Who Chooses Our Neighbors?

Refugee Camp in Congo – by Julien Harneis

Determining who gets to be resettled is a long process.

Out of all of the world’s refugees, approximately 700,000+ are estimated to need resettlement. Out of those people, only about 10% can be resettled, which results in 1% of the world’s refugees resettling to third countries.

But that 1% makes up a very diverse part of our communities. So how do those neighbors of ours get chosen to come here?

Receiving nations work with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and NGOs worldwide to estimate how many refugee spots will be available each year, and where.

Then the UNHCR typically works on the field to identify a group of people they believe to be in highest need of resettlement (see the reasons for needing resettlement outlined in yesterday’s post).

And finding the 1% can be difficult. Often the most vulnerable individuals go into hiding or don’t trust the authorities enough to apply. But refugee aid groups want to ensure that resettlement goes to the people who need it the most, not the people who want it the most. So they often depend on NGOs to bring people to their attention who are in grave need of resettlement.

The UNHCR submits names of refugees to consider to countries with resettlement programs in place, and the countries make their own choices on who they will resettle. So while most countries depend on UNHCR to narrow down the names, each individual refugee is ultimately determined by the host nation.

Allowing countries to determine their own refugee population honors their national sovereignty and avoids security conflicts. It can also result in certain forms of discrimination: while it is generally frowned upon by refugee organizations, some countries will factor in the likelihood that the refugee will be able to adapt well to the new culture.

To prevent fraud and security issues, individuals seeking asylum register for official refugee status – a process that typically excludes people with criminal backgrounds, including terrorists. They go through another screening when applying for resettlement consideration. Lastly, the country interviewing them for resettlement can do any final background checks or assessments.

If you’ve read this far, you are definitely more interested in these folks than your average joe. Learn more about resettlement from the UNHCR and the International Rescue Committee (IRC).

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