Resettlement and humanitarian admission through other safe pathways are important signals of solidarity not only for especially vulnerable refugees but also for countries of first asylum. As an important component of international refugee protection, these instruments show countries with fewer resources that they are not being left alone.
With the UNHCR estimating a need of around 1.47 million resettlement places globally for 2022, the recent and unprecedented drop to only 22,800 resettled persons in 2020 poses a problem, not only for the affected people themselves but also for the stability of the international system of refugee protection. The number of admissions in 2020, the lowest number in almost two decades was due to restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic but also due to drastic cuts in resettlement places under the Trump administration.
Under President Biden, the USA has, however, increased its resettlement commitments again, pledging 125,000 places for 2022. Now, the ball is in Europe's court. In Germany, the independent Commission on the Root Causes of Displacement recommended to form an “Alliance for Resettlement” in order to significantly increase resettlement and humanitarian admission numbers.
With this publication, the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung seeks to pave the way for a "Global Resettlement Alliance" by providing an overview of codified rights and safe pathways, analysing the main political claims about resettlement, and proposing a plan to revive resettlement and humanitarian admission by 2024, based on six country reports.
Resettlement and other complementary pathways offer crucial instruments of protection alongside codified rights of refuges and asylum seekers. These safe pathways are high on the agenda and come with a number of political claims that require closer scrutiny. They have many advantages but also carry the risk of undermining access to territorial asylum. A protection-focused framing of policy and selection of target groups and regions is therefore vital to preserve the original character of resettlement as an instrument of solidarity and a durable solution for refugees.
The analysis provides a guide through political claims about resettlement and complementary pathways.
First claim: Resettlement and other admission programmes provide safe and legal pathways for refugees, thereby offering an alternative to dangerous and irregular migration.
Resettlement can only offer a solution for a very small fraction of refugees in addition to regular asylum as, thus far, resettlement places are scarce: currently, available places cannot even accommodate all the particularly vulnerable refugees in need. For example, in 2019, around 1.43 million refugees were considered in need of resettlement, but only 63.726 were resettled.
Therefore, admission countries should increase the availability of resettlement and complementary pathways. Places need to be additional and complementary to individual asylum.
Second claim: Resettlement and other refugee admission programmes signal solidarity to first countries of asylum and have a “strategic use” for the broader refugee protection regime.
In recent admissions to Europe, the EU Commission and several admission countries have used the term “strategic” rather in reference to migration control interests. The admission of refugees from Turkey in exchange for cooperation on migration and border control under the EU-Turkey statement of March 2016 is a prime example of this. In such contexts, refugee admission risks becoming a humanitarian fig leaf in an otherwise more restrictive border regime. This undermines the humanitarian character and the original use of resettlement as an instrument of solidarity with third countries and contradicts its initial aim to stabilise the refugee protection system worldwide.
Therefore, resettlement should primarily work as an instrument of solidarity and target countries where the resettlement need is particularly high. Admissions should not be made conditional on migration control.
Third claim: Resettlement and other refugee admission programmes allow for a targeted selection of refugees.
Admission states consider discretionary selection as an advantage and frame it as a way to not only target those with specific needs but also to control who is accessing their sovereign territory. The discretionary selection entails the risk of cherry-picking and prioritising cultural desirability over need. The discretionary character of resettlement and other pathways as well as the intransparent selection process limits refugees’ agency and constraints accountability. Thus, the claim that refugee admission programmes target “particularly vulnerable” refugees remains a promise, with limited possibilities of legal or political scrutiny.
Therefore, resettlement and other refugee admission programmes should primarily prioritise candidates based on refugees’ needs. Fostering transparency, e.g., through comprehensive monitoring and evaluation of programmes, can help to assess who gets access and to which extent programmes focus on particularly vulnerable refugees.
For more information, please consult the FES-Publication: Towards a Global Resettlement Alliance, page 5-7.
Amidst the lack of safe pathways for refugees, resettlement and humanitarian admission stand out as offering safe channels for movement and long-term solutions for a selected few. However, the number of available places has taken an unprecedented hit. This is not only a problem for refugees themselves, but also for the entire international system of refugee protection. To survive, that system requires meaningful tools to support responsibility sharing.
