Young asylum-seekers play in front of a reception and integration centre in Bulgaria. Photo: UNHCR/B.Szandelszky

The United Nations refugee agency today welcomed the adoption of a joint resettlement programme by the European Union (EU), describing it as an important step towards a more substantive contribution to global efforts to relocate displaced persons.

?We hope the EU?s joint programme will help to increase resettlement places in the European Union as a whole and provide solutions for a greater number of refugees who find themselves in desperate situations,? said a spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Melissa Fleming.

When refugees cannot return to their native countries because they face continued persecution or have specific needs that cannot be addressed in the country where they have sought protection, UNHCR helps them resettle in a third country as the only safe and viable solution. According to the agency, of the 10.5 million refugees of concern to UNHCR around the world, only one per cent are candidates for resettlement.

Currently, twelve EU countries run resettlement programmes, which together contribute to less than eight per cent of the annual resettlement places on offer around the world.

While participation in the new joint programme is on a voluntary basis, increased coordination and larger financial benefits arising from it are likely to create more resettlement places in Europe, Ms. Fleming said.

The programme allows countries to prioritize refugee populations for resettlement including people from Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Iraq, Myanmar and Somalia. It will also provide States with additional funding for the integration of resettled refugees in local communities.

According to UNHCR, up to 80,000 refugees are resettled every year, with a majority going to the United States, Canada and Australia, while Europe takes only some 5,000 refugees annually.

?The adoption of the joint EU Programme should alter that imbalance,? Ms. Fleming added.

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