UN Report Shows Refugee System Needs Changes

Article subtitle: 
Will the Trump administration change an archaic process?
Article author: 
Nyla Rush
Article publisher: 
Center for Immigration Studies
Article date: 
6 January 2017
Article category: 
National News
Article Body: 

The latest United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) resettlement assessment report summarizes its 2015 activities and introduces its 2017 strategic direction and needs. At a time when refugee protection is addressed on a global scale, the report, “UNHCR Projected Global Resettlement Needs 2017”, provides us with insightful information about submission categories and acceptance rates, top resettlement countries of origin and destination, and more. It also suggests how badly in need of reform the entire refugee system is.

Some takeaways from the UNHCR report:

  • 62 percent of all refugees referred (or submitted) for resettlement by the UNHCR in 2015 were for the United States.
  • Virtually all refugees referred by UNHCR (92 percent) are accepted by resettlement countries.
  • About 40 percent of refugees referred for resettlement were in the Middle East and North Africa region; sub-Saharan Africa accounted for 29 percent. The top countries were Syria and Congo.
  • Contrary to official UNHCR and U.S. claims, it is not necessarily the most vulnerable and urgent cases that are submitted for resettlement. The UNHCR itself acknowledges that almost all refugees submitted for resettlement are in circumstances “where there are no immediate medical, social, or security concerns which would merit expedited processing.”
  • Going beyond conventional resettlement, the UNHCR is promoting “any mechanism which allows for legal entry to and stay within a third country.”
  • The UN report estimates that 1,190,519 refugees will need resettlement in 2017, though it will submit only a fraction of those cases.
  • It is increasingly evident that the refugee system run by one single agency, UNHCR, is archaic, an anachronism from the Cold War, and is due for a thorough reevaluation...

An Archaic System Needs Change

We don’t know yet the specifics of the incoming Trump administration’s refugee policies, but it’s certain that UNHCR will need to revise its 2017 projections. But that’s not all that needs to change; Betts makes a valid point when he notes that, “The refugee regime was created in the 1950s for Europe and the early cold war era. Yes, it’s been adapted incrementally, but we’ve never had a moment of systematic reflection.”

Oxford professor Paul Collier is of the same opinion: “[T]he refugee system is broken. The world has an agency, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, that is devoid of strategy except for a Refugee Convention that is an anachronistic relic of the cold war.” Today’s refugees, Collier adds, are “overwhelmingly fleeing mass disorder rather than state persecution. ... Refugees need a haven that is proximate, so that it is easy to reach and from which it is easy to return once a conflict ends.”

Instead of pushing for more resettlement or other admission pathways, UNHCR (and the United States) should put more emphasis on helping refugees where they are and, ultimately, helping them return. Humanitarian assistance or calls for local integration are not enough, especially for hosting countries. A development-based policy can give millions of Syrian refugees autonomy and opportunity and render them better equipped to rebuild a postwar Syria...

The refugee system is indeed broken. But we should not count on UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi to fix it, as he is the one pushing for increases in resettlement and alternative admissions. Nor should we expect the United Nations as a whole to promote a change to refugee strategy. The new UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, served as UN High Commissioner for Refugees himself from 2005 to 2015. Known for his passionate idealism, he was chosen to head the UN primarily because of his expertise on refugees and his handling of the Syrian crisis.

The UN’s refugee strategy appears to be “more of the same." Let us hope the same does not apply to the United States under the new administration.



CAIRCO Research

Refugee resettlement racket