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UNHCR Urges Countries To Resettle Refugees In Acute Need

The U.N. refugee agency is urging more countries to resettle refugees in acute need of protection.  The UNHCR begins a three-day meeting Tuesday with governments and non-governmental agencies to seek solutions for the growing number of refugees in need of resettlement.

The U.N. refugee agency reports many of the more than 15 million refugees around the world are not able to go home for fear of persecution.  It says more than 80 percent of them live in developing countries with little or no possibility of integration.  The UNHCR says the only hope for the refugees is to find a country willing to accept them for resettlement.  Unfortunately, it says the gap is widening between the number of refugees in need of resettlement and countries willing to accept them.

UNHCR Director of International Protection Volker Turk said more than 800,000 refugees will need resettling in third countries during the next three to five years.

"Only 10 percent of refugees who we know are in need of resettlement are actually going to get a resettlement place," said Turk.  "So, it does require, despite the many successes that we have with resettlement, it does require a lot more engagement by governments around the world to help us with this lifeline that refugees have."

Refugees who are in a particularly vulnerable situation and considered to be in acute need of protection include victims of sexual and gender-based violence, those kept in detention for allegedly having committed a crime, and refugees who are in trouble with their governments and can't go home.

Currently, only a handful of nations take part in UNHCR resettlement programs.  They accept refugees in quotas on an annual basis.  Last year, government statistics show 19 countries resettled more than 112,000 refugees with or without UNHCR assistance.  

The Director-General of the Swedish Migration Board, Dan Eliasson, said the United States accepted about 80,000.  

"Europe as such resettled 4,500 persons and Sweden resettled around 2,000 of these 4,500," Eliasson said.  "And, it goes without saying that large countries in Europe need to do more.  I think with the prosperity that we have in Europe. I think there is a moral obligation for Europe to do more.  I do also believe that Europe, historically, to a large extent, has based its prosperity on trade with countries in need right now."  

Eliasson says there is a tendency toward more European countries shouldering responsibility.  He says there is a European resettlement program under way and a European asylum support office being created that will assist in this work as well.

Sweden tops the list of 13 European countries accepting refugees for resettlement.  Last year, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Luxembourg, for the first time, implemented ad hoc resettlement programs.

The UNHCR says the widening gap between global resettlement needs and the quotas offered by states will be at the core of meeting.  It says participants are likely to look at other strategies for resettlement as well.

This, it says, might include resettling skilled refugees as part of a regular migration program or providing special visas to students.

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