The resettlement of vetted refugees continues to shrink throughout the European Union at a time of increasing humanitarian needs, conflicts, and crises around the world.
The majority of member states have yet to resettle a single refugee this year, posing questions on a European Commission initiative to drum up pledges on one of the few legal pathways people have to enter European territory for protection.
“So far this year, we’ve seen them resettle just over 5,000 people,” said Imogen Sudbery, a director for Europe at the International Rescue Committee (IRC), amid demands that EU states collectively take in around 16,000.
“It’s a very, very disheartening situation and really a huge wasted opportunity,” she said, noting the ability of member states to host millions of Ukrainians.
Ukrainians aside, the vast majority of refugees are currently resettled in low and middle-income countries, with around one-third of the world’s forcibly displaced found in Africa.
Sudan is also on the cusp of a full-blown civil war, indicating needs could rise.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) is asking the EU and its member states to show the same unity towards Africa as was being shown towards Ukraine.
But that unity is unlikely to be displayed in Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia.
None of them resettled in the first half of this year. Malta took in one person, according to figures provided by the UNHCR.
Sudbery’s comments come ahead of a Friday (15 September) deadline for member states to announce new resettlement pledges for the years 2024 and 2025.
The European Commission had kicked off the drive already in May, along with Canada and United States. The US, by comparison, welcomed almost 27,000 in the first half of this year.
The EU ambition is likely to disappoint charity organisations like the IRC who are demanding at least 44,000 be resettled in 2024 and another 48,000 in 2025.
Last year, EU states collectively resettled just under 16,500, with most going to Germany (4,700), Sweden (4,500) and France (3,100).
They had pledged 20,000, accounting for around 1 percent of global needs..
Sweden’s resettlement figures have since dropped dramatically. As of the end of July, Stockholm resettled fewer than 200.
The sharp decline is a reflection of a wider anti-asylum and migration politics filtered through the right-wing Sweden Democrats, says George Joseph from Caritas Sweden.
“The policy of the new government was to reduce migration as low as possible,” he said. This includes capping resettlement in Sweden to only 900 places, he said.
“The other reason is that they also decided to stop taking refugees for resettlement from Syria and Iraq,” he added.
The Swedish trend comes at a time when the European Union and its member states are facing renewed pressure from arrivals along its Mediterreanean coastlines.
With fewer legal pathways to seek asylum in the EU, more and more people appear to be turning to perilous sea journeys at enormous risks, according to the UNHCR.
Sea arrivals spike
The past two days have seen some 7,000 people land on the Italian island of Lampedusa, followed by French and German announcements to tighten controls against migrants trying to leave Italy to other member states.
Earlier this week, a five-month old baby died in a botched rescue operation off the island.
For the commission, the resettlement pledges are still ongoing and so it won’t yet comment on figures.
“The role of the commission is to facilitate joint EU efforts and to provide political and financial support,” said a commission spokesperson by email.
She noted the commission had set aside €480m over 2023-2025 to support member states’ efforts in line with the pledges received.
“In total, since 2015, 115,000 resettlements took place under EU schemes,” she said, using figures reported by member states.
They had also reported around 46,000 humanitarian admissions, mostly of Afghans at risk, she noted.