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Brussels, 2 September 2009

Stepping up efforts on resettlement of refugees

Today the European Commission proposed the establishment of a "Joint EU Resettlement Programme". This programme aims to develop resettlement within the EU into a more effective instrument to give protection to refugees, providing for closer political and practical cooperation among EU Member States. This initiative concerns the resettlement of refugees from third countries to an EU Member State. Resettlement is the transfer of refugees, who have provisional protection, from the first country of asylum to another country, where they can start a new life and find permanent protection. The large majority of the refugees worldwide find themselves outside of the EU, in developing countries in Asia and Africa. Return to their country of origin is the preferred option for most of them. But for some of these refugees, particularly the vulnerable ones, this is no option. Resettlement is the only solution for them.

The Vice-President Jacques Barrot, Commissioner responsible for Freedom, Security and Justice, stated that "Today the Commission has taken an important step which demonstrates our concrete solidarity with third countries hosting large numbers of refugees ".

The large majority of refugees worldwide find themselves in places far away from the EU. They are generally to be found in countries neighbouring, or in the same region, as their country of origin, in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Host countries are often developing ones, with limited resources, which cannot integrate large numbers of refugees. Return to the country of origin is clearly the preferred solution for the large majority of refugees worldwide. Resettlement is seen as a last resort when the refugee can neither return to his home country nor remain securely in the third country. Many of these refugees are the most vulnerable ones, such as children, single women with children, traumatised or seriously ill persons.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that for 2010 alone, out of approximately 10 million refugees worldwide, 203.000 refugees are in need of resettlement. In 2008, countries around the world offered to resettle some 65,000 refugees. Of these, 4.378 refugees, or 6,7 %, were resettled to one of the EU countries. The number of refugees in need of resettlement is growing without a corresponding increase in the number of places that are available. This gap is expected to become even larger unless concerted efforts are made by the international community.

Resettlement of refugees to the EU from third countries should thus be distinguished from the resettlement of refugees from one EU Member State to another for the purpose of intra-EU solidarity, with respect to which the Commission is pursuing separate initiatives

The 'Joint EU Resettlement Programme'

It is against this background that the 'Joint EU Resettlement Programme' aims to develop resettlement to the EU into a more effective instrument to give protection to refugees. There are currently 10 Member States which carry out resettlement on an annual basis, while some of the other Member States resettle refugees on an ad-hoc basis. All these resettlement activities are carried out without much consultation and coordination among EU Member States.

The programme proposed by the Commission provides for closer political and practical cooperation among the Member States, so as to increase the effectiveness and cost-efficiency of their resettlement activities, and the humanitarian and strategic impact of resettlement. It consists of a mechanism which allows for the setting of common annual priorities on resettlement and for a more effective use of the financial assistance available for member States through the European Refugee Fund.

Various activities related to the identification of refugees to be resettled and their reception will be carried out by Member States jointly and will be supported by the future European Asylum Support Office. Member States will remain free to decide whether they want to resettle at all, and if so, how many refugees they wish to resettle.

To find out more about Vice President Barrot's work please visit his website:

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