The needs, challenges and power dynamics of refugee resettlement

UNHCR resettlement 2018

© UNHCR/Johan Bävman

This article is brought to you thanks to the strategic cooperation of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Adèle Garnier, Lecturer in Politics and Public Policy, Macquarie University & Kristin Bergtora Sandvik, Research Professor in Humanitarian Studies, Peace Research Institute Oslo & Liliana Lyra Jubilut, Professor of International Law, Human Rights and Refugee Law, Universidade Católica de Santos, Brazil

This fall, the 73rd General Assembly of the United Nations (UN) was held in New York. The 193 UN member states gather annually to discuss, and sometimes act upon, global issues. Refugees were on the agenda in 2018, not only because numbers are historically high (25.4 million at the end of 2017) but also because the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was there to present its proposal for a Global Compact on Refugees (GCR).

The GCR results from a two-year process that began with the adoption of the New York Declaration in 2016, led by UNHCR. The final GCR draft lists three main focus areas for refugee protection: reception and admission; meeting needs and supporting communities; and solutions. The GCR builds on the three traditional durable solutions to refugees – local integration, voluntary repatriation and resettlement – and adds other local solutions and complementary protection to the fold. Resettlement is dealt with in paragraphs 90 to 93 of the GCR and is presented as a mechanism of burden- and responsibility-sharing. Yet it is unlikely that the resettlement commitments put forward in the GCR will significantly change how resettlement is used globally, in spite of increasing resettlement needs.

Refugee resettlement is only considered and used by UNHCR and states as a durable solution to forced displacement for a minority of refugees, with 1.19 million refugees in need of resettlement in late 2017, up from 691,000 in 2014. Still, only a fraction of resettlement candidates are resettled annually – in 2017, 65,109 were. Worryingly, the last two years have witnessed a significant downward shift in the offering of resettlement places, with a global drop of 54% in 2017 and a considerable decline of resettlement in the US under the Trump Administration.

As we argue in our new edited volume, Refugee Resettlement: Power, Politics and Humanitarian Governance, the limited availability of refugee resettlement, as well as annual variations in resettlement numbers, can be attributed to power dynamics at the core of refugee resettlement. We use a broad definition of power that encompasses forms of power over others, such as coercion and authority, as well as power with others, such as persuasion and negotiation.

Contrary to the right of asylum, refugee resettlement is not codified in international law. Resettling refugees is entirely at the discretion of resettling states. No other actor has the power to override state authority in the offering of resettlement places. Therefore the GCR, which is a non-binding UN document, cannot impose the expansion of resettlement upon states.

It is in this context that the very modest resettlement aspirations of the GCR have to be understood. For instance, there is no demand to set a global target of resettlement places. A resettlement target had in fact been suggested by civil society in the lead-up to the adoption of the New York Declaration, but this target was not included in the Declaration.

Still, some of the GCR’s resettlement demands are less vague than the relevant sections of the New York Declaration (sections 77 to 79). The GCR promotes the adoption of a three-year strategy to expand the pool of resettlement places, as well as the adoption of specific targets in regards to elements of the resettlement caseload to be submitted by UNHCR to resettling states. In doing so, it refers to regional agreements, capacity building in new resettling states and a stronger involvement of private actors.

In addition, the GCR recommends that resettling states admit at least 25% of resettlement submissions made by UNHCR within 6 months of a UNHCR referral. It also advocates for at least 10% of states’ resettlement caseload to be set aside for cases deemed urgent by UNHCR, and for resettlement to be used strategically.

The setting of these firmer targets can be considered to reflect UNHCR’s power to persuade new states, as well as private actors, to engage more strongly in resettlement than in previous decades. Since the 1990s, UNHCR has expanded its efforts to persuade states to resettle particularly vulnerable refugees by developing guidelines regarding vulnerable refugee categories. These can be seen in the UNHCR Resettlement Handbook and in the GCR, with reference made to women and girls at risk and persons in protracted situations.

This focus in refugee resettlement on the most vulnerable refugees has led us, in our edited volume, to label refugee resettlement as an instrument of humanitarian governance: ‘humanitarian’ because of its emphasis on helping the most vulnerable, and ‘governance’ given that a range of actors are involved in resettlement practice beyond states.

Focusing on the most vulnerable implies an ethics of care, yet there is also a danger that the rights of those who are the recipients of humanitarian governance are neglected, as priority is given to saving lives rather than preserving human dignity and autonomy. There is also often very limited accountability for humanitarians towards refugees, and resettled refugees face significant socioeconomic barriers in resettling states. The imbalance of power to the detriment of refugees throughout the resettlement process can be daunting.

It is important to note that the GCR makes references to human rights treaties, though it does not use much rights-based language in its resettlement-focused paragraphs. A more assertive human rights-focused language would be welcome, as it is likely that the current decline of resettlement places will not be reversed in the near future, as mentioned above. In addition, the decline of resettlement places could have a negative impact on the autonomy and rights of resettlement candidates and resettled refugees.

