Around the world there are more than ten million people, who have fled their homeland because of war, persecution, natural disasters and famine, and that are in need of help and protection. Many were born and have lived their entire lives in refugee camps. Out of these ten million people, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, expects that about one percent will not be able to return to home because of the risk of persecution. They are the most vulnerable of the vulnerable. UNHCR has a so-called resettlement program in which countries can sign up to help these people find a new home and a life lived in dignity.
Today, the EU has taken a historically important step towards greater solidarity in asylum policy – we have finally agreed, after several years of negotiations, to merge the quotas that the countries participating in the resettlement program have set into a joint program. The initiative behind the joint programme was taken during the Swedish Presidency and I was very active in the negotiations to get this in place. A European resettlement program means that we can pool our resources and use them more effectively. It means we might be able to empty an entire refugee camp and offer asylum to the most vulnerable.
Unfortunately, only a few states participating in the UNHCR resettlement program today. The US is the country that receives the most, taking in 80,000 refugees per year. Sweden and other Nordic countries have also taken on a big responsibility but even if when adding all places that the EU Member States provide today we only manage to reach a measly 4 500 places for refugees. We have, however, received positive signals that more EU countries are interested in participating. For our part, we in the Commission continue to support and assist those countries that want to participate. I hope that with a common European program even more countries will be willing to help and we will thus we be standing up for one of the fundamental values of our Union – solidarity. More information about resettlement can be found on UNHCR’s website.