By the end of 2016, there were more than 65 million people forcibly displaced in the world, due to persecution, conflict, violence, or human rights violations[1]. Among them, 1.2 million refugees were identified as in need of resettlement[2]. While resettlement constitutes an essential tool to meet the protection needs of particularly vulnerable refugees unable to attain other durable solutions, the record-high magnitude of forced displacement has exposed a widening gap between the number of refugees in need of a third-country solution and the - far smaller and dramatically inadequate – number of resettlement places made available.

The unprecedented scope and complex nature of current global displacement have added renewed urgency to the debate surrounding access to safety for those fleeing persecution, war and conflict that is safe, regular and sustainable. As a response to this, on 19 September 2016, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, a landmark political declaration directed at improving the way the international community responds to large movements of refugees and migrants and which contains a set of commitments by States to strengthen and enhance mechanisms to protect people on the move.  More specifically, signatories have committed to “consider the expansion of existing humanitarian admission programmes, possible temporary evacuation programmes, flexible arrangements to assist family reunification, private sponsorship for individual refugees and opportunities for […] education, such as scholarships and student visas[3]. Furthermore, the NY Declaration sets out a Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework, which, among other solutions, proposes specific actions to expand resettlement opportunities and complementary pathways for admission of refugees. It equally promotes “broadening the criteria for resettlement and humanitarian admission programmes in mass displacement and protracted situations[4] .

With a modest number of resettlement places available in Europe and with few other safe and legal pathways to Europe, refugees in need of protection are often driven to considering desperate measures, including resorting to taking great risks, embarking on perilous journeys over land and sea, which many do not survive.  Some feel compelled to employ the services of criminal groups, including smugglers, and others may fall prey to such groups or become victims of trafficking. Even when they reach their destination, they face an uncertain reception and a precarious future.

Therefore, expanding safe and legal avenues for refugees to reach Europe is key to ensure and enhance access to international protection. Such pathways do not intend to substitute the protection granted to refugees under the international protection regime but, rather, reinforce and complement it. Moreover, they represent a tool to show solidarity and more equitably share responsibility with countries hosting large refugee populations[5], while providing a durable solution to refugees in need.

[3] United Nations, New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants (2016), para 79.

[4] United Nations, New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants (2016), Annex I, CRRF paras 14 a) and c).

[5] By the end of 2016, 84 percent of the world’s refugee population was hosted in developing countries. UNHCR, Global Trends - Forced Displacement in 2016 (2017).