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Brussels, 2 September 2009
Questions and Answers on the establishment of a Joint EU Resettlement Programme
What is resettlement and why is it needed?
A large majority of refugees worldwide find themselves in places far away from the EU. They are to be found in countries neighbouring, or in the same region, as their country of origin, in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. By the end of 2008, developing countries hosted 8.4 million refugees, 80 per cent of the global refugee population, with Pakistan alone hosting 1.8 million refugees and Syria 1.1 million. As host countries are often developing ones, with limited resources, they 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 in security in the third country. Many of these refugees are the most vulnerable ones, such as children, single women with children, traumatised refugees and victims of torture, or seriously ill persons.
Resettlement is the transfer of such refugees from the first country of asylum to another country, where they can start a new life and find permanent protection.
What are the main objectives of the 'Joint EU Resettlement Programme'?
Currently, resettlement is carried out by EU Member States without much consultation and coordination among each other. 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. The impact of resettlement will be enhanced if resettlement priorities are formulated in a coordinated way at EU level. If, for example at EU level it is decided to focus resettlement efforts on a particular group, such as vulnerable single women, or on particular nationalities and geographic areas, such as Iraqi refugees from Syria and Jordan, the humanitarian and political impact of resettlement will be greater.
A second objective is to promote the participation in resettlement by more Member States within the EU. The establishment of a joint EU resettlement programme will make it easier and more cost-effective for other Member States to take part in resettlement. These countries can benefit from the experiences and know-how acquired in other Member States and will participate in decision making on resettlement priorities.
Do Member States have to participate in the 'Joint EU Resettlement Programme'?
No. The establishment of the Programme will not mean that all Member States will be obliged to take part in resettlement. Currently, Member States decide for themselves whether they want to resettle at all, and if so, which nationalities and which persons. This situation will not change. However the programme will help Member States to take more informed and efficient decisions.
How is this going to work in practice?
The Commission will establish a Resettlement Expert Group, in which all Member States will participate, as well as other stakeholders (e.g. the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees - UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration - IOM, and NGOs which are active in resettlement). This Expert Group will – on the basis of a forecast of the resettlement needs by UNHCR for the following year – prepare for the identification of common annual EU resettlement priorities. Priorities could apply both to geographic regions and nationalities as well as to specific categories of refugees to be resettled. The EU could, for example, prioritize the resettlement of Iraqi refugees from Syria and Jordan, Somali refugees from Kenya, or Sudanese refugees from Chad. This framework will allow, on an annual basis, for the identification of new or priority resettlement needs.
Member States which resettle according to the common EU annual priorities would receive additional financial assistance of 4.000 Euros per resettled person from the European Refugee Fund. The priorities will be adopted through a decision of the Commission as one of the implementing measures of the decision establishing the European Refugee Fund. It should, however, be underlined that Member States would remain free to carry out resettlement of other categories of refugees.
The Expert Group will also exchange information between Member States on quantitative targets set by Member States and discuss specific needs with respect to resettlement, such as activities aimed at encouraging Member States which are not yet engaged in resettlement.
A second element of the Commission's proposal concerns practical cooperation on resettlement. This will be carried out by the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), which is expected to become operational in 2010. This office will provide a structural framework for joint activities which can be carried out by Member States, such as selection and fact-finding missions, pre-departure orientation programmes, medical screenings, travel or visa arrangements. Different stakeholders, both governmental and non-governmental, will be involved in these activities. The development of practical cooperation is expected to reduce the financial costs of resettlement and to increase the quality of the programme. Other forms of cooperation will include exchange of information and specific know-how and joint training. Cooperation on reception and integration is likely to improve the quality of the reception and integration systems, which differ considerably among Member States.
What are the financial implications?
The European Refugee Fund currently provides various forms of financial assistance to Member States which carry out resettlement. Different sorts of activities related to resettlement, such as selection of refugees and reception and integration programmes for resettled refugees, can receive financial assistance through the European Refugee Fund. Another way in which financial assistance is given, is the allocation of 4,000 Euros per resettled person to those Member States which resettle specific categories of refugees. While the current proposal may increase the size of this "bonus" for certain Member States, it does not alter the general objectives of the European Refugee Fund and its financial programming until 2013.
Member States will remain individually responsible for the resettlement of refugees to their country. If, as a result of the 'Joint EU Resettlement Programme', Member States decide to resettle more refugees, the financial costs will therefore be borne by these Member States themselves. Through the European Refugee Fund, Member States will however continue to receive substantial financial assistance with respect to resettlement .
How is resettlement carried out and for which refugees does it apply?
The decision to resettle a refugee from another country is taken by the government of the resettlement country. The resettlement country decides on the numbers of refugees it intends to resettle, on the nationalities of the refugees resettled, on the countries from which the resettlement takes place and on specific categories of refugees it wants to resettle.
