A new international approach to sharing relocated refugees

Numerous governments and most affected stakeholders, if not all, have been thinking a lot, these past few days, about the "migrant crisis", in order to better coordinate international solidarity when faced with the flow of refugees...

With respect to Europe, a suggestion was made to develop a European scheme for resettlement. Albeit modest at this stage, it nevertheless could grow and become gradually effective. Thus, the European Union (EU) member states would undertake to accept an annual quota of refugees from outside Europe. This resettlement scheme differs from the relocation measure that meets the needs of refugees already present in Europe, through an internal (intra-EU) "geographical redistribution" scheme.

During the last few years, the number of refugees relocated in Europe has increased and has not stopped increasing (from 6,468 in 2013 to more than 7,000 expected for 2015). The resettlement program was implemented by and within 14 member states, with the European Commission acting as a coordinator. However, and in spite of the significant financial incentives provided by the European Union (previously under the European Refugee Fund and now under the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund), the number of people relocated, or who will be relocated in the future, will remain relatively low and far from meeting in a meaningful way the needs identified by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR): more than one million people are reportedly expected for 2015. For informational purposes, in 2014, a little more than 880,000 people in total were relocated in the world, representing 8 % of the total needs then identified.

Governments, the UNHCR, international and national NGO’s, observers such as the Josefa Foundation and other experts are actually increasing their efforts, at this time, to imagine a new European asylum system, one truly based on sharing and solidarity measures. The dramatic events of the spring and summer of 2015 have pressured the EU to develop possible allocation criteria and to attempt to scientifically design an intra-EU distribution scheme for refugees awaiting resettlement in Europe, a scheme upon which a real European program of resettlement would be based. These criteria would include, country by country, the population, the GDP, the number of applications for asylum filed for the previous year, the number of recognized refugees and the current proportion of foreigners residing in the country. In brief, a mathematical formula has been developed to allocate the people to be relocated among the EU member states, using these criteria.

However, for such a system to work, the EU member states need to either contribute to the European resettlement program, or, under serious legal constraint, have the will to commit to it by agreeing to accept their respective share of relocated people. This, however, is the missing link at the moment, for neither the legislation, nor a real and strong willingness to implement such a program exists. As an observer and supporter of this initiative, we would like to think ahead and imagine that such an allocation system of resettlement quotas could be designed at the international level rather than at the European level. This way, it would put the EU on an equal footing with other countries that have experience with resettlement. A fair allocation system of resettlement quotas among the richest and most developed nations of the world, based on fair and objective criteria – such as, for example, those already imagined by the EU for itself –, seems to us an innovative idea. Besides, by appreciating the need to work more closely in unison, the member states would respond to the ever increasing need for protection in our world, and the EU would also be considered a participant among others. This initiative would also, to a certain extent, place more pressure on each European state to take part in it, because the international community would make an appeal to all the stakeholders. Since the EU itself recommends a greater solidarity in sharing (as written in its Treaty – see Article 81 of the TFUE) and has to put it into practice, it would seem that such an international approach could also help to defuse the current tensions and dissensions in Europe with regard to the "migrant crisis". Indeed, the allocation criteria system would apply to all countries participating in resettlement: Australia, Canada, the United States, New Zealand, the EU in general, and other countries, in a fair and transparent manner, through the allocation of quotas of people ready to be relocated, within a given period, by country. Such a system, obviously designed by a neutral stakeholder, such as the UNHCR or a Think Tank such as the Migration Policy Institute which is particularly involved in this issue, would represent a renewed call and an opportunity for the relevant countries to confirm their international commitment to sustainable solutions for refugees, in line with the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees, the UNHCR Statute and subsequent UNHCR-related resolutions.

Once such an international measure is proposed, this would imply that all countries participating in resettlement gather and make a solemn commitment to adopt it and put it into practice. Such an event could take place at the United Nations General Assembly. Moreover, this new international approach based on the fair sharing of relocated refugees would bring a new momentum to the international institution of asylum, more respectable and necessary than ever.