Refugee resettlement paused

UNHCR LogoTwo UN agencies announced that refugees would no longer be resettled to homes in safe countries. The UN refugee agency and the UN migration agency said resettlement would be suspended as “a temporary measure that will be in place only for as long as it remains essential”.


As countries drastically reduce entry into their territories owing to the COVID-19 global health crisis, and restrictions around international air travel are introduced, travel arrangements for resettling refugees are currently subject to severe disruptions. Some States have also placed a hold on resettlement arrivals given their public health situation, which impacts on their capacity to receive newly resettled refugees.

Refugee families are being directly impacted by these quickly evolving regulations in the course of their travel, with some experiencing extensive delays while others have been stranded or separated from family members.

In addition, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and IOM, the International Organization for Migration, are concerned that international travel could increase the exposure of refugees to the virus.

In a joint statement, the UN refugee agency (the UNHCR) and the UN migration agency (the IOM), said refugee resettlement would be suspended as “a temporary measure that will be in place only for as long as it remains essential”.

As more countries have introduced travel restrictions and frozen refugee resettlement programmes, the two agencies had little choice. They also raised concern that international travel could increase the exposure of refugees to the virus.

In 2019, the UNHCR helped more than 63,600 refugees find a life in a new country, including people who had fled Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan and Somalia. In the previous year, the IOM helped nearly 95,000 people find a new home, whether through a resettlement programme to a safe country, or some other humanitarian scheme.

The decision comes after rights groups warned that refugees and migrants – especially unaccompanied minors – need urgent help. The charities are deeply concerned about the fate of 36,000 asylum seekers on five Greek islands, who are sheltering in squalid, overcrowded camps, often lacking electricity, heating and hot water.

 

A group of Sudanese refugees
A group of Sudanese refugees arrive at an emergency transit centre in Timisoara, Romania, in December 2018. Recently evacuated from Libya, they were awaiting emergency resettlement. © UNHCR/Ioana Epure

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