This guide is to help asylum-seekers prepare for interviews with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to assess if they are a refugee. This is called the refugee status determination (RSD) process.
If you applied for recognition as a refugee from the UNHCR office in the country where you live, then you may have an RSD interview. An RSD interview is at a UNHCR office with a UNHCR officer. The UNHCR officer will determine if you meet the refugee definition under international law.
Who is applying for refugee status?
One person in the family will be the primary applicant (PA). When UNHCR recognizes the PA as a refugee, their spouse and children under 18 are also recognized as refugees.
UNHCR might include others in your refugee file if they are dependent on you. For example, if you live with an elderly parent who cannot take care of themselves, UNHCR may consider them a dependent. Any dependent can be recognized as a refugee themselves if they meet the refugee definition.
At the interview, expect that UNHCR will separately interview each person who is over 18 years old. UNHCR may also interview a child. Only a UNHCR officer who has special training will separately interview a child.
Purpose of the RSD interview: The definition of a refugee
In the RSD interview, UNHCR will determine whether you meet the definition of a refugee. The requirements of the refugee definition are:
- You are outside of your country.
- You are afraid that you will face serious harm if you go back to your country. You should explain what you think might happen if you return to your country.
- Your fear must be “well-founded.”
- Documents of threats you received, or photos of injuries you received.
- Military-related documents such as military book and military ID. If you did serve in the military, bring all your military documentation, such as a military book or card. If you served in the military and do not have your documents, be ready to explain why you do not have it.
- Medical documents related to your refugee claim.
- Family documents like a family book, children’s birth certificates, marriage and divorce certificates.
- You should explain why you are afraid of being persecuted, or facing serious harm, in your country. You should explain if things that have happened in the past make you afraid. You should explain if people in a similar situation to yours have been harmed.
- You are not required to bring evidence other than your statements, but evidence can be helpful to support your story.
- Evidence could include:
- You will be harmed by your government or your government is unwilling or unable to protect you from others who want to harm you.
- That you are afraid of serious harm because of your:
- Political opinion
- Membership in a particular social group
A particular social group is a group of people who share something in common that they cannot change or that they should not have to change. Examples include: someone fears harm because he is a family member of a person who opposes the government or a person who fears harm because they are LGBTI.
It is not enough that you are afraid of harm. You must show that you are afraid of harm for one of these reasons.
- You applicant cannot reasonably move to a safe place in your home country.
- You must not be “excluded” from refugee protection.
- Applicants who committed serious crimes or war crimes may be excluded.
- Applicants who have received citizenship or an offer of a status like citizenship in another country may be excluded.
Before your interview you should sit down and write a summary of events in the order that they happened. This can include the dates you fled your home or the dates you received threats. Some of these events may bring up bad or difficult memories, but it is important to be ready to speak about them.
If you cannot write, you can ask for help or you can review it without writing it down.
Do not bring what you wrote down to your interview. It is only to help you prepare.
Telling your story during the interview
Always tell the truth during your interview. UNHCR will be checking whether your claim is credible. This means that they are deciding whether they believe that you are telling the truth.
The UNHCR officer will ask about what happened to you in your home country. They will ask why you left your country.
It may help to try to tell your story in the order that it happened. Telling your story in this way can help the UNHCR officer understand what happened to you.
The UNHCR officer will compare your story with information from news or reports about the situation in your country.
The UNHCR officer might ask about your registration form and compare what you say in the interview with your registration form.
The UNHCR officer might point out an inconsistency between your registration form or another interview and what you have told them. You should explain the inconsistency or clarify why the two statements are consistent.
If there is something that you do not want to talk about in front of your family, you do not have to share it in front of them. But be sure to tell your full story. You can tell the UNHCR officer that you would like to continue the interview privately.
Telling your story in detail
Identify who harmed or tried to harm you. For example, how many people were there? What were they wearing? Did they identify themselves? Who do you think they were?
Identify how often events occurred. For example, did the event happen only once? If not, how many times did it happen, and during what period of time did it happen?
Listen carefully to the UNHCR officer’s questions and to answer them honestly and clearly. Make sure that you give relevant answers to the questions that you are asked.
Working with an interpreter
If you require an interpreter during your interview, answer the questions in short sentences. This will help the interpreter to interpret your complete story. Give the interpreter time to interpret all the details of your story to the Officer.
You should tell the officer if:
- You have problems understanding the interpreter.
- You think the interpreter may not understand you.
- The interpreter is not fully translating what you have said.
- The interpreter is disrespectful to you.
Then explain in detail the interpretation problem you are having. Your interpreter will not have any impact on the final result in your case. Your interpreter will not discuss your case outside the interview. They are required to keep your information confidential.
In the beginning of the interview it is likely that all your family members will be present. If there is anything that you are asked that you are uncomfortable sharing in front of your family, tell the officer that you would rather talk about this in private. This is better than leaving out important details or saying, “I don’t know.”
- How to respond to questions when you do not know the answer. If you are asked a question and you do not know the answer, do not answer the question with wrong information.
- But if you do not remember some details, explain as much as you do know. Then explain why you do not remember the rest. It is better to say you do not remember or you do not know and explain why.
- For example, if they ask you what date something happened, and you remember only that it was in summer 2013, tell them it was summer 2013 rather than giving a specific date.
- If you need a break, you can ask for one. It is not rude or impolite to ask for a short break during the interview. It is important for you to feel comfortable telling your whole story. If you are upset or uncomfortable, ask for a short break to calm down and recollect your thoughts.
- Do not leave anything out. Make sure you tell the officer everything that they ask you about. Answer the officer’s questions and focus on the issue that the officer asked about.
- Always be truthful. Whatever they ask you about, always tell the truth. If you are afraid that your answer may hurt your case, it is still better to tell the truth. You can then explain why this detail should not hurt your case. The officer may deny your case if you give wrong information.
After your RSD interview
As soon as possible after your interview, write down key details from your interview. Write the name of the UNHCR officer and interpreter. Write about any parts of your story that you think might have been confusing to the officer.
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.