency figures. “Current rates point to one of the lowest levels of resettlement witnessed in almost two decades. This is a blow for refugee protection and for the ability to save lives and protect those most at risk”, said UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Gillian Triggs.

Syrians have been resettled in the biggest numbers so far this year (41 per cent) followed by refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (16 per cent).

Of more than 15,000 people resettled between January and September, three in 10 were survivors of violence or torture.

Undeniably vulmerable

Other individuals have come from Iraq, Myanmar and Afghanistan and “most had legal and physical protection needs, were survivors of violence or torture or were women and children at risk”, UNHCR said.

Although the COVID-19 crisis has caused delays in the number of vulnerable people being moved to a third country as some States have put a temporary freeze on resettlement, Ms. Triggs highlighted that the 50,000 quota for the whole year was “disappointingly low” in the first place.

Libyan emergency

Specifically, the pandemic had “put on hold” the life-saving evacuation of refugees from Libya on 12 March, with resettlement only restarting on 15 October.

“Some 280 refugees who were previously evacuated to emergency transit facilities in Niger and Rwanda are currently waiting to depart to resettlement countries, while 354 people are waiting for decisions from resettlement countries”, the agency noted.

More positively, UNHCR noted that refugees affected by the Beirut port explosion in August were prioritised for resettlement by several countries, once lockdown measures were lifted. In total, 1,027 refugees departed from Lebanon to nine resettlement countries between August and September.

Throughout the year, UNHCR staff identified, processed and submitted resettlement files for more than 31,000 refugees from around 50 countries.

With only half of that number successfully resettled so far this year, it has urged countries to take in as many refugees as possible now, so that those in need of international protection do not lose their place in next year’s quota.

Legal pathways

“Expanding safe and legal pathways to protection, including through resettlement, saves refugees’ lives and it can also mitigate their resort to dangerous journeys by land or sea,” Ms. Triggs said.

Resettlement is the transfer of refugees from an asylum country to another State that has agreed to admit them and grant the permanent right to stay.

In a call for more countries to join the Global Compact on Refugees that was affirmed by the UN General Assembly in 2018, UNHCR highlighted the programme’s twin aims of providing better protection for refugees and support for countries that host large refugee populations.

UNHCR is mandated by its Statute and the UN General Assembly to undertake resettlement. There were 20.4 million refugees of concern to UNHCR around the world at the end of 2019 and but fewer than one per cent of refugees are resettled each year.

Of the 1.4 million people requiring resettlement, Africa has the greatest needs (667,432), followed by Europe (420,000), the Middle East and North Africa region (249,705), Asia/Pacific (98,281) and the Americas (4,990).

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