ERN+ Webinar on Humanitarian Admission in Europe

On 23 March 2017, the European Resettlement Network hosted the third edition of its webinar series exploring complementary pathways of refugee admission to Europe. This webinar focused on enhancing humanitarian admission as one such pathway.  Humanitarian admission may be used for specific groups of refugees such as vulnerable persons, extended family members or individuals with medical needs and provides an expedited mechanism granting (temporary) international protection.

In this series, previous webinars were held in 2017, a webinar was held to explore community-based private sponsorship on 23 February  and on higher education opportunities for refugee students on 8 March.

Over 70 participants from international organizations, national and regional authorities, civil society organizations in Europe participated in the webinar, which included presentations from IOM, the ARGE Consortium in Austria, the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), the French Ministry of Interior, the Swiss Red Cross and UNHCR.

Expanding safe and legal pathways for refugees to reach Europe in a way that is complementary to resettlement is central to enhancing access to international protection and providing a durable solution for those in need and was stated as a priority under the Valletta Declaration and the Partnership Framework. Moreover, the development and increase of Humanitarian Admission Programmes (HAPs) is an international commitment included in the New York Declaration which was adopted at the United Nations Summit for Refugees and Migrants in September 2016.

Over the past few decades, a number of HAPs have been put in place, of which some continue to this date. Across Europe, countries such as Austria, France, Germany, Switzerland, Ireland, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland are or have been implementing HAPs in response to protracted displacement crises. Several of these schemes were also designed as such   to establish the foundations for the reconstruction of post-conflict societies in the event that refugees choose to return to their home country in the future when it is safe to do so.

The webinar began with an introduction to the essential elements that must be taken into consideration when developing humanitarian admission programmes, addressing core protection and technical aspects, stressing the fact that these programmes should complement and not replace other protection pathways such as resettlement. In addition, detailed considerations were provided on the use of visas issued on humanitarian grounds (for protection-seeking purposes) currently used and to be further explored as a tool to facilitate entry at the discretion of States.

Targeted case studies on existing Humanitarian Admission Programmes from Austria and Germany were presented as well as existing schemes in France and in Switzerland making use of visas issues on humanitarian grounds to apply for asylum. The presentations explored the main challenges encountered and good practices developed throughout the implementation of these schemes, with the objective of expanding their scope and promoting their implementation in other European countries. These case studies were followed by short presentations on the French and Swiss specific programmes making use of visas on humanitarian grounds (for protection-seeking purposes) for refugees, focusing on the main challenges and achievements. Lastly, conclusions and recommendations were drawn with a view of expanding HAPs in the EU.

Concluding remarks on important considerations to be taken into account when developing humanitarian admission programmes and a brief recapitulation of the main questions and answers discussed during the webinar were provided by UNHCR.

Key points discussed by the panelists and participants included: (1) the set-up of humanitarian admission schemes and the use of visas issued on humanitarian grounds as a tool to access  a MS territory; (2) the process of identification and selection of candidates for humanitarian admission programmes; (3)requirements for pre-departure support to contribute to refugees’ successful integration into their new environments; (4) the key considerations for the development of humanitarian admission programmes, including the legal status granted and support provided after arrival during the granted residence period; (5) successful partnerships between civil society and the public sector that can enable the development and sustainability of humanitarian admission schemes; (6) prospects for the long-term, including the question of needs and expectations of refugees, integration, and the possibility of reuniting with family members in the new host country; (7) future perspectives for enhancement or replication in other EU countries.