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Rediscovering Resettlement: A Transatlantic Comparison of Refugee Protection
Press Release
Tuesday, December 9, 2003

Rediscovering Resettlement: A Transatlantic Comparison of Refugee Protection

As the United States and the European Union balance security needs with refugee protection, they have engaged in different approaches to resettlement programs. Gregor Noll, professor of International Law at Lund University in Sweden, and Joanne van Selm, a senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, explore these transatlantic differences in the latest edition of MPI’s Insight series, Rediscovering Resettlement. 

Resettlement is a process through which a refugee who has fled persecution across a national border is screened and selected while in their region of origin for protection in a developed country. While highly diverse, most government resettlement programs have stated admissions priorities and rely on recommendations by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees and referrals from other agencies. Resettlement programs are used in addition to programs for screening and accepting asylum seekers who arrive at the borders or on the shores of developed countries.

The report examines whether increasing the numbers of refugees who have access to resettlement may help resolve some of the refugee protection challenges faced on both continents. The report also evaluates the extent to which resettlement can respond specifically to current worldwide protection challenges.

The authors found that through its resettlement program, the United States accepted 916,000 cases between 1992 and 2001. Meanwhile, only seven countries in the European Union conduct resettlement programs, admitting a total of 47,000 people between 1992-2001. However, when resettlement figures were added to the number of accepted asylum seekers, the E.U. and U.S. granted comparable protection (3.7 admissions per 1,000 inhabitants for the E.U. and 3.8 admissions for the U.S.).

The publication provides insight into differences in transcontinental definitions, selection criteria, and the roles that government agencies and nongovernmental organizations play in screening and integration. It also investigates important tensions in refugee resettlement including:

  • the use and possible abuse of the welfare state versus a lack of economic support in the resettlement process;
  • historical ideals and national identities as nations of immigrants and emigrants against current needs for security; and
  • humanitarian goals of protecting the most vulnerable balanced with the utilitarianism of accepting those for whom successful integration seems most likely.

We found that while on both sides of the Atlantic resettlement is being discussed, the starting points are different,” Van Selm said. “They type of resettlement policy that would be most appropriate and most beneficial to refugees is different in the United States and the European Union because of historical admissions policies and current debates about asylum and security.”

The authors conclude that resettlement is not a panacea for the perceived asylum crisis, as more asylum seekers will continue to arrive, needing protection. However, because resettlement creates a rapport between a destination state and refugee at the earliest stage of protection, extending its use may give governments better information to make decisions on individual cases and protect refugees from smugglers.

Ultimately, the authors recommend that policy makers on both sides of the Atlantic could collaborate strategically on resettlement programs, without necessarily using the same program models, to best assist those who have fled their countries in need of protection.


Copies of Rediscovering Resettlement are available from the Migration Policy Institute at www.migrationpolicy.org.
To arrange an interview with the authors, please contact Colleen Coffey at 202-266-1910.