South Africa. Congolese refugees resettled to France

A Congolese family heads to a new life in France, Cape Town International Airport, South Africa, March 2017.  © UNHCR/James Oatway

Despite an estimated 1.44 million refugees in urgent need of resettlement globally, only 22,770 were resettled through UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, last year. This is according to annual statistics released by the agency today.

These are the lowest refugee resettlement numbers the agency has witnessed in almost two decades. The drop stems from low quotas put forward by states, as well as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which delayed departures and programmes.

“We can only hope that 2020 will be an extreme anomaly for refugee resettlement. We urgently call on governments to boost their programmes this year, offer more places, expedite the processing of cases and help us save lives of those most in need and at greatest risk,” said UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Gillian Triggs.

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“Last year was an extremely challenging one for people across the globe, but even more so for so many refugees who are already living on the margins, struggling to survive.”

Though the pandemic greatly impacted the numbers of refugees able to be resettled in 2020, UNHCR is encouraged by the fact that 20 countries still resumed their programmes, processing and receiving refugees throughout the year. Many of these implemented innovative and flexible ways to process cases throughout the pandemic.

“We have seen that refugee resettlement can be managed, even during a global health emergency, as long as there are proper and adequate health and safety protocols in place,” said Triggs.

The largest numbers of resettled refugees in 2020 originated from Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Myanmar.

With 85 per cent of the 20.4 million refugees under UNHCR’s mandate hosted in developing regions, resettlement is a tangible way in which states can better protect refugees, demonstrate solidarity and support host countries. Facilitated family reunion, as well as labour and education pathways are other opportunities for refugees that countries can support.

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These are key objectives of the Global Compact on Refugees, and envisaged in a three-year resettlement and complementary pathways strategy launched by governments, non-governmental organizations, civil society and UNHCR.

“The fact is that as long as wars and conflict continue, displacement remains protracted, and the least-resourced countries are left with the extremely disproportionate burden of hosting the majority of the world’s refugees, we need other countries to step up,” Triggs said.