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UNHCR warns 2020 risks lowest resettlement levels in recent history

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Thirteen-year-old Syrian refugee Bakr works in a supermarket and delivers food to support his family in Barja, Lebanon. The family are awaiting resettlement to Norway © UNHCR/Diego Ibarra Sánchez

2020 will be a record low for refugee resettlement, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, warns today.

“We are dealing with a disappointingly low resettlement ceiling to begin with - a quota of less than 50,000 for the entire year - and this was further impacted by COVID-19 delaying departures and pausing some states’ resettlement programs,” said UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Gillian Triggs.

According to latest UNHCR data, only 15,425 refugees were resettled from January to the end of September this year, compared to 50,086 over the same period last year.

“Current rates point to one of the lowest levels of resettlement witnessed in almost two decades. This is a blow for refugee protection and for the ability to save lives and protect those most at risk,” said Triggs.

UNHCR is urging states to resettle as many refugees as possible in 2020 in order not to lose those resettlement opportunities for refugees, and to maintain resettlement quotas for 2021.

Some countries have established or expanded their capacities to apply flexible processing modalities and are safely managing resettlement travel with recommended protocols in place. UNHCR is encouraging others to do the same.

“Expanding safe and legal pathways to protection, including through resettlement, saves refugees’ lives and it can also mitigate their resort to dangerous journeys by land or sea,” Triggs said.

The impact of COVID-19 put on hold life-saving evacuation of refugees from Libya on 12 March, only restarting again on 15 October. Some 280 refugees who were previously evacuated to emergency transit facilities in Niger and Rwanda are currently waiting to depart to resettlement countries, while 354 people are waiting for decisions from resettlement countries.

Encouragingly however, several resettlement countries prioritized departures from Lebanon once lockdown measures were lifted, giving great relief to refugees additionally traumatized by the devastating Beirut Port explosion. A total of 1,027 refugees departed from Lebanon to nine resettlement countries between August and September.

Despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, UNHCR resettlement operations have been working to identify and process cases throughout the year, submitting resettlement files for more than 31,000 refugees.

Of the refugees that were resettled this year, Syrians comprised the bulk (41 per cent) followed by Congolese (16 per cent). Others were from 47 countries of origin, including Iraq, Myanmar and Afghanistan. Most had legal and physical protection needs, were survivors of violence or torture or were women and children at risk.

One of the key objectives of the Global Compact on Refugees is to better protect refugees and to support countries hosting large refugee populations, including through increased resettlement and complementary pathways. In this spirit of global sharing of responsibility for refugees, UNHCR urges more countries to join the program and resettle refugees and make family reunification and complementary Pathways more accessible to refugees.