The policy framework


In September 2005, through a Communication to the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament, the European Commission established the Regional Protection Programmes (RPPs). RPPs were designed to boost the protection capacity of target non-EU regions - from which many refugees originate or through which they transit - by enhancing the provision of durable solutions. RPPs, developed by the European Commission, in close collaboration with EU Member States and UNHCR, and in partnership with countries of origin, transit, and first asylum, envisioned activities such as the establishment of effective refugee status determination procedures, capacity-building and training on protection issues for those working with refugees, and measures to support refugee host communities.

The first two RPPs focused on the African Great Lakes Region (Tanzania) and the Western Newly Independent States (Belarus, the Republic of Moldova, and Ukraine). Two more programmes were applied to the Horn of Africa (Kenya, Yemen, and Djibouti) and eastern North Africa (Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia).

An assessment of the first two RPPs, conducted in 2009, revealed that only a very limited number of refugees were resettled to EU Member States within the RPP framework. Where possible, RPPs showed a tendency to favour voluntary repatriation and local integration over resettlement. Moreover, the assessment shed a light on some weaknesses of the programmes, namely the poor coordination between the EU Directorate Generals involved in their implementation, and a lack of understanding and awareness of RPPs in beneficiary countries.

Building on the lessons learnt from these initiatives, the concept of Regional Protection Programmes was driven forward and expanded to incorporate a complementary dimension. In 2013, in response to the Syrian crisis, the first Regional Development and Protection Programme (RDPP) was launched in the Middle East, followed by two additional RDPPs, targeting the Horn of Africa and North Africa, in 2015. Through an integrated approach, RDPPs aim to set up a long-term response to protracted displacement, by providing enhanced protection to forcibly displaced persons and their host communities, while fostering sustainable development benefitting both populations. RDPPs also build the protection capacity of national authorities in refugee hosting countries and contribute to tackling the factors which prompt many displaced people to embark on perilous onward movements.

RDPPs inform the identification of regions towards which EU resettlement efforts are to be prioritised. They are multi-year programmes implemented by a consortium of EU Member and Associated States, each headed by a lead implementing country (Denmark for the Middle East, Italy for North Africa, and the Netherlands for the Horn of Africa), and are financed through different EU funds (i.e., AMIF, European Neighbourhood Instrument (ENI), EU Africa Trust Fund) and national contributions.


In 2008, Iraqis accounted for the second largest refugee group worldwide, an estimated 1.9 million with very limited durable solutions in sight. As global resettlement pledges lagged behind, EU Member States - through the November 2008 Justice and Home Affairs Council Conclusions - agreed to resettle 10,000 refugees from Iraq, in what was the first significant EU joint effort to grant international protection through resettlement. In 2009 alone, 12 EU Member States, including both States with established national resettlement programmes and others without previous experience in resettlement, made 5,100 resettlement places available. Between 2007 and 2009, 8,400 Iraqi refugees were resettled to Europe and the number of EU countries involved in resettlement activities - only six in 2007 - doubled. Through this joint action, Member States decided to resettle also 1,285 Palestinians who had been stranded at the Al-Tanf refugee camp along the Iraq-Syria border.

Building on the momentum created by the 2008 joint action, in September 2009 the European Commission issued a Communication on the establishment of a Joint EU Resettlement Programme, sharing its vision for a more impactful and strategically coordinated EU engagement in global resettlement. The Commission outlined three main objectives, namely: 1) increasing the use of resettlement as a tool to provide greater and better targeted support to the international protection of refugees; 2) enhancing the strategic use of resettlement by identifying common priorities to inform the resettlement activities of Member States; 3) streamlining all EU resettlement efforts, maximising their cost-effectiveness.

Despite the ambitious vision of the proposal, some structural issues remained unaddressed. In fact, the proposal maintained the purely voluntary nature of Member States’ engagement in resettlement, did not introduce numerical EU resettlement quotas, and did not devise operational mechanisms to coordinate resettlement activities across the EU. Moreover, the proposed objective to establish EU resettlement priorities caused disagreement between the Council of the European Union, the European Parliament and the European Commission, which struggled to find a common position on the procedure to establish such priorities. Eventually, in March 2012, after more than two years of negotiations, the EU adopted a compromise text, which amended the Council Decision on the establishment of the ERF, setting new rules for the allocation of resources to fund Member States’ resettlement activities, and identified resettlement priorities for 2013.