EU Resettlement Network

Introduction to resettlement in Europe

There are now 14 EU Member States, (namely,  Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden and the UK), implementing annual resettlement programmes.   Most use annual quotas. Countries outside of the EU, in Europe, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland also implement annual resettlement programmes, with Switzerland having re-established a resettlement programme on a three year pilot basis for 2013-2015.

A Picture of Growing European Solidarity

Many European countries established formal resettlement programmes in partnership with UNHCR from the 1970s onwards:

European resettlement has expanded considerably since the turn of the century, with ten additional Member States having established programmes in that time, though many with relatively small numbers:

Several European countries – Austria, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain – have Protected Entry Procedures (PEPs) in place. PEPs enable non-nationals to approach a country outside of its territory with a claim for asylum or other forms of international protection, and to be granted an entry permit in cases of a positive response to the claim. In addition, several European countries, namely Austria, France, Germany, Italy and the UK, have received beneficiaries of international protection through Humanitarian Evacuation Programmes (HEPs).

More recently, 16 European countries – (Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and the UK) - have become involved in another type of relevant solidarity mechanism known as ‘intra-EU relocation’ (hereinafter referred to as ‘relocation’). Some EU countries have never been involved in any of these activities.


The total number of individuals that European countries have committed to resettle with UNHCR’s assistance under their annual resettlement programmes in 2014 is approximately 7,525 persons. In 2013, Europe received 6,468 refugees with UNHCR’s assistance. In the same year, the United States resettled 47,875 refugees, Australia 11,117 refugees and Canada 5,140 refugees.

Despite the fact that an increasing number of Member States have participated in resettlement in recent years, Europe’s contribution to global resettlement has remained approximately the same - 7.9 per cent of the total number of refugees resettled in 2007 and 9 per cent in 2013. So while Europe has created more resettlement places, the rate of their creation has not kept pace with that of other resettlement countries around the world.

Globally, the number of people currently in situations of forced displacement has reached 51.2 million , the highest figure recorded by UNHCR in the post-World War II era. Of these, 16.7 million are refugees, of whom UNHCR estimates almost 960,000 are in need of resettlement.

The global total of 80,000 resettlement places provided by resettlement countries around the world thus provides for just 8 per cent of global resettlement needs. A vastly improved European resettlement commitment is therefore more necessary than ever.

In March 2013, in view of the acute and growing protection needs for refugees from Syria, Germany announced that it would implement a pilot Humanitarian Admission Programme (HAP) to admit 5,000 Syrian refugees, primarily from Lebanon, to Germany. Germany subsequently increased this pledge to receive 20,000 Syrians in total under its HAP by the end of 2014, while 15 of its federal states initiated their own individual sponsorship programmes for Syrian nationals with relatives in Germany. To date, approximately 7,500 visas have been issued under this programme. Beneficiaries of both programmes receive a residence permit with an initial validity of two years, with the possibility of renewal if the conflict in Syria persists.

However, as the conflict in Syria deepens and the violence worsens, UNHCR expects that growing numbers of civilians will continue to need and to seek safety and assistance across international borders. Likewise, as the number of displaced people grows, so does the strain on the capacities of communities hosting refugees in the region. UNHCR has encouraged the international community to show solidarity with countries hosting Syrian refugees in the region by offering opportunities for resettlement or other forms of admission for Syrian refugees. These interventions are particularly critical for the most vulnerable refugees who are in urgent need of safety and protection.

In September 2013, UNHCR called upon countries to admit 30,000 Syrian refugees on resettlement, humanitarian admission or other programmes in 2013-2014, with a focus on protecting the most vulnerable. During the High-Level Segment of the Executive Committee on Solidarity and

Burden-Sharing with Countries Hosting Syrian Refugees, held in October 2013, it was agreed that the crisis has gone far beyond requiring only humanitarian assistance. At that meeting, EU Member States reaffirmed their support for the host countries in the surrounding region, and many announced special quotas for resettlement or other forms of admission for Syrian refugees.

Subsequently, at the Informal Consultative Meeting as a follow-up to the High Level Segment on Solidarity and Burden-Sharing with Countries Hosting Syrian Refugees, on 21 February 2014, UNHCR invited States to consider multi-annual commitments towards an expanded goal of 100,000 additional places for Syrian refugees on resettlement or other forms of admission in 2015-2016. At least half of these places should be allocated for vulnerable refugees referred by UNHCR.

Numerous countries have pledged to receive refugees on resettlement, humanitarian admission and other programmes, with total pledges now at more than 36,687 places, plus an additional number to the United States of America. An unprecedented majority of these pledges come from European States (17): Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. States are encouraged to offer places for Syrian refugees in addition to their current

resettlement quotas to ensure that resettlement opportunities also continue to be available for refugees in need from the rest of the world.


Towards the turn of the millennium, the EU began to reflect on including resettlement policies within the external dimension of its asylum policy. The 1999 Tampere Conference asserted the political direction for developing the EU as an ‘Area of Freedom, Security and Justice’, and produced Member State agreement on the development of a Common European Asylum System (CEAS). Asylum and migration were included as key elements in the external relations of the EU, and resettlement was acknowledged as an organized mechanism by which refugees could enter the EU without resorting to traffickers or precarious and dangerous journeys.

In 2000, the European Commission supported the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) in carrying out a feasibility study to ‘explore methods of increasing the orderly arrival into the EU of persons in need of international protection, notably through the establishment of resettlement schemes.’

Published in 2003, the MPI study concluded that ‘there could be political will to establish an EU-wide resettlement programme.’

In 2004, the Commission issued a Communication on durable solutions that explored ‘all parameters in order to ensure more orderly and managed entry in the EU of persons in need of international protection.’ The Communication proposed a ‘situation specific’ EU resettlement scheme, in which the participation of Member States would be ‘flexible’ (the term ‘voluntary’ was not present in the text in this regard).

Although the Communication envisaged that the European Commission would submit a proposal for an EU resettlement scheme to the Council by July 2005, a lack of political impetus from Member States delayed delivery of the proposal until the Swedish EU Presidency in September 2009. In the intervening period, resettlement was introduced as one component within EU Regional Protection Programmes (RPPs), which Member States could implement on a voluntary basis.