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3.3 Legal and/or Physical Protection Needs

Submission under this category

Refugees prioritized for resettlement consideration by UNHCR under this submission category are unable to access effective protection in the country of asylum and, as such, are risk of one or more of the following:

  • immediate or long-term threat of refoulement to the country of origin or expulsion to another country from which the individual may be at risk of refoulement; and/or
  • arbitrary arrest, detention or imprisonment, and/or
  • threats to physical safety or fundamental human rights, including restrictions on freedom of movement, access to identity and civil status documentation, education, shelter, work and/or self-reliance opportunities, and/or healthcare.

Refugees may have legal and/or physical protection needs, for example, on account of their political or otherwise sensitive profile, due to membership of an at-risk group within the population (e.g. LGBTIQ+ people), resulting from laws and policies that do not recognize the right of refugees to reside in the country of asylum, and/or (iv) where restrictions are imposed on freedom of movement, access to basic services or self-reliance opportunities for refugees.

The threat of refoulement, arrest, detention or expulsion can be a protection risk in the country of asylum, for example, where refugees are viewed as a threat to political, social and/or economic stability, or where the governments of the countries of origin and asylum enjoy a close relationship. Refugees in countries of asylum not signatories to The 1951 Convention or its 1967 Protocol can be at risk of detention and refoulement.

Threats to physical safety or fundamental rights includes harassment, discrimination, xenophobia and victimization of refugees as well as legal and/or social barriers to the exercise of fundamental rights and access to self-reliance and integration in the country of asylum. The legal and physical protection needs of refugees in this regard may differ according to an individual’s personal background, including age, gender and other diversity characteristics as well as their specific needs and the overall protection environment. Woman and girls as well as gender non-conforming persons may be at increased risk of threats to their safety and fundamental rights, as can individuals from ethnic, religious, political, linguistic or other minority.   

The Legal and/or Physical Protection Needs submission category should be applied inclusively – it may be an appropriate category for a broad range of risk profiles and individual situations. The at-risk groups set out below are therefore not intended as an exhaustive list but aim rather to highlight some of the key protection needs that could be envisaged for submission under this category.

LGBTIQ+ refugees

In many parts of the world, laws criminalizing or discriminating against consensual same-gender relations between adults remain in force, meaning that LGBTIQ+ people are unable to live freely and safely and to enjoy their fundamental rights. Transgender and gender diverse individuals also face violence around the world and have limited access to documentation that is gender-affirming.

As refugees, men, women, girls and boys with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities commonly experience sexual and gender-based violence in the form of discrimination, abuse and human rights violations in countries of origin, transit and asylum. People born with innate variations in their sex characteristics (also known as intersex) may be subjected to deferrable medical interventions that violate their body integrity or in some instances are denied birth registration. Violence against LGBTIQ+ people can be inflicted by both state and non-state actors, for example, where a family forces an LGBTIQ+ person into a marriage to avoid familial shame or where individuals are subjected to “conversion practices”, a harmful practice that aims to change one’s sexual orientation or intention to undergo gender transition. In many cases, these protection risks give rise to a need for resettlement.

LGBTIQ+ refers to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer and other diverse identities. The plus sign represents individuals with diverse SOGIESC (Sexual Orientation, gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics) who identify using other terms.      

SOGIESC terms and definitions are set out in detail in UNHCR’s Need to Know Guidance: Working with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer Persons in Forced Displacement. See also UNHCR’s Tip sheet on applying the UNHCR age, gender and diversity policy to LGBTIQ+ persons.

Anti-LGBTIQ+ discrimination can be compounded by intersecting identities of the individual concerned, such as legal status, ethnicity, age, socioeconomic condition, disability status, marital and family status, literacy and educational level and other factors. Discrimination may be experienced in a variety of ways, such as lack of access to safe housing, healthcare, education and work. For a detailed discussion of the protection risks faced by LGBTIQ+ refugees in countries of asylum, see the 2021 Discussion Paper on LGBTIQ+ Persons in Forced Displacement and Statelessness: Protection and Solutions.

A LGBTIQ+ refugee may be considered for resettlement based on an assessment of protection risks in the country of asylum, in light of the individual’s specific needs, personal background and capacity to overcome protection challenges.

Refugee youth

The meaning of the term “youth” varies in different societies around the world, although is considered by the United Nations to include young people up to age 24. Refugee youth who are often legally considered to be adults (e.g. 18-24) are a frequently overlooked social group – they are no longer children but can still be exposed to increased or continued risk due to their young age.

