13 July 2015

On 7 July, the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) launched the report “10% of refugees from Syria – Europe’s resettlement and other responses in a global perspective”. Given the protracted conflict in Syria and a decreasing protection climate in countries neighbouring Syria, the report explores current resettlement programmes and legal alternatives available for refugees seeking international protection in Europe.

ICMC President Peter Sutherland, who has authored the foreword of the publication, calls for 10% of the 4 million refugees (400,000 Syrian refugees) in neighbouring countries – Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt – to be accepted under resettlement or other legal avenues by 2020. Such other legal avenues include humanitarian admission programmes, extended family reunification programmes, community-based sponsorship, as well as humanitarian and student visas.

“10% is an ambitious global target but not when you look at present needs in the region”, stated Petra Hueck, Head of the ICMC Europe Office at the launch of the report. “However, the global response is small if you consider overall needs”. NGOs in the region report that the situation can only become worse, with the rise of ISIS and an unprecedented underfunding of UN humanitarian aid appeals.

The report compares the different programmes and types of legal avenues that have been developed by European countries to date. ICMC estimates that around 55,000 Syrians have been admitted so far, of whom around one third under resettlement and two thirds under other types of admission, of whom the majority to Germany. With respect to resettlement, most European countries have offered places within existing national resettlement quotas, with Norway and Switzerland offering the largest number of new resettlement places.

The majority of the places have been offered to facilitate extended family reunification, under the banner of humanitarian admission and/or other programmes issuing visas to family members on humanitarian grounds (Austria, Ireland, Germany, and Switzerland). A substantial part of the humanitarian admission programmes is for cases submitted by UNHCR, which take account of vulnerability criteria and protection urgency. The UNHCR HAP cases have used expedited procedures which have ensured that refugees have departed more rapidly, normally within six months. Legal status offered under the humanitarian admission programmes varies from two years in Germany and Ireland, to five year temporary residency (UK), subsidiary protection (France) to full refugee status (Austria, and France). In view of the situation in Syria, the report recommends that refugees with temporary stay must be informed on how to renew their status in due course, and  recommends that to avoid unequal treatment of Syrians that have arrived via different avenues, all Syrian refugees are provided with the same entitlements as those that have applied for asylum.   

The report notes that Syrians arriving under family reunification programmes have been supported substantially by civil society, churches and diaspora organisations. These initiatives are the first seeds of community based sponsorship programmes, which could be further expanded in parallel to national resettlement quotas or support other admission programmes, such as extended family reunification programmes. However, such future sponsorship programmes should be based on a clear and pre-established framework to divide responsibilities and allocation of resources between government actors, refugees and sponsoring organisations, as is the case in Australia and Canada. With the support of sponsoring churches, NGOs and local municipalities, reception and integration can sometimes be better facilitated, but sponsorship programmes should not be used to alleviate governments of their responsibilities.

Discussing the upcoming relocation and resettlement proposals under the Agenda for Migration, Petra Hueck stressed at the launch of the report that “reception and integration measures need to go hand in hand with developing new programmes in new countries. This can only be ensured in partnership with civil society and municipalities and needs to be an integrated part of a package”.

“We welcome the Commission’s proposal to provide for 20,000 resettlement places” stated Petra Hueck “however we must ensure that these are really new places and that we are not “recycling’’ already existing commitments into a new EU funded pledge”.

Aleksandar Romanovic, from the European Commission DG Home Affairs remarked at the launch of the report that, it is not sure that the member states will agree that the 20,000 places will indeed be new resettlement places. With respect to other legal admission channels, he noted that Member States are still very hesitant to cooperate on ways to increase such channels which is still very much seen as an area of exclusive national competence.

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This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 17 July 2015. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.