Refugee Resettlement Reaches All Time Low

A refugees welcome sign in Madrid, Spain

Refugee resettlement numbers have experienced a significant worldwide decline, due to COVID-19, the UN refugee agency has recorded.

Only 15,425 were resettled from January to September 2020 globally. According to data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), this is a drop from almost 64,000 from 2019.

Gillian Triggs the UNCHR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection stated these figures showcased the “lowest levels of resettlement witnessed in almost two decades”.

Refugee Resettlement in the UK

Refugee resettlement flights to the UK by the government have halted since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March. Various other countries have halted refugee programmes, resulting in a massive dip. 15,000 potential resettlement places could be lost by the end of the year.

The Archbishop of York has urged the UK government to reinstate their resettlement programme in line with Britain’s “proud tradition of offering sanctuary”, to protect those “who have come to the UK escaping some of the world’s most brutal conflicts”. 

A Home Office spokesperson discussed the recommencement of the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS). They stated “we are able to deliver our commitment to bring 20,000 refugees who have fled the conflict in Syria to rebuild their lives safely in the UK”. 19,750 refugees – mainly Syrians – have resettled in the UK since 2015, with the last few spaces expected to be filled and resettled “early in the new year”.

The news of the reopening of the VPRS is a positive sign for refugee resettlement numbers. There has been no further mention of the Global Resettlement Scheme however, which was due to replace the VPRS in April.

Syrian children hugging in a refugee camp [Image: istockphoto.com]

Resettlement in Europe

The UNHCR has praised Spain, Italy and France for resettling 1027 refugees from August to September, despite mass coronavirus deaths.

41% of the refugees resettled are Syrian and 16% Congolese.  Most are women and children seeking refuge from conflict, violence, and torture.

The UNHCR urged the UK to restart its programme to resettle as many refugees as possible for the remainder of 2020.

In response, the Home Office announced their intentions to “roll out a new global resettlement scheme as soon as coronavirus circumstances allow”. No further detail on a timeline has been offered. The UNHCR is still working to submit resettlement files for citizens in over 47 countries worldwide. 

Implementing legal resettlement processes, the UNHCR hopes, will “mitigate their (refugees) resort to dangerous journeys by land or sea”. Many organisations have pointed to the small fraction of displaced people that benefit from resettlement schemes.

To prevent incidents such as the tragic death of the 39 Chinese migrants in Essex, the recent fatal shooting of a two-year-old child in Belgium, and English Channel crossings, more work must be done to secure safe and legal migration and asylum processes.

[Header image: Maria Teneva, Unsplash]