By Peter Kenny
GENEVA (AA) - The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) warned that 2020 risks the lowest resettlement levels in recent history as the COVID-19 pandemic impacts another global humanitarian activity.
"We are dealing with a disappointingly low resettlement ceiling, to begin with - a quota of less than 50,000 for the entire year - and this was further impacted by COVID-19 delaying departures and pausing some states' resettlement programs," said Gillian Triggs, UNHCR's assistant high commissioner for protection.
According to the latest UNHCR data, only 15,425 refugees were resettled from January to the end of September this year, compared to 50,086 over the same period last year.
"Current rates point to one of the lowest levels of resettlement witnessed in almost two decades. This is a blow for refugee protection and for the ability to save lives and protect those most at risk," said Triggs.
Syrians comprised the bulk (41%) of the refugees resettled this year, followed by Congolese (16%).
Others were from 47 countries of origin, including Iraq, Myanmar, and Afghanistan. Most having legal and physical protection needs were survivors of violence or torture, or were women and children at risk.
- Call for resettlement
UNHCR urged states to resettle as many refugees as possible in 2020, not lose those resettlement opportunities for refugees and maintain resettlement quotas for 2021.
Some countries have established or expanded their capacities to apply flexible processing modalities and are safely managing resettlement travel with recommended protocols in place. UNHCR is encouraging others to do the same.
"Expanding safe and legal pathways to protection, including through resettlement, saves refugees' lives, and it can also mitigate their resort to dangerous journeys by land or sea," Triggs said.
The impact of COVID-19 put on hold the life-saving evacuation of refugees from Libya on March 12, only restarting again on Oct. 15.
Some 280 refugees who were previously evacuated to emergency transit facilities in Niger and Rwanda are currently waiting to depart to resettlement countries, while 354 people are waiting for resettlement countries' decisions.
However, the refugee agency said it is encouraging that several resettlement countries prioritized departures from Lebanon once lockdown measures were lifted, giving great relief to refugees additionally traumatized by the devastating Beirut Port explosion.
A total of 1,027 refugees departed from Lebanon to nine resettlement countries between August and September.
Despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, UNHCR said its resettlement operations have worked to identify and process cases throughout the year, submitting resettlement files for more than 31,000 refugees.
One of the Global Compact on Refugees' key objectives is to protect better refugees and support countries hosting large refugee populations, including increased resettlement and complementary pathways, said UNHCR.
It urged more countries to join the program and resettle refugees and make family reunification and "Complementary Pathways" more accessible to refugees.