Refugee Resettlement

refugee-resettlement.jpg In recent decades third-country resettlement has become the only safe and (reasonably) attainable durable solution to the current refugee situation outlined by the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee’s (UNHCR) current policies. Of the three solutions proposed by the UNHCR (voluntary repatriation to home-nation, integration into a nation of first asylum, and resettlement), resettlement is often perceived as the only feasible solution that can provide a refugee with a normal life without fear of persecution. According to the UNHCR (2017 FAQ:1), refugee resettlement “involves the selection and transfer of refugee from a state in which they have sought protection to a third state that has agreed to admit them – as refugees- with permanent residence.”

A refugee can qualify to submit an application for resettlement if they have legal and or physical protection needs, are survivors of torture/violence, have specific medical needs, are women/girls at risk, need to be reunited with their family, are children at risk, or have a lack or foreseeable alternative solutions to their displacement (UNHCR 2017 FAQ: 4). These criteria can arguably apply to the majority of all refugees (especially considering that most refugees are women and children, almost all have witnessed some form of violence and torture and in general lack any foreseeable alternative to their displacement).

Between 2014 and 2016 the world saw a 72% increase in refugees who the UNHCR believes are eligible for resettlement opportunities, now an estimated 1,190,000 people from all around the world, still only a fraction of the world’s 22.5 million refugees (UNHCR 2015; UNHCR 2017 FAQ: 6). Although there are over 22 million people worldwide in need, each year only roughly .5% to 1.5% of the entire global refugee population is provided with third-country resettlement opportunities. These opportunities are highly dependent on how willing a host-nation (such as the US, the UK, Canada, Norway, or Australia) is to take in large communities of refugees.

According to the UNHCR Resettlement 2016 Factsheet, 126,291 refugees from 70 countries were resettled last year (a 54% increase from 2015). The majority of these refugees came from Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Iraq. As I mentioned above, resettlement only becomes an option when a nation is willing to provide a refugee with permanent residence (implying access to citizenship eventually), in addition to providing language and vocational training, access to housing, education, and employment, and to support these individuals during a grace period (typically 6 to 8 months). Below is a table of the top five refugee resettlement host nations of 2016 and how many refugees they welcomed.

Top Refugee Resettlement Nations 2016
United States 78761
Canada 21865
Australia 7502
United Kingdom 5024
France 1328

As an effort to show international unity and commitment to the welfare of the world’s refugee populations, 37 nations undertook the responsibility to host resettled refugees (displayed on the map below). Although there has been a significant increase in resettled refugees in recent years, it is still less than two percent of the world’s entire refugee population, many of whom have been in exile for years and even decades. So why is it important to increase the number of refugees that are resettled each year? Aside from providing a refugee with a safe and sustainable life without the fear of violence, there are several reasons:

  • Resettlement provides an attainable solution to the global refugee crisis for a higher percentage of the world’s refugees.
  • It reduces the enormous strain on the UNHCR’s yearly budget who are tasked with providing food, shelter, and healthcare to over 22.5 million refugees with approximately $.32 USD per person per year as of 2015 (UNHCR 2017 Financials).
  • It provides desperately needed support to neighboring nations of warfare (also known as nations of first-asylum), such as Kenya, Uganda, Lebanon, and Jordon who are legally obliged to let refugees within their borders despite being impoverished and developing nations themselves.


2016 Refugee Resettlement Host NationsMap of the Countries who accepted Resettled Refugees in 2016

There are many takeaways from all the information about the world’s refugee resettlement system. The primary point is that resettlement is used only as a last resort and for people who absolutely need it (i.e., individuals who are unlikely to survive inside a refugee camp). The international community continues to advocate for voluntary repatriation (despite extremely complicated ongoing violence that can last for decades) or integration into a refugee’s host country of first asylum (despite these countries limited resources and general unwillingness to permanently accept millions of refugees as citizens). Even though the world has begun to resettle more refugees all over the world, these numbers are still not proportionate to the number of individuals who flood into refugee camps each year in addition to those who have already lived there for decades in a state that can only be described as a social limbo.

There are so many people in the global north that live in such opulence and resource abundance when compared to people who are living on the edge of life for what can only seem like an eternity. So, my question is this: how can the world justify the suffering and marginalization of millions of people through that constant refusal to either bring them to a place in the world that guarantees their ability to live like an actual person or to adequately fund a solution to their displacement.



UNHCR (2015) Figures at a Glance.

UNHCR (2017) Frequently Asked Questions about Resettlement.

UNHCR (2017) Financials.

UNHCR (2017) 2016 Refugee Resettlement Factsheet



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