For many years now, irregular migration and asylum seeking have dominated refugee-related discourse within and between governments. On those relatively rare occasions when discussion about refugees strays beyond this focus, it has almost always been to the issue of integration, especially as developed countries confront the necessity of responding to their increasingly diverse populace. Meanwhile, other areas of refugee-related activity have been largely ignored. It is true that work continues in these areas and lives are influenced but one cannot help but wonder whether the lack of attention might at worst, be having a deleterious impact on the effectiveness of this work or at best, not allowing its potential to be fulfilled.
One such area is resettlement. It is regrettable that this is the case as resettlement is not only about giving vulnerable refugees the chance of a new life, as will be explained below, it has a variety of other uses that have a far wider application than simply assisting those resettled.
In 2002 Garry Troeller, a senior staff member of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), wrote a seminal article1 in which he outlined the history of resettlement and reflected upon how it was being used at that time within the broader framework of refugee protection. Since then, with the exception of some limited circulation documents produced by UNHCR, writing about this area has been scant and in most cases, references to resettlement have either been specific to a particular situation or secondary to the main focus of the piece.2 A decade without work such as Troeller’s has taken its toll, not least in international fora where discussion about resettlement too often languishes at a superficial level, failing to acknowledge both its complexities and its possibilities.
Resettlement is an issue that deserves to be taken seriously by those charged with shaping its policy and those delivering it on the ground. The better it is understood, the more effectively it can be used. It thus seemed time to do what Troeller did in 2002, only one decade further on. His was a snapshot of resettlement at the time when UNHCR was celebrating its 50th anniversary. He looked at the evolution of resettlement and at the issues and challenges of the time. This article will do much the same. It will begin by revisiting key moments in the history of UNHCR’s use of resettlement, though in this case focusing in particular on events of the intervening decade. Likewise it will look at the issues that are currently on the agenda for those involved in implementing UNHCR’s resettlement program. Most significantly, however, it aims to identify the major challenges currently confronting UNHCR, governments and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). In so doing, it is hoped this will inform debate and enhance the effectiveness of the use of resettlement as a protection tool, as a durable solution and as a tangible expression of solidarity as UNHCR moves into its 7th decade.