Refugees: no direction home

Unhcr and Iom urgently call on states to suspend repatriations

As countries drastically reduce entry into their territories owing to the COVID-19 global health crisis, and restrictions around international air travel are introduced, travel arrangements for resettling refugees are currently subject to severe disruptions”, This is the text of a statement by Unhcr (UN Refugee Agency) and Iom (International Organization for Migration).

At the beginning of 2020, first in China, then elsewhere, until it became global, the pandemic broke out. The situation is very difficult, for everyone, but for the more fragile parts of society even more so. Among refugees and asylum seekers, for example, there is no home to lock themselves in.

Unhcr and Iom, in a joint note, expressed their concerns for the lives of these people. According to Unhcr, 63,696 refugees were offered resettlement spots through the agency in 2019, slightly more than in 2018. That’s 4.5 percent of an estimated 1.4 million refugees UNHCR considers to be in “urgent need” of resettlement worldwide.

Some States have also placed a hold on resettlement arrivals given their public health situation, which impacts on their capacity to receive newly resettled refugees – the note continues – Refugee families are being directly impacted by these quickly evolving regulations in the course of their travel, with some experiencing extensive delays while others have been stranded or separated from family members. In addition, UNHCR and IOM are concerned that international travel could increase the exposure of refugees to the virus.”

A common strategy is needed in the face of this global pandemic that affects everyone.
This is why the UN agencies are calling for the maximum possible coordination with individual states and a rapid decision.

As a result, IOM and UNHCR are taking steps to suspend resettlement departures for refugees. This is a temporary measure that will be in place only for as long as it remains essential. 
As resettlement remains a life-saving tool for many refugees, UNHCR and IOM are appealing to States, and working in close coordination with them, to ensure that movements can continue for the most critical emergency cases wherever possible. The suspension will begin to take effect within the next few days as the two agencies attempt to bring those refugees who have already cleared all formalities to their intended destinations.”

Despite the situation, the work of the agencies and their operators in the field will not be lacking and will not cease.

Resettlement provides a vital lifeline for particularly vulnerable refugees, and IOM and UNHCR will continue their work in refugee-hosting countries, in collaboration with all relevant partners, to ensure that the processing of cases for resettlement continues. We will also remain in close contact with refugees themselves and all of the agencies that work to support the use of resettlement as a critical protection measure. Both agencies look forward to resuming full resettlement travel as soon as prudence and logistics permit.


by Christian Elia