Resettlement in the Nordic Countries
By Mette Honoré
Danish Refugee Council
September 1, 2003
The Nordic countries have always been keen supporters of the work of the international community to find common solutions to international problems. Consequently, the Nordic countries -- Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark -- have long traditions of participation in international refugee protection. In addition, Iceland recently became an active fellow player. The Nordic countries have all ratified and implemented the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the its 1967 Protocol.
Resettlement as a Protection Tool
It is generally acknowledged in the Nordic countries that resettlement is a vital tool for international protection of refugees. Resettlement is regarded as a key instrument for seeking durable solutions to the plight of refugees as well as serving a useful function in the sharing of responsibility for the task of international protection.
Four of the five Nordic countries are among the nine traditional resettlement countries, which have administered their own individual resettlement programs for up to five decades. The nine traditional resettlement countries are Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, and the United States. The following countries have initiated or more recently implemented a resettlement program: Brazil, Chile, Iceland, Ireland, and Spain. Benin and Burkina Faso recently suspended their resettlement programs, and Argentina and Spain recently discontinued theirs.
Resettlement Quotas in Scandinavia
The Nordic countries in Scandinavia cooperate closely with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in seeking solutions to various refugee matters.
In all five countries, the annual resettlement quotas for each fiscal year must be approved by parliament. The yearly quotas vary from country to country, from under 100 resettlement places in Iceland to 1,000-1,800 refugees resettled in Sweden. In between are Denmark with 500 places, Finland with 750-1,000 places, and Norway with 1,500 places.
The Nordic quotas are mainly administered in cooperation with UNHCR as the responsible and legitimate organization to determine the status of refugees and to identify the refugees in need of resettlement in a third country. UNHCR has a presence in the "countries of asylum" to which refugees have fled, and therefore has first-hand knowledge of the plight and needs of these refugees. Based on that knowledge, UNHCR suggests to the relevant authority of each country a composition for that country's annual quota.
The five countries select refugees for resettlement during selection missions to the country of asylum, which include face-to-face interviews, or on the basis of dossier referrals, which involve only paperwork.
Dossier Referrals. After UNHCR terminates the assessment of the individual refugee's resettlement claim and fills out the resettlement registration form (RRF), this documentation is submitted to the receiving Nordic country. The processing time is four to eight weeks for resettlement cases considered on the basis of dossiers.
Selection Missions. Selection of refugees for resettlement is also conducted on in-country missions to the countries of asylum. The purpose of these missions is to achieve a thorough knowledge of the situation of the refugees in the country of asylum, and to put down a set of selection criteria for the presented group of refugees already identified by UNHCR. A typical set of criteria could include an assessment of:
The selection delegations conduct individual interviews with each refugee and his/her family in order to obtain the above-mentioned relevant information about the individual refugee and his/her situation. All the refugees are briefed on the resettlement country to which they applied, including an orientation on the relevant rights and obligations, even though some may not be accepted. The refugees also have a chance to inform the delegation about personal wishes and needs. The information given by the refugees during the interviews has proved very useful when the refugees are to be settled and integrated in the resettlement country. The processing time is normally shorter for cases selected on a mission because the case decisions are often made on the spot, or soon after the delegation returns home.
- protection needs/persecution in country of origin
- is the refugee a victim of torture or violence
- length of stay in country of asylum
- women-at-risk considerations
- situation in country of asylum (including an assessment of security threats)
- separation from nuclear family members (often left behind in country of origin)
- any relatives/acquaintances in the resettlement country
- known treatment requiring medical condition
Emergency Cases and Special Categories. All of the Nordic countries except Iceland have emergency resettlement procedures in place and give priority to cases submitted as urgent or emergency situations. Denmark and Norway have a specific plan for refugees with serious health problems that require urgent treatment, while the other Nordic countries include these cases under their ordinary programs.
Application of Exclusion Grounds. Over the last few years, especially after the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, the Nordic countries have paid more attention to the possible application of Article 1 F of the 1951 Convention, which deals with the exclusion of combatants and those involved in crimes against humanity from regular refugee procedures. The Nordic states clearly accept UNHCR's discretion on the applicability of Article 1 F to particular individuals.
Arrival in Scandinavia
Travel arrangements to the resettlement country are paid for by the Nordic states and are arranged in cooperation with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). The resettlement country's local embassy or mission undertakes the issuance of relevant and necessary travel documentation. At times the Nordic countries' embassies help each other when one state lacks a diplomatic presence in the specific country of asylum.
Upon arrival in a Nordic country, the refugees are normally settled in an apartment or house, and only in rare situations do local communities have to offer temporary housing in a reception facility.
None of the Nordic countries require that the refugees undergo medical check-ups before acceptance for
resettlement, or before departure from the country of asylum. Upon entering the country of resettlement, all refugees are
offered a thorough medical examination paid for by the state. All refugees are entitled to free health care on equal terms
with the rest of the population.
All refugees are offered the opportunity to participate in an introduction program. The lengths and contents of these
programs vary from country to country, but commonly the introduction plans all offer language training, cultural programs, vocational training, and other elements aimed at integrating the refugee into the society of his/her new country.
In Denmark, participation is mandatory for all (unemployed) refugees for the first three years. Failure to attend may have a negative effect on the amount of public relief received and the eventual acquisition of a permanent residence permit and citizenship.
Refugees in all the Nordic countries have access to the regular education system, which for all students is paid for
by the state.
Status on Arrival
The refugees resettled in Nordic countries are mostly granted refugee status in accordance with Article 1 A of the 1951 Convention. The refugee statuses entitle the refugees to obtain residence permits, which allow the bearers to work in the new country. Depending on the specific national legislation, the refugees may apply for permanent residency after staying three to seven years in the resettlement country.
The Role of NGOs
The Nordic countries have old traditions for involving civil society in the work with refugees, and national nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) play a role in all of these countries. In Iceland and Denmark, two NGOs, the Icelandic Red Cross and the Danish Refugee Council, participate actively in the resettlement program. Both organizations are members of the National Committees on Resettlement (in Iceland called the Icelandic Refugee Council), are represented in the selection process and are part of the selection delegations. The Danish Refugee Council as well as the Icelandic Red Cross are involved in the international cooperation on resettlement and have close links to UNHCR's Resettlement Section in Geneva. This year the Danish Refugee Council undertook the role of "Focal Point" for the NGOs to the Annual Tripartite Consultations and the Working Group on Resettlement.
In all five countries, NGOs have reception, integration, and counseling functions in cooperation with the national and local governments.
Resettlement in the Future
The Nordic countries regard resettlement as being of the utmost importance in the protection of refugees. In spite of the significant political turn to the right in some countries, and the negative rhetoric applied to refugee matters in some cases, there have been no suggestions that Scandinavia's resettlement programs should be abandoned. On the contrary, there is a will to expand resettlement quotas. Nordic authorities are also actively involved in the diversification of resettlement opportunities, i.e., twinning with new resettlement countries in order to support capacity building and the implementation of future resettlement programs.
The author is Senior Legal Advisor to the Danish Refugee Council.
Danish Immigration Service: http://www.udlst.dk
Swedish Migrationsverket: http://www.migrationsverket.se
Finnish Directorate of Immigration: http://www.uvi.fi
Norwegian Utlendingsdirektoratet: http://www.udi.no
Icelandic Directorate of Immigration: http://www.utl.is
Icelandic Red Cross: http://www.redcross.is
Danish Refugee Council: http://www.drc.dk
Copenhagen, 11. August 2003
UNHCR's Resettlement Handbook - Country Chapters - Edited January 2002
See UNHCR Resettlement Handbook, Section 4.4
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