As President Biden has committed to raise the United States’ refugee resettlement goal to 125,000 over the coming fiscal year, the International Rescue Committee is calling on the Portuguese Presidency of the EU to push for ambitious new resettlement targets in 2021.

The EU’s member states resettled just 9,119 refugees last year (1) - falling far short of their commitment to welcome 30,000 refugees through this route in 2020. Of these, Sweden welcomed 39% (3,543), followed by Germany with 15% (1,396) and France with 13% (1,211), according to new figures from UNHCR (2)(3).

This mirrors a broader global trend, which saw global resettlement plummet to a record low due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Just 22,770 refugees were resettled through UNHCR last year - fewer than 2% of the estimated 1.44 million refugees identified as in urgent need of resettlement worldwide.

With a new Portuguese Presidency at the helm of the EU and the incoming Biden administration in the US, the IRC is calling for a fresh start on refugee resettlement, with reinvigorated global solidarity and responsibility-sharing.

The IRC is urging the Portuguese Presidency in its work with member states to strive to:

David Miliband, President of the International Rescue Committee, says:

“The sad reality is that last year the European Union resettled just 9,000 refugees, representing just 0.6% of global needs and less than a third of its commitment of 30,000 places in 2020. The pandemic presented some valid reasons for disruption but, as a wealthy region, the EU has a moral obligation to do better.

As negotiations on the EU Pact get underway and with a willing partner in the White House, the new Portuguese Presidency has a chance to do just that. Here’s how:

Firstly, it’s devastating that thousands of refugees had their departures to safety in Europe cancelled last year due to COVID-related travel restrictions. While these vital resettlement programmes have gradually restarted, they must be strengthened and scaled up in a sustainable and future-proof way.

Secondly, EU member states should meet their resettlement quota for 2020 and make new pledges for 2021. We’re also calling on the Portuguese Presidency to urgently kick start negotiations on the Union Resettlement Framework to guarantee an ambitious, humanitarian and sustainable approach to EU resettlement in years to come.

Finally, the Biden administration has vowed to welcome 125,000 refugees into the United States every year. The IRC continues to believe that it’s realistic and achievable for the EU to resettle a total of 250,000 refugees by 2025.

With a new partner in Washington, the EU and broader international community now have an opportunity to reinvigorate global solidarity and responsibility-sharing. 2021 has to be a fresh start – both for transatlantic relations, and for the millions of refugees relying on the EU to extend them a lifeline.”

Watch a video statement from David Miliband on @RESCUE_EU.

(1) Including the UK
(2) UNHCR resettlement dashboard
(3) UNHCR resettlement categories