Resettlement, relocation or humanitarian admission?! We explain the terminology...

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Many European countries choose to receive and provide protection to refugees as part of organised programmes providing assistance in the pre-departure, travel and post-arrival phase. Some programmes provide temporary protection until return to one’s country of origin is feasible, while others offer permanent protection in the form of long-term status in the receiving country. Beneficiaries of these programmes share common experiences of arriving into a new country, and in many instances the same actors are involved in national reception and integration activities. So what are these programmes, and how do they operate in Europe?

Refugee resettlement is defined by UNHCR as 'the selection and transfer of refugees from a state in which they have sought protection to a third country that admits them – as refugees – with a permanent residence status'.  Resettlement is a protection tool for refugees whose lives and liberty are at risk; a 'durable solution' for refugees alongside local integration and voluntary repatriation; and an expression of solidarity with those developing countries that host the majority of the world's refugees. 

In the EU, resettlement means the movement of refugees from a country outside of the EU to an EU Member State. Member States work closely together on many aspects of refugee resettlement, setting common resettlement priorities, developing funding instruments, and collaborating practically through structures such as the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) and the European Resettlement Network. Resettlement forms a core part of the external dimension of European Union asylum policy, and a way of demonstrating EU solidarity with third countries.

The status and rights given to resettled refugees vary depending on the country. Resettled refugees arriving in Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Finland, Ireland, Portugal, Sweden and the UK receive a permanent residence permit. While, refugees resettled to Denmark, Germany, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Romania and Spain receive a temporary residence permit, and are able to apply for permanent residency after a specified period of legal residency (the number of years varies by country) and subject to satisfying a number of conditions related to language, civic knowledge, financial independence and good conduct (conditions also vary by country).  All European countries provide a pathway to citizenship for permanent residents, again after varying periods of legal residency and subject to satisfying varying conditions as listed for permanent residency.

Full refugee status or subsidiary protection is granted to refugees in most European resettlement countries. Refugees resettled to Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, Norway (selection mission cases), Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the UK receive refugee status immediately.  Refugees resettled to Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, the Netherlands, Norway (dossier cases) and Romania must complete an asylum procedure after arrival into the country (although this is usually an expedited process).  Refugees resettled to Germany, however, do not receive refugee status, and instead receive humanitarian status which does not provide the same legal benefits available for refugees.

Relocation refers to the movement of refugees from one EU Member State to another. It is an intra-EU process, in which Member States help another Member State to cope with the pressure of hosting a relatively large refugee population by agreeing to receive a number of them. Relocation is an expression of internal EU solidarity and burden-sharing, particularly with those countries at the borders of Europe that receive a high number of refugees.

Intra-EU relocation has, until now, been carried out in the context of the Intra-EU Relocation from Malta Project (EUREMA). Established by the EU, the programme co-funded the relocation activities of Member States that agreed to receive from Malta recognised beneficiaries of international protection. In 2011, 10 Member States received 227 refugees relocated from Malta via EUREMA. In a second phase of the project in 2012, 7 Member States pledged 86 places. A further 8 collectively pledged to receive 233 refugees via bilateral agreements with Malta. 

Some European resettlement countries have allocated places for intra-EU relocation from within their annual resettlement quota, providing long-term protection for refugees from Malta while also reducing the overall number of places available for refugees resettled from outside the EU.

Humanitarian Admission is the process by which countries admit groups from vulnerable refugee populations in third countries so as to provide temporary protection on humanitarian grounds. Humanitarian Admission should not be confused with humanitarian or subsidiary protection status granted to in-country asylum applicants, or with humanitarian visas granted to individuals outside of receiving States via their national embassies in third countries. Beneficiaries of Humanitarian Admission are granted short-term residence in receiving countries, with the expectation of reviewing the ongoing need for protection in the future. As a complement to States’ traditional resettlement programmes, Humanitarian Admission may be used for an identified refugee population in an extremely insecure or vulnerable situation and in need of urgent protection. It is an expedited process that can enable large numbers of refugees to depart quickly.

In March 2013, the German Federal Government announced that it would admit 5,000 Syrian refugees from Lebanon via a Humanitarian Admission Pilot programme. The programme prioritises refugees with humanitarian needs, those with family links in Germany, and individuals who can contribute to reconstruction in Syria. In late June, the German Parliament subsequently invited its Länder to offer additional places to accommodate greater numbers of Syrians with family links in Germany. The first refugees arrived in September 2013 and will be granted a 2-year temporary status (with the possibility of extension). In December 2013, Germany announced its commitment to take an additional 5,000 Syrians. Germany's total contribution of 10,000 HAP places for Syrian refugees is a significant contribution to the 30,000 places that UNHCR has targeted for more industrialised countries outside of the region to offer by the end of 2014.