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.

the sting Milestones

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

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

Why precision medicine won’t transform healthcare – but governance could

Czech PM should resolve his conflict of interest as a matter of urgency say MEPs

One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman

The global economy is woefully unprepared for biological threats. This is what we need to do

Daughter of 2019 Sakharov Prize winner Ilham Tohti receives prize on his behalf

Perspective on the policy of disinformation in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic

State aid: Commission approves €1.25 billion German measure to recapitalise TUI

The challenges of Chinese investment in Latin America

Commission introduces surveillance of imports of bioethanol, and remains open to examining requests from other sectors

Mergers: Commission approves acquisition of joint control over Prosegur Alarmas by Telefónica and Prosegur

Climate change takes toll on Zimbabwe’s natural habitat, UN deputy chief observes

Fight against gender inequality in medicine: Brazilian women physians working at the frontline of COVID-19

When connectivity is not enough: the key to meaningful digital inclusion

State aid: Commission approves €300 million public support for the development of ultrafast broadband network in Greece

Banks can achieve net-zero pledge by 2050. Here’s how

A guide to thriving in the post-COVID-19 workplace

‘Multiplicity’ of rights violations in Ukraine as fifth winter of conflict bites

Preparing for developing countries the ‘Greek cure’

Donald Tusk presents EU summit conclusions for last time

State aid: Commission approves €500 million Greek aid scheme to support uncovered fixed costs of companies affected by coronavirus outbreak

These are the world’s best universities for recycling and sustainability

Speeches of Vice Premier LIU He and Vice President of the European Commission Jyrki Katainen at the Press Conference of the Seventh China-EU High-level Economic and Trade Dialogue

IPCC reports devastating climate consequences; US in denial while EU does not fully support the 2050 net zero emissions target

YO!Fest back in Strasbourg for the 2nd edition of the European Youth Event – 20-21 May 2016

A Sting Exclusive: Young people are right about climate change; it’s time to listen

Beyond self-regulation: dealing with Europe’s consumption problem

Managing third-party risks? Here’s how a holistic approach can help

Activist investors are more powerful than ever. Here’s what that means for the economy

Satellites and data are going to help us phase out fossil fuels. Here’s how

The importance and the need of mobile technology in the health care system and in saving lives.

The economic effects of the COVID-19 coronavirus around the world

Schengen: new rules for temporary checks at national borders

Brexit: the time has come to back the withdrawal deal

A new era of computing is coming. How can we make sure it is sustainable?

The three sins the EU committed in 2015

Antimicrobial resistance: how can an intersectoral approach between society and healthcare professionals be developed and applied?

Why we need artists who strive for social change

Here are three ways Africa’s youth are defeating corruption

AI technologies must prevent discrimination and protect diversity

Gender equality: an issue much talked about but less acted upon

Economic Outlook: Weak trade and investment threaten long-term growth

Tuberculosis infections declining, but not fast enough among poor, marginalised: UN health agency

US-China trade war: Washington now wants control of the renminbi-yuan

COVID-19 Therapeutics Strategy: Commission identifies five promising candidate therapeutics

Business is a crucial partner in solving the mental health challenge

Tech must embrace teamwork to transform the world

UN experts urge United Arab Emirates to release terminally ill woman to live her last days ‘in dignity’

The mental domain in times of a pandemic

UN food agency begins ‘last resort’ partial withdrawal of aid to opposition-held Yemeni capital

Don’t compare data to oil – digitization needs a new mindset

How TV has brought mental health issues into the light – and helped to banish stigma

IMF: European banks do not perform their duty to real economy

De Gucht: More gaffes with the talks on the EU-US free trade agreement

Innovations in reusable packaging need a playbook. Here’s why

What the world will look like after the Iran and 5+1 deal; the US emerges as major power broker in Middle East

Climate change will never be combatted by EU alone while some G20 countries keep procrastinating

How India’s new consumers can contribute to a $6 trillion opportunity

How data residency laws can harm privacy, commerce and innovation – and do little for national security

Sustainable Development Goals: making the world a better place

Europe votes against GMOs but the Council votes for TTIP

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.

Leave a Reply to Anita r Cancel reply

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

%d bloggers like this: