Refugee Status Determination

A vital part of being recognized as a refugee is Refugee Status Determination, or RSD. This is the legal or administrative process by which governments or UNHCR determine whether a person seeking international protection is considered a refugee under international, regional or national law. States have the primary responsibility for determining the status of asylum-seekers, but UNHCR may do so where states are unable or unwilling. In recent years, due to changes in volumes and patterns of forced displacement, the refugee agency has been required to conduct RSD in more countries than before and for a greater number of people.

In 2013, UNHCR registered a record high of 203,200 individual asylum applications compared to 125,500 a year earlier, and this confirmed it as the second largest RSD body in the world. Four-fifths of individual asylum applications received by UNHCR were registered in only eight RSD operations. But because of the dramatic increase in applications in 2013, and despite improvements in its capacity, UNHCR's Refugee Status Determination backlog rose to a historical high of 252,800 applications pending decision. Such backlogs can in some situations have significant implications for the protection and assistance of people of concern.

UNHCR continues to explore and implement measures to enhance the fairness, quality and efficiency of its RSD operations, and to identify alternatives to individual RSD for select groups of asylum-seekers. In parallel, UNHCR works with governments and other partners to build and strengthen the capacity of government RSD procedures. Despite such efforts, in 2013, UNHCR remained responsible for implementing the RSD procedure in more than 50 countries. In another 20 countries, UNHCR conducted RSD jointly with, or parallel to, the government.

The core standards and best practices to ensure harmonized, efficient and quality RSD procedures, including reception and registration, are presented in the "Procedural Standards for RSD under UNHCR's Mandate." Published in 2003, these are gradually being revised to reflect legal and procedural developments. The refugee agency's RSD operations have been progressively implementing the Procedural Standards, which can be found in UNHCR's Refworld site, alongside other key UNHCR documents related to RSD, including legal and policy documents.

To strengthen the fairness, quality and efficiency of RSD procedures and decision-making, UNHCR develops and delivers specialized RSD training for UNHCR and government RSD staff and others involved in the asylum process, and supports the development, and implementation of quality assurance initiatives, at the country and regional level.

UNHCR also runs the UNHCR RSD Deployment Scheme and Roster, which provides expert support to RSD operations or to help build and strengthen the capacity of government RSD procedures.

The Scheme is temporarily on hold and no applications to the Roster are at present being accepted. Updates will be provided here once available.