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What is refugee resettlement?

The United National High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) operates many resettlement programmes in partnership with countries around the world, including the United Kingdom and many European Union Member States.

Resettlement programmes transfer recognised refugees from an asylum country to another third country. The aim is to give refugees permanent settlement in the third country.

The UNHCR advocates resettlement in a third country when neither of its other ‘durable solutions’ to ‘refugee-producing situations’ (voluntary repatriation or local integration) are feasible.

The UNHCR assesses and grants refugee status. Not all resettlement schemes are the same and the agreement between the country and the UNHCR specifies admissibility criteria such as which refugees the country will accept, from which conflict or region, and how many they are willing to resettle.

There are other pathways to refugee status in the UK. This paper will only focus on the UK’s refugee resettlement schemes.

What are the UK’s resettlement schemes?

The UK has four resettlement schemes that it operates in partnership with the UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM):

  • Mandate
  • Gateway
  • The (Syrian) vulnerable persons resettlement scheme (VPRS)
  • The vulnerable children resettlement scheme (VCRS).

The VPRS and the VCRS will end in spring 2020.

The UK also has the community sponsorship scheme. This scheme gives community sponsors and groups the responsibility of supporting a refugee family who are already being resettled in the UK under either the VPRS or the VCRS.

What will happen to the UK’s resettlement schemes from 2020?

From 2020 the Conservative Government plans to consolidate the VPRS, the VCRS and the Gateway schemes into one ‘global resettlement scheme.’ This scheme will also incorporate the community sponsorship scheme.

The new global resettlement scheme will aim to resettle approximately 5,000 refugees in its first year of operation. The targets beyond the first year are not publicly known.

The scheme will continue to focus on refugees “greatest in need of assistance, including people requiring urgent medical treatment, survivors of violence and torture, and women and children at risk.” It will have an expanded geographical focus beyond the Middle East and North Africa.

The refugee sector and the UN, Parliament, and the Local Government Association have been generally positive about the policy announcement to date.


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