Regardless of the services you are providing in a particular refugee case, you will always be looking toward helping your client achieve one of the following durable solutions:

  1. voluntary repatriation,
  2. local integration, or
  3. resettlement.

The materials on this site focus primarily on legal services aimed at achieving local integration, which begins with obtaining legal status as a recognized refugee. For many clients, however, the battle will not stop there. Your clients may confront not only legal barriers to local integration, but also economic, social, and cultural obstacles as well. For those clients who are unable to locally integrate and to voluntarily repatriate, resettlement to a third country may be an option.

Persons considered for resettlement need:
a) a refugee case, meaning a continuing well-founded fear of return to their country based on the refugee (1951 Convention) definition; and
b) strong resettlement needs, meaning that resettlement has been identified as the most appropriate durable solution, and the person falls within one of the resettlement submission categories.

It is crucial for your clients to understand that there is no right to resettlement, and it is only available for those who have no other options. Resettlement is managed by UNHCR. UNHCR collaborates with countries. The countries make decisions on resettlement cases, and then receive refugees who are accepted for resettlement. This is a complicated process that involves various criteria and quotas.

Although every refugee has can apply to be considered for resettlement, many applications are not found to be eligible by UNHCR, and are not submitted to countries for consideration. Further, even refugees who are found eligible for resettlement will not be able to choose their country of resettlement, though UNHCR does consider a refugee’s family or other ties to particular resettlement countries when submitting cases. Clients should be encouraged to integrate to the best of their ability in their host country, acting under the assumption that they will not be resettled to a third country.

Depending on the scope of your organization’s work, you may or may not be assisting clients with their petitions for resettlement. Regardless of whether this falls within the services you provide, you should be prepared to respond to questions about resettlement. There are many misunderstandings about what resettlement is, to whom it is available, and what the process of applying for and being resettled actually entails. As a refugee legal adviser, you should be familiar with the resettlement process in your host country so that you may adequately advise your clients without creating unrealistic expectations. At the very least, you should be prepared to explain the above information to your clients, and to refer them to the local UNHCR resettlement authority. We also recommend that you familiarize yourself with UNHCR’s resettlement materials, and have copies of UNHCR’s Resettlement Handbook on hand (or pamphlets that you may be able to obtain from the local UNHCR office) to give your clients.

UNHCR’s resettlement assessment

Resettlement possibilities vary greatly depending on the country of refuge, UNHCR’s policies in that particular location and the third country that would receive the refugee . Based on Asylum Access’ experiences with resettlement, UNHCR appears to evaluate the factors below most heavily in considering each case. In this determination, as always, your client’s credibility is of utmost importance.

1. Does your client have a strong refugee case?

  • In some countries, the local RSD office is more lenient with its application of the refugee definition than UNHCR. Just because a client has been granted refugee status by the local authority, does not mean that UNHCR will consider that person a strong candidate for resettlement.

2. Does the client have a durable solution other than resettlement? What are the client’s prospects for viable local integration? Does the client have prospects for voluntary repatriation?

  • UNHCR will consider prospects for local integration. Do refugees have legal rights similar to citizens (or permanent residents)? Are refugees able to be economically self-reliant? Can refugees safely participate in the social and cultural life of the asylum country? If such conditions exist, UNHCR will look at the steps (and successes or failures) the individual or the family has taken in attempting to integrate in the country of asylum.
  • Asylum Access experienced in Ecuador, that UNHCR generally required that an applicant demonstrate that s/he had tried to integrate for two years without success.
  • UNHCR will assess the possibility of voluntary repatriation. Can the refugee return – in safety and dignity – to his/her home and be protected there? Is UNHCR facilitating or promoting returns to your client’s country? Is there a reason why your client cannot return even if conditions are conducive for others to return (i.e. is your client a member of a minority group which was particularly targeted, has your client suffered such acute trauma that s/he should not be compelled to return and/or are there age, gender or other reasons which make return practically impossible – i.e. is your client a separated child or unaccompanied minor, a vulnerable girl or woman, an elderly or disabled person who would continue to be at risk?)

3. Does your client have emergency or urgent legal or physical protection needs?

  • If your client is facing ongoing persecution/threats in his/her country of asylum s/he may be a candidate for (accelerated) resettlement. Examples of legal / physical protection needs may include threats of refoulement, expulsion and/or arbitrary arrest or detention in the country of asylum. Physical protection needs may also emanate from non-government actors, and may include risks from which your client cannot be adequately protected by the host government (i.e. serious harassment / threats aimed at religious or ethnic or other minorities within refugee populations; trafficking, forced marriage or other forms of sexual or gender-based violence; or personalized threats of a political or other nature because of your client’s individual refugee claim etc.)
  • In instances where the host country government is not the agent of persecution, normally the client will have to first show that he has asked for protection from the government in his country of asylum as well as pursued other solutions such as relocation within that country before he will be considered for third country resettlement. For example, if your client is receiving threats, he should first call the police, solicit admission to the Victim and Witness Protection Unit, and attempt to relocate if feasible. He should also make sure to document each of these steps, and obtain/provide copies of that documentation in his application for resettlement, thus demonstrating that he has exhausted all local legal remedies/resources and is still unsafe.

4. Does your client fall within a resettlement submission category considered by UNHCR and receiving third countries?
The following individuals are more likely to obtain resettlement, though they still must comply with criteria set out in 1 and 2 above.

  • Refugees with legal and/or physical protection needs
  • Survivors of torture and violence
  • Women and girls at risk
  • Refugees with medical needs
  • Refugees with family members who have already been resettled or otherwise made it to another country (family reunification)
  • Children and adolescents at risk
  • Elderly refugees
  • Lack of foreseeable alternative durable solutions

Offering assistance and advice

You should think long and hard about your organization’s role regarding resettlement procedures. Resettlement is a very complex issue, as it is not a right for any individual refugee. Local situations will vary, but UNHCR does not view resettlement as an area for legal advocacy in general. NGOs may lend a hand in identifying cases, but once the case has been presented to UNHCR, it is up to the discretion of resettlement officers to perform an independent case evaluation.

Before making a decision about your organization’s role in the resettlement process, you should meet with UNHCR to understand the local resettlement context, and identify areas in which your organization may have a role. Having personal contacts within UNHCR will be invaluable to flag a client for resettlement. You may also consider to meet UNHCR resettlement staff at the beginning of each year, to get a sense of their resettlement priorities and quota.
You can also meet with any other organizations working on resettlement to understand the local challenges and success stories. Once you understand resettlement both globally and locally, you should define how your organization fits within the resettlement framework and what your organization’s role will be when potential resettlement cases arise. You will need to adapt your legal advocate training accordingly. Also, if your organization’s main activity is legal assistance other than resettlement advice, it is important to prevent the misrepresentation of your organization as a gateway to resettlement.


Resettlement is further complicated by a small minority of fraudulent cases within the process. The major destination countries for resettled refugees tend to be those that are also seen as desirable places to emigrate. For example, most refugees in Ecuador are resettled to the U.S. or Canada. Immigrants regularly pay human smugglers $10,000 or more for dangerous and illegal passage to the U.S., so a legal, free journey with the support of the UN is highly prized. This leads to some degree of fraud and in situations where fraud is common, UNHCR is highly sensitive to any inconsistencies or implausibilities in resettlement cases. In such situations, even if your client is able to provide a perfectly good explanation for an alleged inconsistency in her testimony, she may be denied resettlement simply because of the extremely cautious nature of decision making.

Further resources: