On 20-21 November 2014, in the framework of the European Resettlement Network, the three partners, IOM, UNHCR and ICMC, welcomed 90 representatives from International Organisations, European Institutions, national, regional and local governments, NGOs, previously resettled refugees and other civil society representatives for a 1.5 day conference in Brussels. The event provided a platform for stakeholders to discuss both past achievements and future EU resettlement objectives and priorities, while also considering the new admission mechanisms developed as part of the response to the Syrian refugee crisis. The conference consisted of a set of panels, discussions and working groups, with input from stakeholders involved at all stages of the resettlement process, including field staff working in first countries of asylum (click to download the agenda).
Topics and interventions
‘Offering Access, Protection and Solidarity in an Era of Conflict and Displacement’
The European Resettlement Network was honoured to welcome Matthias Oel (Head of Unit, Asylum & Relations with EASO, DG Home Affairs, European Commission) and Birgit Sippel (MEP, Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats) as key-note speakers. In a time of migratory pressures and increasing protection needs, they reminded participants of Europe’s responsibility to offer greater protection and legal access opportunities. They also highlighted the need for continued awareness raising to allow for increased quantity and quality in existing programmes. Both speakers agreed on the need for more solidarity between Member States and towards countries of first-asylum, making reference to the European Council Conclusion of last June, which called for an increase in ‘contributions to global resettlement efforts’.
In the context of the Network’s current focus on the promotion of increased awareness of and capacity for emergency resettlement, the afternoon of day 1 began with a firsthand account on the experiences of an Uzbek family resettled to the Netherlands on an emergency basis in 2013.
European Responses to the Syrian Refugee Crisis
The remainder of the afternoon was dedicated to the European response to the Syrian refugee crisis. Moderated by Oskar Ekblad, chair of the Syria Core Group on Syrian resettlement, the first of the two panels provided an insight into the policy frameworks and the practical implementation of both resettlement and humanitarian admission programmes for Syrian refugees. The panel included government representatives from Austria, Germany and France, who provided an overview of their respective approaches. Educational sponsorship programmes provided for refugees by the Global Platform for Syrian Students was also introduced by the Portuguese Refugee Council as an alternative form of admission involving civil society actors.
These insights on national developments in Europe were followed by a panel illustrating the work and experience of UNHCR, IOM and ICMC field staff based in countries of first asylum, and who are involved in pre-departure processes linked to resettlement and humanitarian admission. The panellists shared their perspectives of the Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey operations, and elaborated on the characteristics of the Syrian refugee population, their specific needs and vulnerabilities, UNHCR’s priorities in terms of identification and referral for resettlement and humanitarian admission, as well as everyday challenges in their work regarding processing, travel arrangements and cultural orientation. These presentations were then followed by an in-depth discussion between panellists and other conference participants, giving room for actors on both ends of the resettlement process to exchange experiences and information. The importance of viewing resettlement as a continuous process and the need for good cooperation between all actors was highlighted.
Cooperation in European resettlement 2014-2020
The second day began with a discussion on cooperation in European resettlement, providing an outlook on future opportunities for the period 2014-2020 based on the funding period of the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF). Representatives from the European Commission (EC), the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE), and the European Council for Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) reiterated the value of resettlement as a durable solution for vulnerable refugees, while they also discussed new legal avenues and their potential role in the overall protection framework. Further discussions addressed the EU’s increased engagement as it pertains to Syria, its role vis-à-vis the three major players in resettlement, namely Australia, Canada and the US, as well as opportunities for future cooperation between EU Member States. The panel was chaired by Christophe Jansen of the Belgian Office of the Commissioner General for Refugees and Stateless Persons (CGRA), who urged Member States to expand their resettlement efforts and cooperation. Challenges and achievements of the Resettlement Saves Lives campaign were highlighted by Michael Diedring (Secretary General of ECRE), who stressed the importance of increasing political support in Member States in order to reach the target of 20,000 resettlement places in Europe by the year 2020.
Networking and Exchange of Experiences
To provide for room for discussion amongst participants, the conference hosted thematic working groups on recent developments in resettlement and alternative admission programmes, with participants dividing into the following three groups:
- Workshop I:‘Advocacy and Campaigning on Resettlement’, included presentations on recent campaigns of the Finnish Red Cross, the British Refugee Council and the European Council on Refugees and Exiles
- Workshop II: ‘New Resettlement Countries’, included input from the Spanish National Network Focal Point, MEYSS, and UNHCR’s regional representation in Budapest
- Workshop III: ‘Alternative Forms of Protection in Europe’, discussed private sponsorship and family reunification programmes in Austria, Germany, Ireland and Switzerland, as well as the UK’s Vulnerable Persons Relocation scheme.
Resettlement at the local and regional level
The final panel of the conference was organised by the SHARE Network, and dedicated to experiences of receiving Syrian refugees at the local and regional level in Europe. Led by ICMC and co-financed by the European Commission, the SHARE Network has since March 2012 built toward a network of European regional and local authorities and their civil society partners involved in and/or with a commitment to refugee resettlement, protection and integration. The panellists provided a range of different perspectives on the topic, including that of the central reception facility in Friedland (Germany), the experienced resettlement partnership working in the city of Bradford (UK), and the integration programme for newly arrived Syrian refugees in the city of Vienna (Austria).
The three organisations, ICMC, IOM and UNHCR would like to thank all the participants for two inspiring days of discussion, networking and exchange of experience. A full report, including speakers’ presentations and photos, will be made available shortly.