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Refugee Status Determination Project

What We Do
© UNHCR / T. Makeeva

The Refugee Status Determination Unit


In 2007, UNHCR conducted refugee status determination (RSD) in some 75 countries, making decisions for 48,745 people. More than 90 percent of the refugee agency's RSD work (in terms of RSD submissions received and decided) is concentrated in 15 operations1. In most cases, mandate RSD is the basis for UNHCR interventions to provide protection, including prevention of refoulement (forced return). RSD may also be required to assess eligibility for other forms of assistance or prior to implementing a durable solution, such as resettlement.

The RSD Unit in Geneva supports RSD operations in the field through various activities. In particular, (i) through the deployment of RSD experts under the RSD project; (ii) the RSD Unit is providing advice to field offices on procedural as well as substantial issues pertaining to RSD, including facilitating the development of appropriate standard operating procedures in RSD operations; (iii) coordinating the design and delivery of comprehensive training to staff who are performing RSD; and (iv) evaluating UNHCR RSD operations, which includes the participation in oversight/investigation missions in significant RSD operations.

The RSD Project

The RSD Project was established within the RSD Unit to provide technical support to RSD operations. The top 15 UNHCR mandate RSD operations will be the primary beneficiaries and focus of the RSD Unit's ongoing activities to enhance the quality and integrity of mandate RSD operations. However, the RSD Unit does, and will continue to, provide support to smaller RSD operations which lack the resources and/or capacity to respond to operational problems or emergencies. UNHCR field offices are regularly faced with refugee emergencies and/or sudden increases in asylum applications. Such situations may occur both in country operations that are already conducting RSD as well as in those that do not conduct RSD. A very significant part of the RSD Unit response involves providing expertise and additional staffing resources required by field offices in these contexts.

The RSD Unit provides operational support through the RSD Project, which deploys experienced international consultants and qualified UN Volunteers to assist UNHCR field offices worldwide to:

  • Improve the quality, fairness and integrity of UNHCR mandate RSD procedures;
  • To achieve greater organization-wide consistency in UNHCR RSD procedures and decisions;
  • Enhance the capacity of UNHCR offices to reduce and avoid backlogs of claims pending interview and adjudication, and improve the overall efficiency of RSD procedures; and
  • Assist UNHCR offices to develop and strengthen national RSD procedures.

Further, the RSD Unit will contribute to UNHCR capacity building initiatives in national asylum systems, on an exceptional basis, within the framework of a comprehensive organizational strategy in countries where it is considered that the necessary conditions exist for this investment to be effective and sustainable. However, with the existing resources of the RSD Unit, it is not possible to incorporate direct support for this function. The focus of the RSD Unit is, therefore, on the delivery of essential support to UNHCR's mandate RSD operations.

RSD Deployment Scheme

The RSD Deployment Scheme is managed directly by the UNHCR's RSD Unit in the Division of International Protection Services to deliver operational assistance to mandate RSD operations. The RSD Deployment Scheme primarily responds to emergencies and other exceptional needs for RSD support (including clearance of backlogs, assistance in responding to sudden influxes of asylum seekers, streamlining of procedures). As a RSD consultant you may be involved in activities such as case processing, supervision of a RSD team, delivering training and coaching, and/or providing general guidance on substantial and procedural RSD matters. Eligible applicants will join a roster of experienced consultants who can be deployed at short notice to assist UNHCR offices engaged in RSD operations.

Minimum qualifications:

In order to be considered for a RSD consultancy deployment, you need to have a university degree in a relevant field and at least two years of experience in the field of Refugee Status Determination. Suitable candidates are then assessed by a dedicated panel, created by the Division of International Protection Services of UNHCR. Applicants have to be approved by the panel before they can be issued a consultancy contract under the Scheme.

Application process:

If you are interested in applying for the RSD Deployment Scheme, you should fill in UN Personal History form (P11 and, if required, the Employment Record Supplementary Sheet ) [MS Word], submit two letters of recommendation on your professional experience and abilities as well as two samples of previous RSD assessments on individual cases processed by you (or similar work). The documents should be sent to the RSD Unit.

The Procedural Standards for RSD under UNHCR's Mandate (RSD PS)

The Procedural Standards for RSD under UNHCR's Mandate were issued in 2003 and publicly released in 2005. The RSD Unit continues to assist offices to incorporate these recommended practices into their respective standard operating procedures. In this context, the creation in 2006 of the two regional global RSD officer posts (based in Kenya and Malaysia) has helped bring RSD support closer to the field, including routine advice and oversight on compliance by field offices with the RSD PS. The role of the regional global RSD officers has also been critical in pursuing the harmonization of RSD approaches at the regional level. Funds for the creation of these two posts came from the RSD Project deployment scheme, which had been reduced accordingly in 2006. In 2007, another global regional RSD officer post was created for the MENA region, based in Lebanon. For 2008 two additional regional RSD officer posts will be created to cover West Africa and Central Asia.

Training - The RSD Learning Programme

The RSD Learning Programme has been developed as a mandatory functional training for UNHCR staff who are responsible for conducting or supervising mandate RSD. While it is intended to serve as a comprehensive training for staff who are assuming RSD responsibilities for the first time, it is being designed to also meet the professional development needs of staff who have some RSD experience but have not yet received formal training. The programme is also appropriate for UNHCR staff whose responsibilities require them to play an active role in national asylum procedures.

The harmonization of the substance and methodology of UNHCR RSD training is considered to be necessary to ensure that all UNHCR staff responsible for RSD have the opportunity to acquire the knowledge and skills required to carry out this challenging and highly specialized protection function. Further, the effectiveness and sustainability of the RSD training is significantly enhanced if, in all operations, RSD staff - and the supervisors responsible for their training - work from a common substantive framework and with high quality learning materials and training guidance. RSD supervisors and experienced staff have a formal role in the delivery of the self-study and on-the-job training components of the RSD Learning Programme. Building the capacity of field offices to train and mentor RSD staff is a core element of the strategy to build RSD capacity in UNHCR operations. The programme will also aim to identify and train staff who are able and willing to assume a greater role in the organization and delivery of RSD training initiatives within their respective regions on an continuing basis, particularly for new RSD staff.

Partnerships in Capacity Building - IARLJ, OFPRA and IRB

At UNHCR headquarters, the RSD Unit acts as focal point for the International Association of Refugee Law Judges (IARLJ), in particular in the area of training of RSD adjudicators in different parts of the world. The IARLJ has proven to be a crucial vehicle for the promotion of refugee law and for raising awareness of the situation of refugees among judges from various countries. UNHCR field offices who are organizing RSD and/or protection training/workshops for their government counterparts (especially the judiciary and RSD decision makers) and who are seeking resource persons from within the judiciary, are encouraged to contact the RSD Unit, which will further liaise with the IARLJ.

The RSD Unit, in a bid to strengthen cooperation in the field of RSD with governments having a recognized expertise in this matter, also entered into partnership agreements in 2006 with the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) and the Office Français de Protection des Refugiés et Apatrides (OFPRA). Under these arrangements, RSD experts from the IRB are deployed to facilitate training of UNHCR staff worldwide, while the partnership agreement with OFPRA envisages providing expertise and/or assistance in the processing of refugee applications.

Updated July 2008

1 Algeria, Cameroon, China (Hong Kong), Egypt, India, Kenya, Libya, Malaysia, Morocco, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, Yemen.