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Press Release

With refugee resettlement needs at a record high, COVID-19 must not be used as excuse to renege on commitments – IRC warns

The number of refugees requiring resettlement – the route to safety reserved for the most vulnerable refugees in the world – has reached an all-time high of almost 1.45 million. But as resettlement needs rise, international commitment to the programme is already waning, with UN global departures in 2019 decreasing by half since a high in 2016 to fewer than 64,000.  

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented new challenges to resettlement efforts, with virus containment measures including restrictions on overseas travels, stalling the journeys of at least 10,000 refugees.  

In order to safeguard refugee resettlement schemes globally, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) is calling on governments and donors to maintain support for resettlement agencies and NGOs, to ensure they can continue to serve resettled refugees and other populations, including providing them with vital health care, information and access to medical services during this time.  

As resettlement travel for refugees resumes, the IRC urges participating countries to restart their programmes as soon as it is safe to do so, and fast track the cases that had been approved for departure before the COVID-19 pandemic.  

With the number of refugees reaching 29.6 million in 2019, including almost 1.45 million who are now in need of resettlement, the international community must do more to ensure that the gap between the needs and the available places does not continue to widen.    

David Miliband, President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee said:  

“These figures are a sobering reminder of the scale of resettlement needs resulting from conflict and crisis around the world. Despite these high numbers, the reality is that only a very small percentage of these people (4.4% in 2019) – including survivors of torture and violence, vulnerable women and girls, and families – will have the opportunity to resettle and rebuild their lives in a new country.  

“Resettlement remains a life-saving tool for many refugees and the COVID-19 pandemic must not be used as justification to permanently restrict or reduce programmes. Temporary suspension measures that were imposed on resettlement travel to protect public health have now been lifted by UNHCR and the IOM. It is imperative that existing programmes are resumed as soon as possible – additional delays will only leave vulnerable refugees in limbo for longer.  

"Furthermore, the UK must pledge a significant increase in the number of refugee resettlement places available to the most vulnerable refugees around the world. The UK must also commit to upholding the rights of refugees in Europe to reunite with their families in the UK, especially unaccompanied children on the Greek islands."


About the IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and 29 U.S. cities helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue-uk.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.