In 2009, according to the UNHCR, 43.3 million people were forcibly displaced from their homes by conflicts and violence, the highest number to be recorded since the mid-1990s. 15.2 million of the displaced became refugees, living outside their home country for fear of returning and in 2009 only 251,000 repatriated, the lowest number since 1990. With many conflicts across the world remaining unresolved, the UNHCR yesterday called for more places to be made available for the resettlement of refugees. The UNHCR estimates that over the next three to five years more than 800,000 refugees will need resettling in third countries. Many of these refugees are currently living in developing countries where they cannot live safely or integrate into the local communities. The UNHCR assesses the eligibility of refugees for resettlement on the basis of their vulnerability and uses the following criteria; the need for legal or physical protection, past suffering of violence or torture, medical needs, women at risk, family reunification, children and adolescents, older refugees and those without prospects of local integration.
Currently, only 19 countries have agreed annual resettlement programmes, accepting a fixed quota of UNHCR refugees and 3 of these countries - United States, Canada or Australia – account for over 90% of the refugees accepted. In 2009, of the 112,000 refugees resettled (from Myanmar, Iraq, Bhutan, Somalia, Eritrea and the Democratic Republic of Congo), 92,400 went to North America and 11,100 to Australia. This is why the High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, has urged European countries to take more refugees. His calls have been echoed by Dan Eliasson, Director General of the Swedish Migration Board, who said that Europe must take “a higher humanitarian responsibility for resettlement”.
On the 29 January this year, the UNHCR welcomed the fact that Spain joined the twelve European countries already with an annual resettlement programme (Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Iceland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Sweden and the UK). Of these countries, Sweden takes the highest number of refugees, with an annual quota of 1,900, equivalent to 9 people for every 1000 of its inhabitants (with its population of only 9 million). This ranks Sweden as the twelfth highest country in the world, well above even the United States, Canada and Australia, when it comes to the number of refugees accepted compared to population size. During the Iraq war, Sweden was also the most generous European country in accepting Iraqi refugees, taking in over 90,000 on a temporary basis.
Of the remaining European countries, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy and Luxembourg have introduced ad hoc refugee programmes and last year Germany took over two thousand refugees. But the UNHCR would like all countries to make firm commitments and has welcomed the proposal by the European Commission to establish a joint EU Resettlement Programme, which is seen as a way to encourage European nations to engage more with the increasing problem of refugees.