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1.1 Refugee status as a requirement for resettlement

UNHCR resettlement is only available to recognized refugees

All individuals in a UNHCR resettlement submission must, in principle, be recognized as refugees, either by a host State or by UNHCR:   

  1. Recognition by a host State, usually pursuant to national legislation that incorporates the refugee definitions in the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol (or the 1984 Cartagena Declaration on Refugees or the 1969 Organization of African Unity (OAU) Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa). Family unity may also be a basis for recognition by a State.
  2. Recognition by UNHCR under its mandate (“Mandate RSD”) based on the refugee definition in the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol or UNHCR’s broader refugee definition. Family unity may also be the basis for recognition under UNHCR’s mandate.

Exceptions to the general rule that an individual must be a refugee to be resettled include:

  • Dependent children/partners of refugees being submitted for resettlement who are nationals of the country of asylum (see Eligibility pursuant to the right to family unity in 1.2 Determining refugee status under UNHCR’s mandate).
  • Non-refugee stateless persons (refer to the Statelessness Section in DIP for guidance).

Recognition by a State

States have the primary responsibility to protect refugees on their territory. To effectively fulfil this role, States should establish systems for determining who is in need of international protection. UNHCR supports States to develop quality asylum systems that operate with fairness, efficiency, adaptability and integrity.

States generally recognize refugee status based on national laws and regulations. Many of these laws incorporate the refugee definition in the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. Refugee definitions in national legislation may also include broader eligibility criteria set out in regional refugee instruments, such as the 1969 OAU Convention, the 1984 Cartagena Declaration on Refugees. National legislation may also provide for other definitions for subsidiary or complementary protection. Family unity may also be a basis for recognition.

Resettlement of refugees recognized by a host State

In certain contexts, individuals granted refugee status by a host State may be identified for resettlement. When a refugee recognition is made by the State, UNHCR should endeavour to obtain as much information about the State’s recognition as possible, including the decision and supporting documentation. During resettlement processing, UNHCR must verify that the individual meets the eligibility criteria under the relevant refugee definition, with reference to the claim and any other available information.

The scope of the verification will differ depending on the operational context, including the nature of the host State’s asylum procedure and the legal basis for recognition, e.g. 1951 Convention criteria or a broader definition. Where the recognition is made pursuant to a broader refugee definition, UNHCR generally needs to identify and articulate a nexus to a Convention ground under Article 1A(2) in the Resettlement Registration Form (RRF). See C. Verify the refugee claim in 4.4 The Resettlement Interview for further guidance on verifying refugee status in resettlement processing. 

Resettlement colleagues must be alert to exclusion triggers and any need for a closer review of inclusion and/or credibility issues when verifying an individual’s refugee status. This is especially the case where refugee status was granted on a prima facie basis. Prima facie recognition of refugee status is an approach to recognizing refugee status on the basis of readily apparent, objective circumstances in the country of origin or former habitual residence. A prima facie approach is generally implemented by minimizing the individual component of the refugee claim to that which was recorded during registration, although it is equally possible to apply a prima facie approach during individual refugee status determination. This modality requires the reasons for flight to be readily ascertainable based on available COI, rather than specific to the individual. 

Note that the action taken by resettlement colleagues to verify refugee status granted by a State is not the same as conducting Mandate RSD (see below), since the verification does not involve a formal recognition or rejection of refugee status.

In principle, UNHCR should aim to avoid engaging in Mandate RSD in countries where there is an asylum system in place. Mandate RSD in such contexts should only be conducted after due consideration of all relevant issues and in consultation with the relevant regional bureau and DIP, as necessary. Situations in which UNHCR may need to conduct RSD under the mandate before submitting a case for resettlement, notwithstanding the existence of an asylum system, include instances in which:

  • An individual is denied access to the host country’s asylum procedure.
  • An individual is an asylum-seeker whose case is pending for a disproportionate amount of time and it is not possible for the national asylum authorities to fast track it.
  • An individual has been rejected by the national asylum authority and UNHCR believes that the rejection was wrongly decided.

Recognition by UNHCR

While States have primary responsibility for determining refugee status, UNHCR may conduct RSD in countries and territories that are not party to the 1951 Convention, or which have not yet established the legal and institutional framework to support an adequate RSD process. In some countries, UNHCR conducts RSD under its mandate jointly with the government.  Exceptionally, UNHCR may conduct RSD in parallel with the government. 

In line with UNHCR’s strategic engagement with RSD (2015), UNHCR offices are encouraged to explore, as part of their protection and solutions strategy, alternative protection interventions that do not require individual RSD andare equally effective. “Strategic use of RSD” can mean, for example, that certain populations of concern maintain their status as asylum-seekers in UNHCR records.  

UNHCR nevertheless recognizes that there will be circumstances where Mandate RSD remains the most effective protection intervention, including in some durable solutions contexts. Mandate RSD may be undertaken through diverse case processing modalities that safeguard the fairness, quality, efficiency and integrity of the process. Proactive coordination and planning as well as the establishment of identification and referral mechanisms between registration, protection, resettlement and RSD are important to ensure that Mandate RSD can be undertaken in a timely manner prior to cases being processed for resettlement.