Older adolescent girls and young women may be particularly at risk. For example, displacement frequently forces young women to take on new roles and responsibilities to try to meet their own and their families’ protection and assistance needs. This can lead to harmful coping strategies, such as forced marriage, selling or exchanging sex, early marriage and exploitative work conditions (see 3.4 Women and Girls at Risk). Additional protection risks include poor access to youth-sensitive healthcare including psycho-social support and reproductive health and counselling.

Refugee youth routinely face challenges to access quality learning and skill-building opportunities in countries of asylum due to non-recognition of refugee status, educational qualification and other skills and related financial barriers. Similarly, limited livelihood opportunities and administrative barriers to obtaining work permits expose young refugees to precarious and unsafe employment conditions and deprive them of access to safe and affordable housing. In some contexts, young men can be exposed to forced recruitment into criminal gangs or armed groups.

These barriers to a viable livelihood in the country of asylum can drive young men and women with international protection needs to embark on perilous onward journeys in search of security and protection, during which they can be exposed to unlawful and arbitrary detention, gender-based violence, slavery and other gross human rights violations, as well as the risk of death at sea or on land. Refugee youth should be considered for resettlement based on their protection needs as well as an analysis of the underlying causes of the challenges they face in the country of asylum and their capacities to address them.

Older refugees

An older person is defined as aged 60 or above, however, aging can be affected by several factors, including an individual’s health, including physical and psychological characteristics, family and social support, living conditions and economic situation.

Older refugees often provide support and guidance within their communities and can be an essential source of support to their children and grandchildren, including with childcare and domestic help. At the same time, the challenges facing older persons in displacement can be considerable. Crises and disasters have a disproportionate impact on older persons, who can be at greater risk of physical, sexual, psychological and/or financial abuse and neglect.

Older age decreases mobility, sight, and hearing, and increases exposure to and impact of health problems over time. Because of this, older refugees can face considerable barriers when accessing essential services in a displacement context and may need resettlement on account of protection risk and specific needs.

When assessing resettlement needs, it is important to consider all forms of support received by older refugees in the country of asylum, including from family members, community members or available services, to ensure resettlement does not remove or risk removing an individual from a familiar and safe environment and placing them in a more vulnerable situation in a new country.

The interests and needs of older refugees within a family must be taken into account before a decision on resettlement is reached regarding inclusion in a resettlement submission of family members or in the context of restoring family unity.

Refugees with disabilities

According to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, persons with disabilities include “those who have long‐term physical, psychosocial, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.” The Convention includes provisions that prohibit disability discrimination and requires contracting parties to take all necessary measures to ensure the protection of persons with disabilities in situations of risk.

Persons with disabilities have different capacities and needs and contribute in different ways to their communities. They may experience challenges relating to moving, hearing, seeing, communicating and/or learning. These factors, when interacting with social, physical, economic and/or political barriers and discrimination, can hinder their participation in society on an equal basis with others. Sometimes they may be perceived as a burden to their community, thereby increasing the sense of stigma and isolation in displacement, especially if essential support services are not accessible.

During crises and displacement, discrimination is often magnified, and persons with disabilities are at increased risk of abandonment, exploitation and violence. Refugees with disabilities may be at heightened risk of GBV and other protection risks. They may also encounter barriers in accessing essential protection and assistance services on an equal basis with others, including legal, health and reproductive services. Children with disabilities face numerous protection risks including abuse, neglect, abandonment, exploitation, health concerns, exposure to longer-term mental health and psychosocial issues, family separation and denial of the right to education. 

Although persons with disabilities may be considered for resettlement under any submission category, Legal and/or Physical Protection Needs may be the most suitable in many cases. UNHCR should ensure that persons with disabilities are not deprioritized for resettlement based on their disability. Strong advocacy and support may be required to ensure they can access resettlement on an equal footing with others.

Documenting legal and/or physical protection needs in the RRF

The RRF should include information relating to protection risks faced by an individual submitted under this category, considering external risk factors and the personal situation of the refugee concerned. Relevant supporting documentation, assessments or reports should be included in the resettlement submission, in line with data protection and privacy principles (see 2.3 Data protection in resettlement).

Any specific needs data that is necessary and proportionate for the purpose of facilitating settlement services should be set out in Section 6 “Specific Needs” of the RRF. This will help ensure that relevant information about services is made available to the individual upon arrival. Sharing of GBV-related specific needs data should be based on consent and in accordance with the GBV Guiding Principles.