Sweden’s top migration official is accusing fellow European countries of failing the world’s most endangered refugees by offering only minimal opportunities for permanent settlement.
His strictures came as Antonio Guterres, head of the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR, called for more countries to step forward to help fill a widening gap between places available and the numbers of people needing new homes. “I am truly disappointed with the states in Europe not taking a higher humanitarian responsibility for resettlement,” Dan Eliasson, director-general of the Swedish Migration Board told a news conference, yesterday Reuters reports.
Eliasson, whose organisation is managed by the Swedish government and parliament, said the failures in Europe left him seriously concerned for refugees suffering in camps and cities around the world. The UNHCR estimates that by next year there will be a record 805,000 people needing for various reasons to be moved from temporary shelter, mainly in developing countries, to long-term residence in richer states.
“We need to act. There is a growing gap between resettlement needs and available places,” said Guterres, a former prime minister of Portugal. He called for more countries to establish resettlement programmes.
“This is all the more important since new crises continue to displace more people while old conflicts are failing to resolve,” he added. Totals of refugees returning to their countries of origin were the lowest for decades.
Eliasson said the United States and Canada, who resettle between them some 75,000 refugees from countries such as Somalia, Myanmar and Iraq every year, were setting an example to the rest of the industrialised world. Europe itself offered a total of only 4,500 resettlement places annually, nearly 2,000 of which were in Sweden, he told reporters. “The larger countries in the European Union need to do much more,” he added.
Eliasson said he recognised that many EU and non-EU states such as Switzerland and Norway had significant populations of asylum seekers who had entered outside official programmes and many were eventually allowed to stay. But he said this only showed the extent of the problem.
A statement from the UNHCR, which is holding consultations on the issue with officials from many governments in Geneva this week, said that for many refugees “resettlement in a third country is the only way to find lasting safety”.
Voluntary repatriation is the preferred solution among the world’s some 16 million refugees, more than 80 percent of whom live in poorer states where they cannot remain safely and have little possibility of integration, the agency said.
But persistent conflict in their home countries or fear of persecution often prevents many from going back.
The UNHCR says refugees from Iraq, many from minority religious communities, from Somalia, from Myanmar and from Afghanistan — nearly all living in neighbouring countries — are among those most in need of permanent resettlement.