Saturday

2nd Jul 2022

Opinion

EU must not retreat from refugee resettlement

  • Migrants on the Polish-Belarusian border. Worldwide than 1.47 million refugees are awaiting resettlement (Photo: Telegram)
Listen to article

This World Refugee Day (20 June) the global picture on displacement is darker than ever before.

With a record 100 million people forcibly displaced from their homes, and some 83 percent hosted in low- and middle-income countries, it's clear that immediate action is needed to protect refugees trapped in vulnerable situations.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

In this context, the EU's response to people fleeing Ukraine has offered a glimmer of hope and demonstrated powerfully something we have long known: the EU is perfectly capable of welcoming refugees with humanity, dignity and respect, in a way that supports their inclusion and integration.

However, the stark reality is that people arriving in Europe fleeing equally devastating crises around the world, including Afghanistan and Syria, continue to face a very different reality — often left to languish in camps for months or years, met with walls rather than welcome, and isolated from their local communities.

Time to learn

It's time for the EU to learn lessons from its principled and effective response to the Ukraine crisis, and finally put in place a fair and humane asylum system that upholds the rights of all refugees — regardless of their country of origin.

A key tool to achieve this is refugee resettlement — one of the few safe and regular pathways for vulnerable refugees to reach the EU, and an important expression of solidarity that can alleviate pressure on major refugee-hosting countries such as Lebanon, Ethiopia, Jordan and Uganda.

Yet, alarmingly, as the number of people in displacement reaches record highs, the gap between global needs and the EU's resettlement efforts is growing fast.

Last week, the International Rescue Committee joined six other civil society organisations to raise the alarm on refugee resettlement — warning that unless the EU urgently reinforces its commitment to resettlement, some countries' programmes risk being placed on hold, delayed or downscaled.

This backsliding is partly a result of additional pressure on EU asylum systems and a lack of long-term planning around reception and resettlement programming.

However, these programmes were dealt a further blow by Covid-19, which all but brought resettlement to a halt in 2020 when only 8,314 refugees were resettled in EU member states — far short of the EU (plus UK's) target of 30,000.

This target was rolled over into the following year, but even as international travel began to resume in 2021, Europe welcomed only 15,660 refugees through this route, accounting for just 1.1 percent of global resettlement needs.

Still today, most European resettlement programmes have not returned to their normal scale. This year, states have agreed to resettle over 20,000 refugees, on top of admitting 40,000 Afghans at risk between 2021-2022.

Yet, so far, just 4,075 resettled refugees have arrived in EU countries since the start of January. At this time of rapidly mounting needs, this is simply not good enough.

Every single delay and shortfall leaves vulnerable refugees trapped in limbo, often with devastating impacts on their mental and physical health and wellbeing.

Targets matter

The IRC's experience from the US shows that, once resettlement systems are allowed to shrink or be dismantled, it is costly, complex and time-consuming to rebuild them. Here's how the EU can reverse this dangerous trend, and make resettlement the success story it once promised to be.

First, the EU must recognise that targets matter. Member states must work towards meeting their current resettlement commitment to resettle 20,000 refugees in 2022, on top of fulfilling their pledge to welcome nearly 40,000 Afghans at risk.

Second, EU leaders must make bold new pledges for the future in line with their existing commitments to grow Europe's resettlement programmes year-on-year. It is realistic and achievable for EU states to resettle at least 40,000 refugees in 2023, including renewed pledges for priority situations like Afghanistan.

Third, Europe's limited reception capacity continues to be a major challenge, as we've witnessed in the response to arrivals from Ukraine.

It's critical that EU leaders strengthen reception and integration measures — not only to build a strong foundation for resettlement programmes, but to expand the EU's long-term capacity to protect and support refugees and asylum seekers.

The IRC believes it is well within Europe's ability to welcome 250,000 refugees through resettlement by the end of 2025, once structures have been properly scaled up.

Lastly, the EU has an opportunity to send a strong political signal in support of refugee resettlement by swiftly adopting the Union Resettlement and Humanitarian Admission Framework (URF).

By rallying behind this important piece of legislation, the European Parliament and member states could establish a more structured and predictable EU resettlement policy that is able to withstand future shocks.

This World Refugee Day, EU policymakers must build on their current efforts towards protecting and welcoming people fleeing Ukraine. In just a few weeks, member states will be invited to begin making resettlement pledges for 2023.

They should seize this chance to breathe fresh life into these important programmes, rather than allowing them to fade out, along with the dreams of more than 1.47 million refugees awaiting resettlement who are relying on this route for a chance of a brighter future.

Author bio

Harlem Désir is senior vice-president Europe, International Rescue Committee, and former French minister of foreign affairs.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Nato's Madrid summit — key takeaways

For the most part Nato and its 30 leaders rose to the occasion — but it wasn't without room for improvement. The lesson remains that Nato still doesn't know how or want to hold allies accountable for disruptive behaviour.

If Russia collapses — which states will break away?

Increasingly, analysts — both inside and outside of Russia — are considering the possibility of the Russian Federation's collapse into a series of independent states. Who are the most likely candidates for secession in Russia's south, east, and centre?

Column

One rubicon after another

We realise that we are living in one of those key moments in history, with events unfolding exactly the way Swiss art historian Jacob Burckhardt describes them: a sudden crisis, rushing everything into overdrive.

Expect Czech EU presidency to downgrade V4 priorities

The Czech Republic is already in the throes of an extremely difficult period — several waves of Covid, high inflation, energy fears, an influx of Ukrainian refugees and a Prague corruption scandal. Now it has the EU presidency.

News in Brief

  1. EU Parliament 'photographs protesting interpreters'
  2. Poland still failing to meet EU judicial criteria
  3. Report: Polish president fishing for UN job
  4. Auditors raise alarm on EU Commission use of consultants
  5. Kaliningrad talks needed with Russia, says Polish PM
  6. Report: EU to curb state-backed foreign takeovers
  7. EU announces trade deal with New Zealand
  8. Russia threatens Norway over goods transit

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis
  4. Council of the EUEU: new rules on corporate sustainability reporting
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers for culture: Protect Ukraine’s cultural heritage!
  6. Reuters InstituteDigital News Report 2022

Latest News

  1. Nato's Madrid summit — key takeaways
  2. Czech presidency to fortify EU embrace of Ukraine
  3. Covid-profiting super rich should fight hunger, says UN food chief
  4. EU pollution and cancer — it doesn't have to be this way
  5. Israel smeared Palestinian activists, EU admits
  6. MEPs boycott awards over controversial sponsorship
  7. If Russia collapses — which states will break away?
  8. EU Parliament interpreters stage strike

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us