Humanitarian admission

Enhancing Humanitarian Admission in Europe 


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, and flexible arrangements to assist family reunification, […]”.[1] Furthermore, the NY Declaration sets out a Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework, which proposes specific actions to expand resettlement opportunities and complementary pathways for admission of refugees such as humanitarian admission programmes. It equally promotes “broadening the criteria for resettlement and humanitarian admission programmes in mass displacement and protracted situations.[2]

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.[3] 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.

Increased use of humanitarian admission in Europe has the potential to offer a safe and legal pathway for persons in need of international protection, complementing States’ resettlement programmes. Among existing and past examples of humanitarian admission programmes (HAPs) in the EU, diverse programmes in Germany, Austria, UK and France have provided a solution for refugees in the form of comprehensive protection schemes.

The scope of humanitarian admission programmes to date shows that they can constitute a flexible and responsive tool that can provide a solution meeting the protection needs of specific groups of individuals. Ensuring that such programmes do not discriminate on grounds such as, among others, religion or ethnicity, these groups might include extended family members who cannot benefit from national family reunification mechanisms, or other groups such as refugees in a particular region. Humanitarian admission can also allow for an expedited process providing temporary or permanent protection that can enable large numbers of refugees to depart quickly.

Programmes of humanitarian admission can incorporate the possibility for non-traditional actors to propose refugees to be considered by States for admission, as well as make use of pertinent additional criteria on a targeted and responsive basis in order to best meet the protection needs of eligible groups, as explained above. Within such programmes, family members already residing in a Member State of the European Union can, in particular, play a key role by making referrals to governments for admission of their extended family members who are in need of international protection, as is the case in the Austrian HAP.

In full consideration of existing opportunities and challenges, the ERN+ project identifies the increased use of humanitarian admission in a range of innovative forms and practices as a complementary pathway of admission that can support those in need of international protection to arrive to Europe in safety and dignity, while retaining the integrity and objectives of national asylum systems. Alongside other legal pathways of admission such as resettlement, private sponsorship programmes and student scholarships schemes, humanitarian admission programmes including modalities for enhanced family reunification could also help to alleviate some of the pressure on countries hosting the largest number of refugees.

On a European level, the possible establishment of a Voluntary Humanitarian Admission Scheme from Turkey is also envisaged.[4] These recent developments and the broader call for complementary pathways to reach safety, have opened up new possibilities for enhanced refugee protection in Europe.  In view of harnessing this momentum, the ERN+ will seek to build upon these experiences, and the lessons learned, as well as continue in-depth research, to put forward good practice models for humanitarian admission to Europe.


For more information on Humanitarian Admission as a complementary pathway of refugee admission to Europe, see the ERN+ webinar page, the ERN+ Scoping Paper and detailed ERN+ Feasibility Study.



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

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