Complementary Pathways

The unprecedented scope and complex nature of current global displacement has added renewed urgency to the debate surrounding safe, regular and sustainable access to safety for those fleeing persecution, war and conflict.

Refugees in need of protection often embark on perilous journeys over land and sea. Many do not survive these journeys. Their choice is affected, among other factors, by the scarcity of safe and legal pathways and the modest number of resettlement places available in Europe. Refugees and migrants are thus compelled to rely on the services of criminal groups, including smugglers, and potentially fall prey to human traffickers.

Expanding safe and legal avenues for refugees to reach Europe is therefore key to ensure and enhance access to international protection. Such pathways should be in addition to and complement resettlement as a tool of solidarity and responsibility‑sharing with those countries hosting the majority of refugees.

Expanding complementary pathways to protection has gained traction across Europe. In recent years, some states have been implementing complementary pathways such as humanitarian admission, humanitarian corridors, private sponsorship, family reunification programmes, or student scholarships for refugees.

The Global Compact on Refugees also states that there is a need to extend other pathways of admission, as a complement to resettlement, to facilitate refugees’ access to protection. Such complementary pathways are therefore an integral part of UNHCR’s Three‑Year Strategy (2019‑2021), which has the ambitious goal of supporting two million refugees with complementary pathways to protection by the end of 2028.

The Global Compact on Refugees is a framework for more predictable and equitable responsibility‑sharing, recognizing that a sustainable solution to refugee situations cannot be achieved without international cooperation.

It provides a blueprint for governments, international organizations, and other stakeholders to ensure that host communities get the support they need and that refugees can lead productive lives.

It constitutes a unique opportunity to transform the way the world responds to refugee situations, benefiting both refugees and the communities that host them.

Its four key objectives are to:

  • Ease the pressures on host countries;
  • Enhance refugee self‑reliance;
  • Expand access to third‑country solutions;
  • Support conditions in countries of origin for return in safety and dignity.

IOM, UNHCR and ICMC have looked into the potential of complementary pathways and into available European examples. As part of the European Resettlement Network, a project co‑funded by the EU, the three organizations analysed the following avenues: humanitarian admission programmes, private sponsorship programmes and student scholarships.