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Time for Transatlantic Refugee Resettlement

David Miliband wrote that as the number of displaced people around the world hit a record high, it is time to restore leadership in transatlantic refugee resettlement.

David Miliband is the chairman and chief executive officer of the International Rescue Committee.

President Biden’s visit to Europe this week coincided with some shocking news: According to the UN refugee agency, a record 82.4 million people have been forcibly displaced globally.

Although the new US president is committed to responding to this grim reality with new determination, it is clear that unprecedented global actions must be taken to respond to today’s unprecedented global crisis.

This World Refugee Day (June 20) should usher in a new era of bold, principled, and transatlantic leadership by Biden and the European Union to change the trajectory of this humanitarian emergency.

A core element of this joint response must involve the expansion of refugee resettlement. This is the process of transferring vulnerable people from the low-income regions where the majority of the displaced in the world, such as Ethiopia, Chad, and Cameroon, to other safe countries.

Globally, these basic protection plans fell to a record low in 2020-sharply reduced by COVID-related travel restrictions and Trump’s four-year reckless leadership in the United States. The UN refugee agency resettled less than 23,000 people last year, accounting for only 2% of those in need.

The encouraging news is that with the new government entering the White House, the US resettlement plan has finally regained its footing. The Biden administration is approaching refugee resettlement with new ambitions and enthusiasm. More importantly, it actually matches such words with actions.

The Biden administration has taken key steps to rebuild the US resettlement plan demolished by its predecessor. This year alone, it set a target of 62,500 refugees, and then increased that target to 125,000 in the next fiscal year.

The refugees have felt the impact of the United States’ efforts to strengthen its resettlement program. As a direct result of these policy changes, the number of arrivals in May increased by more than 200% from the previous month.

Enrollment from Africa has increased by nearly 700%, reflecting only the alarming demand in the region. Resettlement agencies across the United States, including the International Rescue Committee, are rebuilding their teams and coordinating with community partners to welcome these newcomers.

America’s new trajectory provides a beacon of hope for those who don’t have many places to turn.

What is worrying is that this newly discovered vitality has not been reflected on the other side of the Atlantic, where the refugee resettlement plan is still at a standstill. Last year, member states resettled less than 10,000 people — well below the 30,000 they promised — mainly due to travel restrictions imposed by the global pandemic.

To make matters worse, the EU member states failed to issue new commitments for 2021, which means that we lost a whole year of refugee settlement when the EU needed it most.

As one of the richest and most stable regions in the world, the inaction of EU member states is deeply disappointing. It may undermine the hard-won progress in refugee resettlement over the years and push EU policy further on the wrong track.

Instead, member states need to learn from Biden’s script by demonstrating humanitarian leadership and significantly strengthening refugee resettlement. That’s it.

First, EU member states can and must fulfil their 2020 commitment by the end of 2021-to resume and implement resettlement plans that have been stalled due to COVID-19. They can achieve this goal through flexible and innovative programming methods, such as through online placement interviews instead of in person.

The Committee must ensure that member states can obtain sufficient financial support and technical assistance to achieve this goal.

Second, member states must seize the opportunity of the EU resettlement forum in July and commit to a substantial increase in their 2022 commitments.

Not only will this change the lives of thousands of refugees, but it will also send a strong message to other countries before the two-year review of the Global Refugee Forum in Geneva in December 2021.

Despite the slow progress, we still believe that the resettlement of 250,000 refugees by EU member states by 2025 is realistic and achievable.

Finally, the EU must urgently restart negotiations on the EU resettlement and humanitarian acceptance framework, which will help formulate a more structured, predictable and long-term EU resettlement policy.

Since 2018, progress on this critical reform has stalled because it has been tied to the larger “package of reforms” of the European Common Asylum System.

Encouragingly, the incoming President of the Slovenian Council of the European Union seems to be open to the “decoupling” of certain legislations that can reach agreement from the overall plan.

This must be done in a balanced manner, ensuring that measures are taken to promote safe and legal means of protection—not just those involving border management. If this method is applied to the resettlement framework, it may eventually break the deadlock that has hindered a meaningful and coordinated resettlement process since 2018.

Although it is moving in the right direction, there is still a lot of work to be done in restoring the U.S. refugee protection system. An important step for the Biden administration will be to finally join the Global Refugee Compact.

However, its move to expand the scale of refugee resettlement has not only fulfilled its promises — they have sent a clear message that the United States intends to resume its traditional humanitarian leadership role.

Now it is the EU’s turn to go back on the right path. The incoming Slovenian and French presidents must adopt the same attitude and work hand in hand with the Biden administration to uphold the basic values ​​of the European Union and inject new vitality into the global resettlement plan.

The Global Refugee Forum provides a perfect platform for transatlantic partners to inspire other wealthy countries to stand up and do their part to welcome refugees by setting a bold example, thereby reviving the global commitment to responsibility sharing.

After several years of resettlement of refugees, this is the minimum they can do to support thousands of refugees around the world who depend on the United States and the European Union to provide them with an important lifeline.

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