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Taking Stock of Refugee Resettlement: Policy Objectives, Practical Tradeoffs, and the Evidence Base
May 2017

Taking Stock of Refugee Resettlement: Policy Objectives, Practical Tradeoffs, and the Evidence Base

In response to growing humanitarian needs, more governments around the world have turned to resettlement to offer protection to some of the world’s most vulnerable refugees. In Europe, proximity to ongoing humanitarian crises has led the European Union to ramp up its resettlement efforts, including in the form of an EU-wide resettlement scheme and dedicated funding to support Member State initiatives.

Amid growing skepticism toward immigration, and refugees in particular, policymakers now more than ever must ensure the efficiency and effectiveness of their resettlement systems. Yet the resettlement field lacks a tradition of comprehensive monitoring and evaluation, meaning that the evidence base available to inform policymakers’ actions is exceedingly thin.

This report examines a number of resettlement programs to pinpoint the core questions and tradeoffs policymakers confront as they introduce new initiatives or scale up existing efforts. It also breaks down the varied (and sometimes conflicting) goals that motivate actors to engage with resettlement and identifies gaps in data collection and analysis that need to be remedied to ensure policies are targeted and effective.

To improve the evidence base, the report offers a number of recommendations, including:

  • Explicitly identifying the strategic goals of a program and using these to develop metrics to measure its success.
  • Looking beyond basic counts of persons served to evaluate the process of resettlement itself—including the types and extent of orientation activities, how long refugees wait before being resettled, and policies governing legal status and settlement location at destination—and how it influences refugee outcomes.
  • Improving documentation and analysis of the costs of each aspect of resettlement programs, making it possible to identify opportunities to pool resources or develop economies of scale.

This report was written as part of the European Union Action on Facilitating Resettlement and Refugee Admission through New Knowledge (EU-FRANK) project, which is financed by the European Asylum, Migration, and Integration Fund (AMIF) and led by Sweden. Belgium, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, and Switzerland are partner countries. More MPI Europe research for the EU-FRANK project can be found on this series page.

Table of Contents 

I. Introduction

II. Evolution and Scope of Refugee Resettlement Initiatives

A. The Origins of Modern Resettlement Policy, 1945–60

B. Institutionalizing the Practice of Resettlement, 1975–90

C. Global Engagement in Resettlement: Current Scale and Scope

III. Why Resettle? Understanding the Motivations and Goals of Resettlement Policy

A. Value-Based Motivations

B. Strategic Protection Considerations

C. National and Domestic Interests

D. Responding to External Incentives or Opportunities

IV. Resettlement Programme Design: Tradeoffs and Challenges

A. Selecting Who Should Be Resettled

B. Balancing Resource and Capacity Constraints with Desired Impact

C. Ensuring Efficiency while Maintaining the Integrity of the Resettlement System

D. Fostering the Success of Beneficiaries after Resettlement

V. Knowledge-Sharing and Evaluation: Identifying the Gaps

A. Strategic Impact

B. Efficiency and Costs

C. Integration Outcomes

VI. Conclusions