UNHCR’s U.S. Protection and Solutions Unit offers resources to assist asylum seekers and attorneys representing them in the United States. These materials provide an overview of international refugee law, address how it applies in U.S. asylum adjudication and include guidance to support claims by individuals seeking protection in the U.S. They cover six core topics: children’s asylum claims, gender-based asylum claims, Central American and Mexican asylum claims, detention issues and statelessness. Most thematic pages include a cover note explaining how to use international law and UNHCR publications to leverage an asylum claim, with links to key resources.
International Law and UNHCR Guidance in U.S. Asylum Adjudication
The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees are the key international instruments governing the protection of refugees. The United States is a party to the 1967 Protocol and therefore bound to comply with its provisions, and it has incorporated the substantive provisions of the Protocol into domestic law through the 1980 Refugee Act. Accordingly, the Refugee Act should be interpreted and implemented in a manner consistent with the United States’ international law obligations.
U.S. courts have a responsibility to construe U.S. statutes in a manner consistent with international obligations whenever possible. In their efforts to fulfill that duty, they have relied on UNHCR guidance, especially the Handbook on Procedures and Criteria for Determining Refugee Status, in assessing refugee claims, as the U.S. Supreme Court has done and recognized. Thus, UNHCR guidance can serve as a critical tool in evaluating and resolving the diverse, evolving interpretative questions related to the refugee definition and adjudication procedures that continue to arise, including in the United States.
UNHCR offers extensive resources that may be relevant when advocating on behalf of asylum seekers in the United States. While international law can be used to support an individual’s claim, UNHCR understands that an asylum seeker may need to highlight affirmatively relevant international legal standards to receive individualized consideration by U.S. courts and authorities in a particular case. Therefore, advocates and asylum seekers may wish to submit relevant materials to be included in the record when applicable.
For more information, please see these slides from a 2022 webinar on international law, UNHCR guidance, and their strategic use in direct representation and impact litigation, as well as the variety of materials available on each of the thematic pages linked above.
UNHCR guidance addressing eligibility for international protection, reasonableness and feasibility of return, and other issues.
UNHCR's views on asylum claims from individuals fleeing violence by organized criminal groups in Central America and Mexico.