Building Knowledge for a Concerted and Sustainable Approach to Refugee Resettlement in the EU and its Member States

What is resettlement?

Resettlement is a durable solution that may be offered to refugees who have sought protection in a country where local integration is not an option, and who cannot return to their home country.

Unlike asylum, resettlement is not a right: states offer resettlement on a voluntary basis. In practical terms, refugees with specific needs are selected by UNHCR or the resettlement country. They are then transferred from their current country of asylum to the country that has accepted to receive them. These refugees should be granted a residence status.

Why resettling?

Resettlement is a way to alleviate countries of first asylum of the burden of refugees who can neither return nor be locally integrated. It is an essential tool in sharing responsibility for refugee protection with those developing countries that receive the largest number of refugees, such as Pakistan and Kenya.

How many people are resettled?

Only a small minority of refugees worldwide are resettled. Out of all refugees, only 1 per cent is considered by UNHCR as needing resettlement. Ultimately, about 10 per cent of these are actually resettled each year.  

Compared with protection needs and involvement in resettlement of countries like the US and Canada, the contribution of EU Member States is modest. Moreover, it varies from year to year and from place to place. Over the last years, the European Commission has tried to foster cooperation in the field of resettlement. A Joint EU-resettlement programme was finally adopted by the European Parliament on 29 March 2012. It introduces some important incentives to persuade Member States to start resettlement programmes or to increase the number of resettlement places. Read more on our Joint EU-resettlement programme-page


Who decides which refugees should be resettled?

UNHCR usually pre-selects refugees for resettlement on an individual or collective basis. Then it calls for states to offer resettlement places. Countries can agree to receive the proposed refugees on the basis of UNHCR dossier or decide, instead, to organise their own selection missions in the country of asylum. Resettlement countries may also carry out the whole selection process, choosing which refugees will be resettled. Read more on UNHCR's resettlement page

Are “quota refugees” and “UN refugees” different from resettled refugees?

In some countries, resettled refugees may also be called “quota refugees” (as they are taken in under the refugee quota) or “UN refugees” (as they are selected by UNHCR). The label “quota refugee” can apply in traditional resettlement countries with annual quotas for the selection of refugees for resettlement.  

What is the difference between resettlement and relocation?

In the European context, resettlement involves the transfer of people in need of protection from a country outside the EU to an EU Member State. Relocation involves the transfer of people in need of protection from an EU Member State to another EU Member State.

Both resettlement and relocation are carried out on a voluntary basis by countries and with the consent of the beneficiary of international protection concerned. There have been several projects regarding relocation from Malta to Member States. 

Read more Q&A in a PDF-document made by UNHCR

Read reports, guides and handbooks about resettlement here