Resettlement is a ‘ durable solution ’ that may be offered to refugees who cannot return to their home country and cannot integrate or find appropriate protection in their country of asylum, or are considered to be particularly vulnerable. While UNHCR is the primary referral agency to states for the consideration of refugees for resettlement, it is not the only organisation that makes referrals, and states may take resettlement referrals from any organisation at the discretion of the state.

Resettlement is not a right, and there is no obligation on states to accept refugees for resettlement. UNHCR identifies refugees in need of resettlement as part of its mandate, but states make decisions on admissibility according to national policies and immigration regulations. A state offering resettlement places therefore has full authority with respect to decisions on individual resettlement cases. Resettlement states usually conduct an independent refugee determination, and may apply additional selection criteria and conduct interviews to assess the compliance of refugees referred by UNHCR and others.

Resettlement is not a realistic option for the vast majority of the world’s refugee population, but does benefit thousands of refugees around the world. Only 1% of the world’s refugees are submitted for resettlement consideration every year, and only about 10% of the refugees in need of resettlement are accepted .

Twenty-five countries have regular refugee resettlement programmes and consider submissions for resettlement according to the needs and priorities identified by UNHCR and its partners. Other countries do not have established resettlement programmes, but may resettle refugees on an ad hoc basis, and some maintain special resettlement places for refugees with specific needs.

Refugees who are admitted for resettlement in a third country are granted permanent residence in that country. Resettlement states guarantee protection of the refugees against forced return and ensure that their families and dependants have access to civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights similar to those enjoyed by nationals, and integration should be facilitated by the resettlement country. Resettled refugees should also have the possibility to become naturalized citizens of the resettlement country.

States that offer resettlement are also among those that are making it next to impossible for a refugee to reach their borders to seek asylum. While being able to limit and select arrivals though visas and other restrictions, some couch their resettlement programs as ‘burden sharing’.

Determining eligibility for resettlement is a procedure that is far from straightforward. The UNHCR Resettlement Handbook provides 62 pages on criteria. The first section is devoted to legal and physical protection and, in short, makes people who cannot be protected in their host country a high priority. Such people may risk detention or refoulement by their host state or attack by persons from their country of origin. There are states prepared to ensure such persons safety by moving them out of their host state within days, but to achieve these results requires a UNHCR representative who is immediately attentive and streamlined systems.

Does any refugee have local integration prospects in States where they do not enjoy their rights to work, health services, to education, or if they are detained in camps, even their right to the freedom of movement?  Given that few live in States that honour their rights either as a human being or a refugee, we have to ask ourselves as far as eligibility for resettlement, ‘Why not the whole world of refugees?’.

This section provides information on each of the states that offer resettlement places, as available from their websites and from the  UNHCR Resettlement Handbook . We welcome further contributions from practitioners and refugees about your experiences of resettlement policies around the world.

UNHCR defines the criteria for resettlement consideration as follows:

  • Legal and/or Physical Protection Needs of the refugee in the country of refuge (this includes a threat of refoulement);
  • Survivors of Torture and/or Violence, where repatriation or the conditions of asylum could result in further traumatization and/or heightened risk; or where appropriate treatment is not available;
  • Medical Needs, in particular life-saving treatment that is unavailable in the country of refuge;
  • Women and Girls at Risk, who have protection problems particular to their gender;
  • Family Reunification, when resettlement is the only means to reunite refugee family members who, owing to refugee flight or displacement, are separated by borders or entire continents;
  • Children and Adolescents at Risk, where a best interests determination supports resettlement;

Lack of Foreseeable Alternative Durable Solutions, which generally is relevant only when other solutions are not feasible in the foreseeable future, when resettlement can be used strategically, and/or when it can open possibilities for comprehensive solutions.

More information on resettlement by UNHCR:

  1. What is resettlement
  2. Frequently asked questions about resettlement
  3. UNHCR Three-year strategy and complementary pathways 
  4. Information on UNHCR resettlement

Useful Websites

1. World Community of resettled Refugees (WCRR)

World Community of resettled Refugees (WCRR) is an online social community specifically designed for persons who were resettled as refugees to Canada, USA or Australia.
The goal of the WCRR is to help build a cohesive group of resettled refugees who wish to share the story of their resettlement experience and the life they have built in a new country. The website will also serve as a forum through which members can connect with others in nearby communities and reconnect with family and friends with whom they have been separated.

The website works by invitation only; you need an invitation from a registered member, an NGO that works with resettled refugees, or email UNHCR to request an invitation. Please visit the website for more information on how to request an invitation.

2. The Know Reset Project

‘Building the Knowledge for a Concerted and Sustainable Approach to Refugee Resettlement in the EU and its Member States’
Know Reset Project – Migration Policy Centre
Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies
European University Institute
Via delle Fontanelle 19
I-50014 San Domenico di Fiesole (FI)
Tel: (+39) 055 4685 892
Fax: (+39) 055 4685 770

Launched in Spring 2012, The Know Reset Project aims to map and analyse legal and policy frameworks, as well actual practices related to refugee resettlement in the 27 EU Member States. The website aims to construct the knowledge-basis for better policy-making in the domain of resettlement, both at EU level and in the 27 Member States. Know Reset aims at providing a comparative analysis of resettlement in the EU Member States, evaluating their resettlement capacity while providing policy recommendations to the EU and its Member States. The target audiences are policy-makers, public institutions, public opinion and media, and non-governmental stakeholders in the EU and in countries of first asylum.

Country-specific information on resettlement

For other information related to asylum and refugee protection in different countries, as well as provision of legal aid or legal assistance and other forms of assistance, please visit the pro bono directory

Resource persons on resettlement

Upwardly Global

Cassidy Rappaport

Cassidy worked in refugee resettlement in the United States for four years, she was the Matching Grant Coordinator at Heartland Alliance in Chicago, and She now works at Upwardly Global, helping refugees and immigrants get back into their professional fields. Cassidy holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Cultural Anthropology and Refugee Studies from Hampshire College, she knows the refugee resettlement process within the United States but is not a resettlement officer and cannot help with resettling someone. She can answer questions about US resettlement.