This analysis proposes a pathway towards more engagement over the next three years. Despite difficult political contexts, a positive turn is feasible in many of key resettlement countries, such as the United States, Canada, Sweden or Germany. Reflecting on the short-, medium-, and long-term horizons, this analysis proposes three steps to revive resettlement and humanitarian admission:
Figure 3: Growth Trajectory to Address Today’s Global Resettlement Needs within Ten Years”
For sources and further information, please consult the FES-Publication: Towards a Global Resettlement Alliance, page 8-15.
These six country briefs accompany the chapter “A Pathway Towards More Resettlement and Humanitarian Admission”. Each country brief outlines the recent trends in refugee resettlement and humanitarian admission in the respective country and proceeds to analyse the factors that explain these trends. On this basis, each brief describes the respective country’s prospects for committing to higher admission numbers as well as to increased international cooperation on refugee resettlement and humanitarian admission in the future.
Currently, resettlement and humanitarian admission numbers are falling. Political support for resettlement and humanitarian admission are relatively high, but the tools suffer from highly contentious domestic migration debates. Resettlement and humanitarian admission could increase moderately under the condition that the beneficiaries come from certain countries of origin, receive private sponsorship, or settle outside metropolitan areas.
Figure 2: Share of UNHCR-referred Resettlement
For sources and further information, please consult the FES-Publication: Towards a Global Resettlement Alliance, page 17-20.
Resettlement and humanitarian admission is enjoying slow but steady growth, propelled by the Private Sponsorship Program in particular. Bipartisan government and public support as well as successful precedents contribute to consistently high numbers. There are prospects for moderate growth in admission numbers, and Canada is likely to remain an active advocate for private sponsorship programmes.
Figure 5: Resettled Refugees to Canada
For sources and further information, please consult the FES-Publication: Towards a Global Resettlement Alliance, page 21-24.
The number of ad-hoc admission programmes has increased significantly since 2015, topping up the country’s small permanent resettlement programme. Asylum in general is under pressure amidst a divisive domestic policy environment, and the government is prioritising the reduction of irregular migration. Resettlement and humanitarian admission would be at risk under an extreme right-wing government. If centrist parties prevail, France is unlikely to emerge as a leader in resettlement and humanitarian admission, but it may moderately increase its numbers if there were momentum on the EU level, with Germany taking the lead.
Figure 7: Biannual Commitments for Resettlement
For sources and further information, please consult the FES-Publication: Towards a Global Resettlement Alliance, page 25-26.
Resettlement and humanitarian admission are steadily becoming established tools of Germany’s asylum policy. Political support for resettlement and humanitarian admission are high, particularly when common EU responses are in place and when these tools support wider foreign policy goals on steering migration. There is potential for a modest increase in resettlement numbers as well as more political investment in coordinating frameworks.
Figure 9: Number of Asylum Applications, Resettlement and Humanitarian Admission Programmes
For sources and further information, please consult the FES-Publication: Towards a Global Resettlement Alliance, page 27-30.
Sweden maintains a well-established, permanent programme of UNHCR-referred resettlement at a relatively stable size. Traditionally an advocate for more resettlement, the Swedish government has become more cautious amidst a political environment in which migration has become more controversial since 2015.
Sweden will continue to engage actively in international cooperation, but growth prospects for resettlement and humanitarian admission will depend on other European countries’ commitments.
For sources and further information, please consult the FES-Publication: Towards a Global Resettlement Alliance, page 31-33.
With refugee admission drastically reduced under the Trump administration, the United States of America is struggling to reclaim its previous position as the world’s top resettlement country. After decades of cross-partisan consensus, resettlement has fallen victim to anti-immigrant, partisan politics.
The USA is already extensively engaged in existing international exchange forums on resettlement and humanitarian admission.
This table shows the share of persons admitted through resettlement and humanitarian admission schemes by the admission country population size. Countries such as Canada, Sweden, USA and Australia have a long tradition of resettlement programs and use these instruments much more effectively.
Figure 2: Share of new resettlement and humanitarian admission by resettlement country population (in percent)