Resettlement in Europe

Several European countries adopted national resettlement programmes from the 1970s onwards, with Sweden pioneering the field by establishing its own as early as 1950. However, since the turn of the last century, as a stronger will emerged to embed resettlement in the asylum policy of the European Union, resettlement was given new impetus, with further countries in the EU establishing national programmes.

In 2005, resettlement became a component - although marginal - of the newly established Regional Protection Programmes (RPPs). Later on, the adoption of the European Refugee Fund in 2007 and the first EU joint resettlement action in 2008 represented two major incentives to stimulate EU Member States’ involvement in refugee resettlement and paved the way towards later developments.

By 2018, resettlement had been embedded as a policy priority at the EU level following several stand-alone joint resettlement programmes, with EU funding available for resettling Member States through the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF). The most significant example of this europeanisation of resettlement came in 2016, when a legislative proposal was made by the European Commission that sought to establish, for the first time, a Union Resettlement Framework for EU resettlement.

This page covers the various steps towards the current European Union resettlement policy.



In September 2005, through a Communication to the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament, the European Commission established the Regional Protection Programmes (RPPs). RPPs were designed to boost the protection capacity of target non-EU regions - from which many refugees originate or through which they transit - by enhancing the provision of durable solutions. RPPs, developed by the European Commission, in close collaboration with EU Member States and UNHCR, and in partnership with countries of origin, transit, and first asylum, envisioned activities such as the establishment of effective refugee status determination procedures, capacity-building and training on protection issues for those working with refugees, and measures to support refugee host communities.

The first two RPPs focused on the African Great Lakes Region (Tanzania) and the Western Newly Independent States (Belarus, the Republic of Moldova, and Ukraine). Two more programmes were applied to the Horn of Africa (Kenya, Yemen, and Djibouti) and eastern North Africa (Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia).

An assessment of the first two RPPs, conducted in 2009, revealed that only a very limited number of refugees were resettled to EU Member States within the RPP framework. Where possible, RPPs showed a tendency to favour voluntary repatriation and local integration over resettlement. Moreover, the assessment shed a light on some weaknesses of the programmes, namely the poor coordination between the EU Directorate Generals involved in their implementation, and a lack of understanding and awareness of RPPs in beneficiary countries.

Building on the lessons learnt from these initiatives, the concept of Regional Protection Programmes was driven forward and expanded to incorporate a complementary dimension. In 2013, in response to the Syrian crisis, the first Regional Development and Protection Programme (RDPP) was launched in the Middle East, followed by two additional RDPPs, targeting the Horn of Africa and North Africa, in 2015. Through an integrated approach, RDPPs aim to set up a long-term response to protracted displacement, by providing enhanced protection to forcibly displaced persons and their host communities, while fostering sustainable development benefitting both populations. RDPPs also build the protection capacity of national authorities in refugee hosting countries and contribute to tackling the factors which prompt many displaced people to embark on perilous onward movements.

RDPPs inform the identification of regions towards which EU resettlement efforts are to be prioritised. They are multi-year programmes implemented by a consortium of EU Member and Associated States, each headed by a lead implementing country (Denmark for the Middle East, Italy for North Africa, and the Netherlands for the Horn of Africa), and are financed through different EU funds (i.e., AMIF, European Neighbourhood Instrument (ENI), EU Africa Trust Fund) and national contributions.


In May 2007, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union adopted a Decision providing for the establishment of the European Refugee Fund (ERF). The ERF allocated nearly €630 million over the period 2008-2013 to support Member States’ efforts focusing on the reception and integration of refugees and displaced persons, as well as the establishment and development of resettlement programmes and intra-EU solidarity mechanisms (i.e., relocation). Moreover, the Fund envisaged the implementation of emergency measures in the event of a sudden mass influx of displaced persons, causing disproportionate pressure on the reception systems of certain Member States.

In April 2014, the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament adopted a Regulation setting up a new financial instrument for the period 2014-2020, the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF). The AMIF, which merges the previous European Refugee Fund, European Return Fund, and European Integration Fund, implemented within the framework of the Multi-annual Financial Framework 2007-2013, has been earmarked a total budget of €3.1 billion. It aims to promote the efficient management of migration flows and develop and enhance a common European approach to asylum and migration. The AMIF foresees special financial incentives to support resettlement. Visit our page on EU Funding for Resettlement for further information. 


In 2008, Iraqis accounted for the second largest refugee group worldwide, an estimated 1.9 million with very limited durable solutions in sight. As global resettlement pledges lagged behind, EU Member States - through the November 2008 Justice and Home Affairs Council Conclusions - agreed to resettle 10,000 refugees from Iraq, in what was the first significant EU joint effort to grant international protection through resettlement. In 2009 alone, 12 EU Member States, including both States with established national resettlement programmes and others without previous experience in resettlement, made 5,100 resettlement places available. Between 2007 and 2009, 8,400 Iraqi refugees were resettled to Europe and the number of EU countries involved in resettlement activities - only six in 2007 - doubled. Through this joint action, Member States decided to resettle also 1,285 Palestinians who had been stranded at the Al-Tanf refugee camp along the Iraq-Syria border.

Building on the momentum created by the 2008 joint action, in September 2009 the European Commission issued a Communication on the establishment of a Joint EU Resettlement Programme, sharing its vision for a more impactful and strategically coordinated EU engagement in global resettlement. The Commission outlined three main objectives, namely: 1) increasing the use of resettlement as a tool to provide greater and better targeted support to the international protection of refugees; 2) enhancing the strategic use of resettlement by identifying common priorities to inform the resettlement activities of Member States; 3) streamlining all EU resettlement efforts, maximising their cost-effectiveness.