Resettlement is generally carried out with the UNHCR acting as an intermediary. UNHCR has a mandate with respect to international protection and is in a position to recognize refugees and to identify suitable cases for resettlement. Even if not the appropriate solution for many refugees, resettlement is essential in that it offers solutions to refugees who cannot return to their country of origin, and who cannot be integrated locally in the country of first asylum either.
UNHCR submits cases for resettlement only if they fulfil certain criteria, including those cases in which return to the country of origin is no option and in which there is no prospect of local integration either, as well as particularly vulnerable persons, such as women at risk, children and persons with serious medical needs.
How does the procedure for resettling refugees operate and how does it differ compared with the normal asylum procedure?
UNHCR usually has a key role in this process and submits only cases for resettlement if the person in question has been recognized as a person in need of protection under the UNHCR mandate and after it has been established that the person is in need of resettlement. Resettled refugees generally receive a residence permit immediately upon arrival which recognizes them as a person in need of international protection and allows them to stay indefinitely in the resettlement country. Reception and integration activities can therefore also be planned ahead as well as other necessary facilities, for example with respect to schooling or medical treatment. There are many different partners involved in the resettlement procedure: the national and local government of the resettlement country, the government of the country of first asylum, UNHCR, the International Organisation for Migration and many international and local Non-Governmental Organisations.
The procedure in the case of resettlement is fundamentally different from the regular asylum procedure, in the sense that, for a resettled refugee, the legal determination that the person in question is a refugee, that he/she deserves protection and that he/she qualifies for resettlement, takes place before the refugee is effectively transferred. In contrast, the normal procedure for determining refugee status commences with the request of the asylum seeker, after the arrival of the asylum seeker in an EU Member State. It targets those refugees whose protection needs have already been clearly established and has the advantage for the resettlement country of being an orderly procedure, and for the refugee of being a process which guarantees his/her physical safety. Resettled refugees do not have to resort to different forms of illegal migration (e.g. human smuggling).
How many refugees are in need of resettlement? How many are resettled worldwide and how many are resettled to the EU?
Global resettlement needs are much greater than the resettlement places which are available worldwide. The UNHCR estimates the global resettlement needs at about 747,000 persons, including populations where resettlement is envisaged over a period of several years. On the basis of a prioritization, UNHCR estimates that out of this number, for 2010 alone, 203,000 persons will be in need of resettlement. According to the UNHCR, in 2008 65,596 refugees were resettled worldwide. Of these, 4,378 refugees, or 6.7%, departed to one of the EU countries. The numbers of refugees resettled in the EU contrasts sharply with the numbers taken in by many other countries in the industrialized world, particularly the USA, Canada and Australia. At the same time, the EU receives a proportionately greater number of 'spontaneous' asylum seekers than other parts of the developed world.
What is the current state of resettlement in the EU?
There are at present 10 EU Member States which participate annually in resettlement through national resettlement programmes (Sweden, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Portugal, France, Romania and the Czech Republic). Some other Member States have provided resettlement on an ad-hoc basis. Germany, Luxembourg, Italy and Belgium have for example made specific commitments to resettle Iraqi refugees from Syria and Jordan, following discussions in November 2008 by the EU Council of Ministers of Justice and Home Affairs, which called upon Member States to take resettle Iraqi refugees from Syria and Jordan.
Does the 'Joint EU Resettlement Programme' also aim to promote the resettlement of refugees from one EU Member State to another?
No, the current proposal concerns the resettlement to an EU Member State of refugees who find themselves outside of the EU. This should be distinguished from the resettlement of refugees from one EU Member State to another for the purpose of intra-EU solidarity. The current proposal does not aim to alleviate the particular burden which some Member States (among which notably Malta) currently face as a result of the influx of migrants and asylum seekers across the Mediterranean. This is recognized as a pressing issue with respect to which the Commission is pursuing separate initiatives, in particular a pilot project for the relocation of beneficiaries of international protection from Malta to other Member States .
Can you give more information concerning the pilot project for Malta?
Commission Vice-President Jacques Barrot launched in June the idea of a pilot project consisting on the relocation to other Member States of beneficiaries of international protection currently present in Malta. The June European Council supported this idea, given the particular situation in that Member State.
In mid-July Commission officials visited Malta to meet all the stakeholders and learn from past and current experiences (notably a project between France and Malta that has led to the relocation to France of almost 100 beneficiaries of international protection). The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) participated in this mission.
In mid-September Member States are expected to declare whether they will relocate beneficiaries of international protection from Malta, and if that is the case, how many. The Vice-President Barrot will report to the September JHA Council on this matter. Once the voluntary commitments are known, the Commission will closely work with the interested Member States and international organisations (UNHCR and IOM) to develop the implementing projects that should lead, probably in 2010, to the relocation of a number of beneficiaries of international protection to other Member States. Financing will be ensured by the European Refugee Fund Community Actions (2009 budget). The 2008 budget has already co-financed the French relocation project.
In parallel to the pilot project, a research study is being launched to look at all the implications and impacts of relocation at EU level. Results should be available in the summer of 2010.