The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically impacted global refugee resettlement operations.
On 17 March 2020, following the progressive closure of national borders and introduction of restrictions on air travel, UNHCR and IOM announced a temporary suspension of resettlement departures. While both agencies continue to work with resettlement states to facilitate travel for the most critical cases, departures for the vast majority of refugees already in the resettlement ‘pipeline’ have now halted.
The most important impact of this temporary suspension of course lies in the uncertainty created for the individuals and families for whom resettlement, and a new life in security in a third country, was on the immediate horizon. For the institutions, actors and communities engaged in resettlement at global, European, national, regional and local level, the challenge lies in adjusting to the new context presented by the pandemic: finding ways to ensure protection while the suspension of departures is ongoing, and planning for the new future that lies beyond.
For 2020, the UNHCR-led Three-year Strategy on Resettlement and Complementary Pathways (2019-21) envisaged 70,000 resettlement departures to 31 countries, with complementary pathways growing in parallel by a 2:1 ratio. EU Member States had collectively pledged 29,500 resettlement places for 2020, by some distance the largest collective pledge for a single year to date.
So what now?
In Europe as in so many other contexts, resettlement actors are responding by prioritising and innovating. In its guidance for asylum, resettlement and return in the context of COVID-19 issued on 17 April 2020, the European Commission:
Indicated that Member States will be able to implement pledges beyond2020where necessary, and that 2020 AMIF funding would remain available to do so.
Encouraged Member States to consider using methods such as dossier selection, video interviews and remote Pre-Departure Orientation (including through the EASO Resettlement Facility in Istanbul).
Invited Member States to share information and updates via EASO’s Resettlement & Humanitarian Admission Network, and associated UNHCR and IOM to the network to support this process.
National authorities in resettlement countries are implementing new approaches to pre-departure and post-arrival orientation for resettled refugees, in particular enhanced hygiene advice and targeted health information, and working with reception partners toimplementquarantine after arrival. Municipalities and civil society organisations working with resettled refugees are providing information and support online, and via email, WhatsApp and telephone, and trialling new ways of providing key integration services such as language learning in an online setting. The ability of refugee-led organisationsto access communities and disseminate information is playing a central role in maintaining the safety and wellbeing of resettled populations.
At EU level, and although COVID-19 is likely to dominate the German EU Council Presidency beginning in July, there are some indications that a compromise on the Union Resettlement Framework will be prioritised. International actors have also adapted their work to ensure planing for global resettlement does not fall behind. The Annual Tripartite Consultations on Resettlement (ATCR) process, in which UNHCR, states and civil society actors gather each year in Geneva to take stock of global operations and plan for the coming period, has moved online for 2020.