Enabling Resettlement of Refugees

Johannes C. van Nieuwkerk
3 min readMar 22, 2021


Watching the daily misery of migrants being smuggled, the situation at the refugee camps, and pushbacks at European borders, I think that it is high-time to supplement this negative publicity with a positive narrative. If we are aiming to control irregular migration, well-functioning legal alternatives must be created. Only after doing so, we can start focusing on properly redirecting asylum seekers.

Therefore, as an alternative, I propose to increase the number of publicly funded resettlements which are based on UNHCR’s criterion of a “Lack of Foreseeable Alternative Durable Solutions”. It implies to not only resettle the most vulnerable refugees, but additionally also those for whom upskilling and cultural adaptation generates substantial added value.

Whereas these refugees face no future in their current host country, resettlement could offer them to become employed and achieve self-sustainability in Europe. This group neither consists of the most educated, nor of the most helpless people, but dominantly corresponds to refugees with substantial but bridgeable education gaps.

Although it is expected that the Covid crisis will negatively impact the unemployment rates in the coming years, this will not affect demographic deficits. There is a structural shortage of young people in Europe. Educating refugee families can thus contribute to improving its long-term prosperity.

In comparison to irregularly arriving asylum seekers, there is another advantage to resettling this category of refugees. Unlike irregularly arriving migrants, these people do not beforehand possess a fixed aspiration to exclusively settle in the most advanced big cities in Western- and Northern-Europe, hence they could be relocated to smaller towns and rural communities with significantly lower living cost.

As long as refugees can be offered a better future compared to their current situation, there is potential to divide people over locations that — up till now — have participated less or did not welcome any refugees. Such spreading of people can be very synergetic, because it could directly address the problem of ageing and depopulation in smaller communities.

Execution of this project might be financially challenging because most small host communities are not prosperous. However, taking into account the high cost of irregular migration and considering the fact that there is a substantial EU budget allocated for rural revitalization, the project could become cost-efficient and manageable.

If all stakeholders contribute, housing could — for example — often be provided by the local community, subsistence cost could be financed from EU or central government funds, and refugee education could be paid for by the private sector and/or by providing study-loans to refugees.

More than five years after I started Refival, the originally intended one-year self-funded sabbatical activity has evolved into 15,000 hours of R&D and advocacy. To continue succeeding in my mission, external support is urgently needed. Therefore, I am seeking for an organization I could pass the torch to, and which would be willing to continue Refival’s activities. I personally am open for a European migration or rural development related position, allowing me to continue building positive narratives.