One can only hope that local mobilization in resettling states will generate more political willingness to open new avenues of resettlement in the future, and that UNHCR can be an agent of change in this context. In light of the challenges discussed here, this would mean a significant transformation of the power dynamics at the core of refugee resettlement within states, among states and in the international community more broadly.

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

the European Sting Milestones

Featured Stings

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Juncker Investment Plan for Europe welcomed by European Youth Forum

Why will Paris upcoming “loose” climate change agreement work better than the previous ones?

What will it take for the world’s third-largest economy to empower women?

ECB asks for more subsidies to banks

Economic growth ‘exceeds expectations’ but trade tensions are rising: UN report

Europe should make voice ‘more heard’ in today’s ‘dangerous world,’ says UN chief

The EU banking union needs a third pillar guaranteeing deposits

Women’s leadership ‘critical’ to future of Niger

Portugal: €4.66 million in aid for 1,460 dismissed workers and jobless young

Fair completion rules and the law of gravity don’t apply to banks

Action needed to tackle stalled social mobility

European Business Summit 2014: Sting Report, Day I

World Cancer Day: Early cervical cancer diagnosis could save lives of over 300,000 women

IMF – World Bank meetings: US – Germany clash instituted, anti-globalization prospects visualized

Cultural Intelligence: the importance of changing perspectives

Free trade agreement between EU and India?

Brexit kick-off: a historic day for the EU anticlockwise

International tourism arrivals hit record high in 2017, UN agency reports

The European brain drain and the deteriorating medical workforce

New migration pact highlights key role of business in protecting migrants, say UN experts

Mali: ‘Dire’ humanitarian situation, ‘grave’ security concerns challenge fragile peace

Challenges remain in DPRK despite ‘slight’ improvements in health, wellbeing: UNICEF

These countries are pioneering hydrogen power

On flight to sustainable development, ‘leave no country behind’, urges aviation agency

Could robot leaders do better than our current politicians?

Guinea-Bissau: Upcoming elections vital to prevent ‘relapse’ into instability, says UN envoy

Humanitarian aid convoy to Syria’s Rukban camp: Mission Accomplished

Why sustainable packaging is good for profits as well as the planet

Court of Auditors: EU spending infested with errors well above the materiality threshold of 2%

G20 LIVE: the EU trade gold rush continues as EU and Australia agree to launch Free Trade Agreement (FTA) live from Antalya Turkey

Security Union: political agreement on strengthened Schengen Information System

New EU rules to thwart money laundering and terrorist financing

The “Legend of the Sun” wishes you Happy Chinese New Year 2015 from Brussels

Here’s what happened when one Guatemalan town went to war on plastic waste

EU-Turkey relations: Will Turkey manage to revive the EU accession process talks?

Texting is a daily source of stress for 1/3 of people – are you one of them?

How leaders can use ‘agile governance’ to drive tech and win trust

The new EU “fiscal compact” an intimidation for all people

New UN rights chief pledges to push back on ‘centuries of prejudice and discrimination’

Can Greece’s devastating economy deal with the migration crisis?

MWC 2016 LIVE: Getty chief says one in four new images from phones

A Sting Exclusive: “On the road to Japan-EU Economic Partnership Agreement”, by Ambassador Katakami of the Japanese Mission to the European Union

Health is nothing but the main consequence of climate change

Draghi to lay his print on long term ECB policies prior to exiting next year

The fatal consequences of troika’s blind austerity policy

Greece to stay in the euro area but the cost to its people remains elusive

Human rights chief calls for international probe on Venezuela, following ‘shocking accounts of extrajudicial killings’

Can Obama attract Iran close to the US sphere of influence?

UN chief seeking ‘renewed commitment’ to global rules and values, as world leaders head to New York

Member States and Commission to work together to boost artificial intelligence “made in Europe”

EU leaders let tax-evaders untouched

Greece’s last Eurogroup or the beginning of a new solid European Union?

EU Commission challenges Berlin by proposing breakthrough legislation on banks

“Working together to make a change at the COP 21 in Paris”, an article by Ambassador Yang of the Chinese Mission to EU

“As long as we work together through thick and thin, more benefits can be delivered to the people of Eurasia”, China’s Premier Li Keqiang highlights from ASEM in Brussels

Trump enrages the Europeans and isolates the US in G7

Stricter rules to stop terrorists from using homemade explosives

UN agency chiefs issue ‘call to action’ on behalf of refugee children

Local innovation, international impact: SMEs and the ITU Telecom World Awards

May led Britain to chaos, now looks for way out with unpredictable DUP

More Stings?

Comments

  1. Just do it. International treaty and if they don’t comply a financial penalty of some kind. One that doesn’t cause more human rights abuses to those citizens who are entrapped by the state that does not comply. The world needs to change now. Self interest only is obselete and part of the extinctionist branch for earth. Straight forward and obvious.

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s