Refugee Status Determination (RSD)

  1. definition
  2. examples and/or illustrations
  3. other useful sources
  4. bibliography


“Refugee status determination means an examination by a government authority or UNHCR of whether an individual who has submitted an asylum application or otherwise expressed his or her need for international protection is indeed a refugee – that is, whether his or her situation meets the criteria specified in the applicable refugee definition. A person does not become a refugee by virtue of a recognition decision by the host country or UNHCR, but is recognized because he or she is a refugee. In other words, the recognition decision is declaratory: it acknowledges and formally confirms that the individual concerned is a refugee.”

– UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Self-Study Module 2: Refugee Status Determination. Identifying Who is a Refugee, 1 September 2005, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/43141f5d4.html [accessed 19 August 2013]


Examples and/or Illustrations

“The 1951 Convention leaves it to each contracting state to establish the procedure it considers most appropriate for determining international protection needs. This does not have to be through an individual procedure; status may be granted on a prima facie basis. In 2010, eight out of ten refugees were hosted in countries of the developing world, mainly as a result of group or prima facie determinations of refugee status following large-scale influxes. For many years it was mainly countries in Europe, North America and Australia that operated individual refugee status determination procedures, Today, asylum seeking is a global phenomenon…By 2010, 100 countries had national refugee status determination procedures. In 46 countries that had not ratified the 1951 Convention or its 1967 Protocol, or where national asylum procedures were not fully functioning, UNHCR continued to determine refugee status under its mandate…UNHCR encourages states to assume their responsibilities for refugees, including through the development of national legal frameworks and the establishment of refugee status determination procedures.”

-UNHCR, The State of the World’s Refugees: In Search of Solidarity, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012, pp. 43-45.

“It is normally considered that the burden of proof, or the obligation to prove a claim or allegation, lies with the applicant. In addition to the general duty to tell the truth and cooperate with the decision-making authority, a refugee applicant should be provided a reasonable opportunity to present evidence to support his or her claim…In view of the particular nature of the refugee situation and the vulnerability of some asylum seekers, the decision-maker must share the duty to ascertain and evaluate all the relevant facts. Reference to relevant country of origin and human rights information by the decision-maker will assist in assessing the objective situation in an applicant’s country of origin.”

– Gorlick, Brian. “Common Burdens and Standards: Legal Elements in Assessing Claims to Refugee Status.” International Journal of Refugee Law 15 (3): 357-376.


Other Useful Sources

International Association of Refugee Law Judges Database. https://www.iarlj.org/general/database. [Accessed 19 August 2013].

RSD Watch: An independent source of information about the way the UN refugee agency decides refugee cases. http://rsdwatch.wordpress.com/. [Accessed 19 August 2013].

UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Procedural Standards for Refugee Status Determination Under UNHCR’s Mandate, 20 November 2003, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/42d66dd84.html [accessed 19 August 2013].

UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Guidelines on International Protection No. 9: Claims to Refugee Status based on Sexual Orientation and/or Gender Identity within the context of Article 1A(2) of the 1951 Convention and/or its 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees, 23 October 2012, HCR/GIP/12/01, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/50348afc2.html [accessed 19 August 2013].

UNHCR Refworld: Refugee Status Determination. http://www.refworld.org/rsd.html [Accessed 23 May 2013].

Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. Introducing A New Refugee Determination System in Canada, http://www.irb-cisr.gc.ca/Eng/NewsNouv/NewNou/2012/Pages/rds-soa.aspx. [Accessed 28 August 2013]

Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. Claimant’s Guide, http://www.irb-cisr.gc.ca/Eng/RefClaDem/Pages/ClaDemGuide.aspx. [Accessed 28 August 2013]



Albert, Matthew. 2010. “Governance and Prima Facie Refugee Status Determination: Clarifying the Boundaries of Temporary Protection, Group Determination, and Mass Influx.”

Refugee Survey Quarterly 29 (1): 61-91.

Amit, Roni. 2011. “No Refuge: Flawed Status Determination and the Failures of South Africa’s Refugee System to Provide Protection.” International Journal of Refugee Law 23 (3): 458-488.

Baillot, Helen, Sharon Cowan, and Vanessa E. Munro. 2009. “Seen but Not Heard? Parallels and Dissonances in the Treatment of Rape Narratives across the Asylum and Criminal Justice Contexts.” Journal of Law and Society 36 (2): 195-219.

Dauvergne, Catherine, Leonora C. Angeles, and Agnes Huang. 2006. “Gendering Canada’s Refugee Process.” Ottawa : Status of Women Canada, 2006.

Federman, Mark. 2006. “On the Media Effects of Immigration and Refugee Board Hearings via Videoconference.” Journal of Refugee Studies 19 (4): 433-452.

Gorlick, Brian. “Common Burdens and Standards: Legal Elements in Assessing Claims to Refugee Status.” International Journal of Refugee Law 15 (3): 357-376.

Hamlin, Rebecca. 2012. “International Law and Administrative Insulation: A Comparison of Refugee Status Determination Regimes in the United States, Canada, and Australia.”

Law & Social Inquiry 37 (4): 933-968.

Hathaway, James. 2005. The Rights of Refugees under International Law. New York : Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Kagan, Michael. 2006. “Frontier Justice: Legal Aid and UNHCR Refugee Status Determination in Egypt.”Journal of Refugee Studies 19 (1):45-68.

Millibank, Jenni. 2009. “From discretion to disbelief: recent trends in refugee determinations on the basis of sexual orientation in Australia and the United Kingdom.” The International Journal of Human Rights 13 (2-3): 391-414.

Rehaag, Sean. 2012. “The Luck of the Draw? Judicial Review of Refugee Determinations in the Federal Court of Canada (2005-2010).”  Osgoode Hall Law School: Comparative in Law and Political Economy Research Paper Series No. 9/2012.

Rousseau, Cécile and Patricia Foxen. 2010. “Look Me in the Eye”: Empathy and the Transmission of Trauma in the Refugee Determination Process.” Transcultural Psychiatry 47 (1): 70-92.