Keynote Speech, Practical Considerations for Effective Resettlement

Date Publish: 
Tuesday, March 28, 2017 - 11:00
Mr. William Lacy Swing, Director General, International Organization for Migration (IOM)


I have invited you to join me here in Geneva today, for a cause close to my heart and I know to yours as well, namely, refugee resettlement. I would like to thank you all for coming. I should also like to offer a special word of thanks to Assistant High Commissioner Volker Turk and to senior representatives from traditional resettlement states for taking part in this special event.

It is an honor and pleasure to see IOM colleagues from all over the world who work on the many different and intricate aspects of resettlement. We would have liked to have everyone working on resettlement programmes but then we would have had to bring together about 2,000 people (medical personnel alone comprises about 1,000 staff members).

My presentation will, as usual, consist of three points:

  1. Resettlement is at the heart of refugee protection
  2. Refugees are at the heart of resettlement programming
  3. Preparation is at the heart of effective resettlement programming.

1. Resettlement at the heart of refugee protection

Resettlement is a vital refugee protection tool. Resettlement is a symbol of international solidarity and responsibility sharing. Resettlement provides a durable solution for refugees. As we know - refugees are unable to return to their country of origin and do not have the option to stay in their country of asylum. Resettlement is a lifeline for some of the most vulnerable people in the world. Though not an option for the vast majority of refugees, resettlement gives real hope and an opportunity to begin life anew. Without resettlement, refugees would otherwise have neither a home nor a country to call their own.

The number of persons resettled annually is on the rise, yet the number of places being made available is vastly disproportionate to global needs. The numbers hover around 1% p.a., but 8% would be needed. States are therefore increasingly considering the use of complementary pathways for refugees who have compelling needs for international protection. Other forms of admission may include but are not limited to: (1) humanitarian admission programmes, (2) humanitarian visas, (3) family reunification, (4) community-based private sponsorship, (5) academic scholarship, and (6) labour mobility schemes. There is plenty of work for the international community to develop these options.

All complementary pathways should (1) provide and safeguard legal protection, and (2) foster refugees’ integration and socio-economic participation.

Since 1951, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has worked closely with governments, UNHCR, civil society and other partners to prepare refugees to resettle and to prepare states to receive them. During those sixty-five years of experience with resettlement, IOM has learnt many lessons; the most important of these is that resettlement is first and foremost about refugees and for refugees – which leads me to my second point.  

2. Refugees are at the heart of resettlement programming

Resettlement programming covers a wide range of inter-linked services from pre-departure to post arrival. Services to accompany and support refugees. These services require (1) close, regular consultation with all concerned; and (2) strong, informed partnerships. Resettlement is complex, resource-intensive and must involve the synchronized actions of many partners within and outside the state. But we should never lose sight of the reality that the refugee is at the centre of it all.

Successful resettlement programmes are refugee-centric. Refugee protection is the main driver. Refugee-centric means, in very simple terms, that every aspect of resettlement programming must take account of the specific needs of refugees, e.g. (1) their health and well-being; (2) arrangements for their safe travel; (3) the prospect of their meaningful integration; and (4) above all, that refugees are empowered.

Having been deprived of their most basic human rights and having been the victims of aggression and abuse, throughout the resettlement process, refugees should have a say about how resettlement is conducted.

It means also that refugees travel in a safe and dignified manner.

It means, finally, that they are well-informed and properly prepared for third-country resettlement and integration into welcoming communities.

The need to involve, empower and prepare refugees applies whether states are resettling one hundred people or one hundred thousand people. Refugees are eager to learn as much as they can about resettlement and what awaits them in resettlement countries with or without the intervention of official resettlement actors. This is, for the most part, a good thing but it also means that people seeking to be resettled can and do misconstrue or pick up inaccurate information which may influence their decision to undertake resettlement. Providing refugees with accurate, objective information about the resettlement process and the country of destination can help refugees to participate actively in the process and make informed decisions about resettlement.

3. Planning and preparation at the heart of effective programming

Resettlement is not a process that can easily be improvised. Careful planning and preparation before departure lays the foundation for successful integration.

During the planning phase, resettlement countries should engage with refugee-hosting countries early on to gain their support for programme objectives and should consult with appropriate parties to set realistic time frames and to develop a predictable and manageable refugee departure and arrival pipeline. In turn, government officials in resettlement countries should coordinate closely with receiving communities to ensure that sufficient reception capacity is available.

Two dimensions of resettlement operations require special planning and preparation.

First, health assessments in the pre-departure phase of resettlement are important for public health promotion and disease prevention. Health checks prior to resettlement and addressing refugees’ health needs early on can also be cost-effective in reducing the demand for domestic health or social services in the destination country. Health-related assistance before, during and after travel is a key requirement to ensuring a safe and dignified journey for refugees with medical conditions or other health needs. Referrals for additional investigations or stabilisation treatment prior to departure, special travel arrangements and the provision of medical escorts are all important components in mitigating risk during travel. The efficient, timely exchange of medical information also allows resettlement agencies to prepare adequately for the arrival of refugees and ensure continuity of care.

Second, pre-departure orientation involving sharing information about the receiving country. It prepares refugees by helping them to develop the skills and attitudes they will need to succeed in their new environment; it also addresses the psychosocial well-being of refugees, taking into account the social, anthropological, cultural and psychological aspects of resettlement.

Orientation must address the real concerns of participants; emphasise cultural adaptation, inter-generational communication, gender roles, changing family dynamics and other challenges. Innovative approaches to pre-departure orientation can be used to initiate the linkages between refugees and people in receiving communities even before departure. For example, the use of video-conferencing before arrival can add a reassuring human touch to the process by introducing social workers or previously resettled refugees who can act as mentors for refugees going to that same country. It builds trust between people and can help in managing expectations of refugees and address any fears they may have.

In addition, the time between selection and departure can be used to improve refugees’ prospects for labour market integration by building their confidence, preparing them for interviews, identifying transferable skills and encouraging them to pursue both language and vocational skills training after their arrival.

Ensuring the safe and dignified movement of refugees is central to any resettlement operation. Many refugees are new travelers with little, if any, experience of air travel, and they require close assistance to find their way through formal procedures in preparation for travel, during transit and upon arrival at their final destination. IOM’s experience is that moving individuals or groups, especially from remote and sometimes dangerous locations, requires a large network of experienced operations staff attuned to the needs of vulnerable travelers in order to guide and monitor movements in real time from take-off to landing.


Resettlement is at a watershed moment. Increasingly large number of refugees are in desperate need of a third country; the current international response is gravely inadequate; and there is an urgent need for more reliable funding; and more resettlement countries, larger and more predictable quotas.

IOM is pleased to see resettlement once again in the limelight. In the wake of the Leaders’ Summit on Refugees in September 2016 and given current work to develop global compacts on refugees and migrants, IOM continues to urge states to exercise leadership with compassion, and generosity toward refugees and vulnerable migrants in need of protection, including through resettlement.

Ultimately, resettlement is not about programming, processes or procedures; it is about providing sometimes life-saving but always life-changing international protection to fellow human beings in need. As resettlement professionals, we need to do our best to help their lives change for the better.

The purpose of this meeting is for us to set aside some time to think carefully about where we are and where we are going. I have examined the major themes you will cover over these three days and they are substantive. I wish you all good discussion and look forward to the outcomes.

Thank you for your attention. It is my pleasure to now pass the floor to our distinguished guest, Mr. Volker Türk, the Assistant High Commissioner for Protection.                 

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