What is resettlement?

Resettlement is a tool to provide international protection and meet the specific needs of refugees. It is a durable solution for refugees as well as a demonstration of international solidarity and responsibility-sharing. 

UNHCR defines resettlement as involving “the selection and transfer of refugees from a State in which they have sought protection to a third State another State which has agreed to admit them - as refugees - with permanent residence status[1]”. The status provided ensures protection against refoulement, provides for rights similar to those enjoyed by nationals, and constitues a pathway towards citizenship in the resettlement country.

When voluntary repatriation and local integration - the other two durable solutions for refugees - are difficult to attain, especially in protracted refugee situations, resettlement may be the only feasible option to provide effective protection and meet the needs of refugees whose life, liberty, safety, health or other fundamental rights are at risk in the country where they initially sought protection.

Equally, resettlement constitutes a tangible tool to demonstrate international solidarity and share responsibility for refugee protection, relieving pressure on countries hosting large numbers of refugees.

Through resettlement, refugees are granted access to civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights similar to those enjoyed by the nationals of the resettling country. The status and rights conferred on resettled refugees vary depending on the receiving country.

Resettlement in the European Union (EU) forms a core aspect of the external dimension of the EU asylum policy. In the EU context, resettlement involves the selection and transfer of eligible refugees from a country outside the EU to an EU Member State. Member States jointly define common resettlement priorities, develop funding instruments, and exchange operational support through dedicated structures such as the European Asylum Support Office (EASO). Member States’ cooperation in the field of resettlement has significantly increased and a political agreement between the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union on a Union Resettlement Framework is expected to be reached by May 2018.  For more information on resettlement in Europe, see the pages of this website. 

In the EU, resettlement should not be confused with relocation, which refers to the movement of persons in need of international protection from one EU Member State to another EU Member State. It is an intra-EU process, in which Member States help one or more countries to cope with the pressure of receiving a rapid increse in the arrival of asylum seekers by agreeing to relocate a number of persons seeking protection, meeting certain criteria. Relocation is an expression of internal EU solidarity and responsibility sharing, particularly with those countries at the external borders of the European Union that are most affected by rapid increases in the arrival of asylum seekers.

In 2015, the Council of the European Union, following on from two Proposals by the European Commission, adopted Council Decision (EU) 2015/1523 and Council Decision (EU) 2015/1601 , establishing a temporary and exceptional relocation mechanism over a two-year period. The mechanism foresaw the relocation of a total of 160,000 persons in clear need of international protection from Greece and Italy to other EU Member States, based on a mandatory distribution key. As of 26 March 2018, a little over 34,000 asylum seekers had been relocated from Greece and Italy to other EU Member States which take responsibility for their asylum claim.


Annual Tripartite Consultations on Resettlement (ATCR)

Resettlement builds on the collaboration between a variety of actors. Launched in 1995, the Annual Tripartite Consultations on Resettlement (ATCR) aim to enhance the cooperation between governments, NGOs, and UNHCR and help shape collaborative approaches to global resettlement. ATCR provides a dedicated forum to engage multiple stakeholders in an open and constructive discussion on a range of policy and procedural matters, including advocacy, capacity building, and operational support. Thus, the ATCR contributes to increasing the transparency of the resettlement process and encourages concerned stakeholders to join forces and resources and advance innovative solutions to resettlement. The event involves government representatives from resettlement States, NGOs involved in refugee resettlement, intergovernmental and international organisations, and UNHCR. With a view to expanding the resettlement base, the ATCR has been open to observers from States hosting Emergency Transit Facilities, potential or emerging resettlement States, and States interested in the resettlement process. The ATCR is held in Geneva and, in recent years, has taken place in July.