This guide provides a summary of the UNHCR refugee status determination (RSD) process.
What is Refugee Status Determination?
Refugee status determination is the process to decide whether a person is a refugee. People who are applying to be recognized as refugees are often called asylum seekers. You are a refugee if you meet all of these criteria:
- You are outside of your country.
- You are afraid that you will face serious harm if you go back to your country.
- Your fear is “well-founded.”
- You are afraid of serious harm because of your:
- Political opinion
- Membership in a particular social group
- You will be harmed by the government in your home country. Or, the government in your home country is unwilling or unable to protect you from others who want to harm you.
- You cannot reasonably move to a safe place in your home country.
- You are not excluded from refugee status because of serious crimes.
These criteria come from the 1951 Refugee Convention.
In many countries, the government decides whether a person is a refugee. A government-run system is often called an asylum system. In dozens of countries, UNHCR decides if a person is a refugee. UNHCR RSD processes are always free. More information from UNHCR about RSD is here.
What is the RSD process in the country where I live?
If you want to apply for asylum, you should find out whether UNHCR or the government decides RSD applications. For many countries, information is available at UNHCR’s website for refugees and asylum seekers.
UNHCR RSD processes can be very different in different countries. In many countries, a person will first register with UNHCR by phone or in a UNHCR office. Sometimes, UNHCR will issue a UNHCR asylum-seeker certificate and registration number right away. This will all depend on the UNHCR process in the country where you live.
UNHCR might schedule a person for an RSD interview after registration. In this interview, a UNHCR officer will ask you questions to decide whether you are a refugee. IRAP has a guide available here to help you prepare for an RSD interview. IRAP’s guide about the resettlement process is here.
In some countries, certain nationalities do not go through individual RSD. Instead, UNHCR in some countries will recognize people from certain nationalities as refugees without individual interviews.
What happens if my RSD application is rejected?
If UNHCR rejects your application after an RSD interview, it should issue you a letter in a language that you understand. The letter should explain the reason that you were rejected.
You can appeal the decision. In most places, UNHCR only gives thirty days to file an appeal. You should make sure to meet this deadline. You should make sure that you give information to address the reason that UNHCR denied your application.
In limited circumstances, refugees can ask UNHCR to reopen their files, even if their appeal was denied or the time to appeal is passed.
A list of free legal assistance organizations in some countries is here. Contact the organization(s) in the country where you live to ask for help with your appeal.
You or your relative may want to ask an immigration attorney for help with this process. Here are a few resources:
- Information about asking for help from IRAP is here.
- If you are in Jordan, you can ask for IRAP Jordan’s help using this form. If the form is closed, you can check back at a later date.
- A list of free immigration legal service providers in the United States is available here.
- A list of private immigration attorneys in the United States is available here.