Resettlement: one of the three durable solutions for refugees or an instrument of protection for some?

It is traditionally accepted that, apart from returning to one’s country of origin or integrating into one’s host country, resettlement is one of the three durable solutions "offered" to the more than 10 million people registered as refugees in the world. So, what is this solution, presented as one of the three options available for people in situations of forced exile, and is it really a solution ?


Each year, through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), tens of thousands of people are given the opportunity to leave their country of first asylum, located generally along the border of the country they fled, in order to be accommodated in a second host country, this one farther away and, without a doubt, Western. For example, in 2011 some 60,000 people were resettled, for the most part, in the U.S. (more than 40,000), Canada (about 7,000), Australia (just over 6,000), Sweden and Norway. In total, Europe and its 27 member states welcomed no more than 4,100 refugees through resettlement, while more than 250,000 people sought asylum "directly" from a European country and about a quarter of them received some form of protection, the majority (about 42,000) full refugee status. The resettled people are mainly from Bhutan, Burma, Iraq, Somalia and Eritrea.

In principle, resettlement is offered to people who are in a highly vulnerable situation in their first host country, with no real prospect of returning home, and recognizably in need of immediate physical or statutory protection. These people are selected based on criteria established by the UNHCR and by the future country of asylum, doubly anxious not to bring in people with a security risk or who, in great numbers, would highly burden their medical or social system.

Resettled people can obtain the status of long term resident as well as socio-economic rights traditionally offered to people who obtain refugee status "directly". Therefore it is true that a new horizon is finally opened, with, generally, various aids to integration. As mentioned earlier in this column, Belgium will open in 2013, for the first time in a structural way, a small resettlement program which will involve 100 people mainly from the Great Lakes region in Africa. Within its parameters and in accordance with its statutes, the Josefa Foundation will contribute to the welcoming of resettled people in 2014.

Upon reflection on the subject, we find that, even if the resettlement solution, sometimes after many years in the country of first exile, may actually be saving for some, it remains difficult and challenging for the majority of people involved. Indeed, few are prepared to live differently in a Western and often urban setting, with its latent performance requirements for rapid integration without real economic support. For resettled people, a new form of primarily social and cultural adjustment (of resiliency ?) is necessary. Maybe we don’t realise early enough what is at stake in the process of resettlement, and that challenge could be studied further.

Moreover the question that remains is to understand how the statistical discrepancy between the millions of people in a forced displacement situation (outside their borders) and the tens of thousands of them who can take advantage of resettlement in a distant land which is open to this form, after all, of selective immigration, can qualify for resettlement as one of the three durable solutions offered to refugees.

In the eyes of the Josefa Foundation, resettlement is at least a real instrument of protection reserved for a very limited number of individual cases in need of a second exile. However, the limited number of places available should not be allowed to officially represent resettlement as one of the three durable solutions available to refugees. Thus, the efforts of the international community should focus on sustainable return or integration, in joint partnership with development stakeholders, while keeping open the smaller channel of a third way, resettlement, an instrument of  protection reserved for a few. In this regard, the ongoing experience of Belgium will be essential to the Josefa Foundation to deepen and spread its proposals for housing, namely the Josefa House, in order to make resettlement, in some cases, an ethical and sustainable integration mode.