In 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, UNHCR submitted just over 21,700 refugees for resettlement to eighteen countries in Europe, 36 per cent fewer than in 2019 (33,838), and 28 per cent fewer than the yearly average of 30,200 over the previous five years (2015-2019). COVID-19-related measures and the closure of EU external borders led to the disruption or temporary suspension of resettlement programmes in many European countries. Moreover, the temporary hold on resettlement travel announced by UNHCR and IOM in March 2020 as a result of pandemic-related government measures and disruptions to international air travel delayed the departures of some 10,000 accepted refugees to resettlement countries globally. This hold was eventually lifted in June, after which UNHCR encouraged States to resume travel arrangements.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the European Commission’s commitment remained significant as evidenced by the proposal in September 2020 of a new Pact on Migration and Asylum and a dedicated Recommendation on Legal Pathways to Protection in the EU. In this recommendation, the Commission called for States’ efforts to build and expand resettlement programmes, develop community sponsorship programmes, and expand legal pathways to protection for refugees through humanitarian admissions, education and labour mobility pathways.
In 2020, Europe received 55 per cent of all UNHCR-facilitated resettlement submissions worldwide, the region’s highest share since 2017. This was primarily due to a significant reduction in the scale of some other States’ resettlement programmes in 2020.