How does UNHCR resettle refugees?

UNHCR helps refugees who are most at risk find a safe new home through resettlement – the transfer of refugees from an asylum country to another State that has agreed to admit them, grant them the right to permanent residency and, eventually, give them the chance to gain a new citizenship.

Photo: © UNHCR/Mohamed Alalem

Refugees may be denied basic human rights in the country where they found refuge. Their lives and freedom may still be threatened, or they may have specific needs that cannot be addressed in their host country. Through resettlement, UNHCR helps them relocate to a third country. Find out what is refugee resettlement.


When people are forced to flee their homes to escape war, persecution or violence and they cross borders to seek asylum in another country, their registration and documentation by States or by UNHCR is a key first step to ensure their protection. This facilitates people’s access to basic assistance and enables the early identification of individuals with specific needs. The very fact of being registered can protect against refoulement (forced return), arbitrary arrest and detention. It helps keep families together and assists UNHCR in reuniting separated children.

Registration data allows UNHCR and partners to plan accordingly and provide life-saving assistance like shelter, food, water, health and sanitation facilities, education, or support for persons with disabilities and survivors of sexual violence. And it is crucial to help prevent and combat fraud, corruption and crime, including human trafficking.

Refugee status determination

The legal and administrative process by which UNHCR or governments determine whether a person seeking international protection is considered a refugee under international, regional or national law is called refugee status determination.

To meet the “refugee” definition as outlined in the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugee, an applicant must demonstrate that they have a well-founded fear of persecution, and that they are unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin – whether because of their race or nationality, religion, membership to a particular social group (due to their sexual orientation or gender, for example), or political opinion.

In some countries, UNHCR assesses refugee claims through individual interviews and by collecting independently sourced, credible and reliable information on the situation in the applicant’s country of origin.

Referring refugees for resettlement

Only recognized refugees whose life, liberty, safety, health, or other fundamental rights are at risk in the country where they have sought refuge are considered for resettlement. It is UNHCR’s role to identify those refugees most at risk, whose cases will be submitted to resettlement countries.

Refugees may be resettled because they are in physical danger – because of their ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender, for instance, or because of personal risk associated with a past activity, as is the case for journalists or human rights activists. They may also be resettled because they require specialized services – because they are survivors of torture or violence and their current situation could lead to further traumatization, for example, or because they are in need of medical treatment that is not available in the country where they found asylum.

Resettlement may also be used when it is the only means to reunite refugee family members who have been separated by borders or entire continents, or in support of the best interests of children and adolescents at risk. Many resettlement countries have established their own family reunification programs, including Canada.

Those who have committed serious crimes or who might pose a threat to others would not be referred for resettlement.

UNHCR regularly consults refugees about their needs throughout the process, and pays special attention to children, women and the elderly, as well as people who may be further at risk, such as LGBTI+ individuals.


UNHCR’s ability to submit refugees’ cases to resettlement countries for their consideration depends on the willingness of States to offer resettlement spaces and accept a refugee for legal stay in their territory in accordance with their laws and regulations. Each resettlement country has its own procedures, which sometimes include additional interviews with refugees. Refugees need to agree to be submitted for resettlement. Refugees cannot apply themselves for resettlement to Canada, and they do not pick their country of resettlement.

Last steps

Once a refugee is accepted for resettlement, they usually go through a number of pre-departure formalities, depending on the requirements of the State that will welcome them. These can include cultural orientation sessions and/or medical screenings, for example. In close collaboration with governments and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), travel arrangements are made. Upon arrival in the resettlement country, government officials, service providers and volunteers help refugees integrate into their new home. Learn more about refugee resettlement to Canada.

UNHCR Canada does not select refugees who will be resettled to Canada and is not able to intervene or influence the process of determining whether someone can be considered a refugee or if a refugee can be resettled to Canada. When resettlement places are offered by countries such as Canada, other UNHCR offices around the world in refugees’ countries of asylum will identify those at risk and submit their applications to these resettlement countries. Resettlement countries make the final decision as to whether or not a refugee will be admitted to their country.

Stay alert and report fraudsters who are offering you resettlement, financial or other kinds of assistance, fake documents or fake claims in exchange for money or other favours. All UNHCR services are free of charge. Do not trust anyone or any organization asking you to pay for the services of UNHCR or its partners.

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