Despite the ambitious vision of the proposal, some structural issues remained unaddressed. In fact, the proposal maintained the purely voluntary nature of Member States’ engagement in resettlement, did not introduce numerical EU resettlement quotas, and did not devise operational mechanisms to coordinate resettlement activities across the EU. Moreover, the proposed objective to establish EU resettlement priorities caused disagreement between the Council of the European Union, the European Parliament and the European Commission, which struggled to find a common position on the procedure to establish such priorities. Eventually, in March 2012, after more than two years of negotiations, the EU adopted a compromise text, which amended the Council Decision on the establishment of the ERF, setting new rules for the allocation of resources to fund Member States’ resettlement activities, and identified resettlement priorities for 2013. 


In 2015, recent and protracted conflicts and crises around the globe caused record-high numbers of asylum-seekers and migrants to cross into Europe, often risking their lives in dangerous journeys. As European countries grappled with a rapid and significant increase in the numbers of arrivals, exposing weaknesses in the existing EU asylum system, the European Commission went on to present the European Agenda on Migration, a guiding document pointing out short- and long-term measures to collectively respond to the numerous challenges EU Member States faced. Among the immediate actions to be taken, the Agenda highlighted the proposal for an emergency temporary mechanism to distribute within the EU persons in need of international protection who claim asylum on EU territory and belong to certain nationalities (relocation), and the establishment of an EU-wide resettlement scheme for refugees with specific needs and vulnerabilities to arrive from third countries.

In July 2015, following up on a Commission Recommendation, EU Member States, together with Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, adopted the Council Conclusionsestablishing the resettlement of 22,504 individuals in need of international protection over the period 2015-2017, through multilateral and national schemes. The Conclusions provided that resettlement beneficiaries, to be identified and referred by UNHCR, would be granted the right to stay in the resettling country and any other rights similar to those conferred on beneficiaries of international protection. Moreover, resettlement efforts would be directed towards North Africa, the Middle East, and Horn of Africa, prioritising those countries where RDPPs were implemented. As of 7 March 2018, more than 19,432 people – mainly from Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon - were resettled under the July 2015 scheme.


In December 2015, the Commission presented a Recommendation providing for the voluntary admission to EU Member States of individuals displaced by the conflict in Syria and sheltering in Turkey. Within the framework entailed by the Voluntary Humanitarian Admission Scheme (VHAS) with Turkey, participating States would admit persons in need of international protection who were registered by Turkish authorities before 29 November 2015. Upon admission, beneficiaries of the scheme would receive a temporary status, valid for no less than one year. The Standard Operating Procedures were agreed by the end of 2017, although the VHAS would require triggering from EU leaders.

In March 2016, under the EU – Turkey Statement, the EU agreed that, for every Syrian returned to Turkey from Greek islands, another Syrian would be resettled from Turkey to an EU Member State. By March 2018, around 12,400 Syrian refugees had been resettled under this mechanism, although not all in addition to other parallel schemes, such as that of the July 2015 Council Conclusions. For a number of EU Member States, resettlement within the framework of the EU-Turkey Statement was considered as contributing to the fulfilment of the commitments undertaken with the July 2015 Council Conclusions.

In July 2016, following on from the CEAS reform process, launched in April, and the announcement of a new Partnership Framework with key third countries of origin and transit to achieve a more efficient and coordinated migration management, the Commission presented its proposal for a Regulation setting up a Union Resettlement Framework.

The proposed legislation intended to offer orderly and safe pathways to Europe to people in need of international protection, disrupt the business model of people smugglers and traffickers, and contribute to global responsibility-sharing mechanisms. It aimed to create “a more structured, harmonised, and permanent framework for resettlement” and introduce a unified resettlement procedure across the EU. According to the proposal, annual EU resettlement plans will identify the broad geographical priorities for resettlement and the maximum total number of individuals to be resettled, detailing the participation and contributions of Member and Associated Schengen States (Article 7). The criteria for the identification of resettlement geographical priorities will include, inter alia, the number of people in need of international protection in third countries, the overall relations between the EU and third countries, and their cooperation in the field of asylum and migration (Article 4). Moreover, the proposal lays out the standard eligibility criteria and exclusion grounds for resettlement (Articles 5 and 6), the type of procedure - either ordinary or expedited - to be applied, and the status to be granted to individuals resettled under the Framework (Articles 10 and 11). Resettling States will be allocated €10,000, through the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF), per person resettled under a targeted EU resettlement scheme (Article 17).

During mid-late 2017, the European Commission launched a new resettlement pledging exercise and called on EU Member States to resettle at least 50,000 persons in need of international protection by October 2019. This was intended to address the gap between the end of the resettlement scheme under the 2015 Council Conclusions in mid-2017, and the expected adoption of the Union Resettlement Framework. 20 EU Member States pledges 50,030 places for resettlement for this period. Finally, a dedicated Core Group focusing on resettlement and complementary pathways along the Central Mediterranean route, chaired by France, was set up. And the EU provides financial support to UNHCR’s Emergency Transit Mechanism in Niger, a system through which refugees in need of resettlement are evacuated from Libya to Niger, before being resettled to European and non-European countries. Find out more on our Current European Response page.