Sometimes a crisis sparks concentrated action. In 2015, responding to the rising number of people fleeing war in the Middle East, Australia initiated a special program to resettle 12,000 extra refugees from Syria and Iraq, as part of a global effort. While this ‘special intake’ provided invaluable protection for refugees fleeing a major humanitarian crisis, its implementation also raises questions about fairness and transparency.

A new Kaldor Centre Policy Brief analyses this experience, and others like it, to guide governments around the world on how to best manage such humanitarian initiatives in the future.

‘The Syrian crisis will not be the last situation involving widespread displacement and requiring international cooperation in the protection of refugees,’ notes the Policy Brief, Special humanitarian intakes: Enhancing protection through targeted refugee resettlement. Indeed close to a million Rohingya refugees are currently in Bangladesh without a solution. Meanwhile the United Nations is set to endorse a new agreement, the Global Compact on Refugees, requiring countries to report on their progress towards its objectives, including flexible resettlement programs. 

At this time of unprecedented displacement and global focus, the Policy Brief’s authors, Dr Tamara Wood and Dr Claire Higgins, offer important guidelines for future extraordinary refugee programs. 

Special humanitarian intakes ought to be guided by two overarching principles: First, sharing the global burden, particularly where the scale of displacement threatens to overwhelm the neighbouring countries’ ability to manage, and second, protecting the most vulnerable people as a matter of principle and priority.

The best outcomes arise when special intakes involve a transparent pathway for the refugees concerned. Decisions should be based on clear criteria that are applied consistently; non-discrimination ensures that such intakes are not driven purely by politics or the perceived desirability of any particular group of refugees. 

Special humanitarian intakes should be done in close coordination with the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, and should provide permanent, durable solutions for individual refugees. Governments can learn from the past, moving from ad hoc resettlements to a more streamlined, efficient and planned approach, including dedicating places each year to crisis response.  

Australia’s Syria-Iraq special intake between 2017 and 2017 built on the country’s past experiences with special intakes, admitting Albanian Kosovars in 1999, and, before that, refugees fleeing conflict in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. These programs, as well as others by the European Union, Sweden, and Canada, are compared in the Kaldor Centre Policy Brief. 

Special humanitarian intakes can play a vital role in addressing the protection challenges of today’s world, where there are more than 25 million refugees. For two-thirds of these refugees, the ‘emergency’ situation has passed, but five or more years later they remain without a durable solution.

When the need for special humanitarian intakes arises in the future, the recommendations in the Kaldor Centre’s latest Policy Brief can greatly enhance the ability for a crisis response to benefit the international protection regime as a whole.

Read the full Policy Brief, Special humanitarian intakes: Enhancing protection through targeted refugee resettlement.