Asylum seekers will be required to register their presence and intention to apply from refugee status. That process is typically done with the adjudicating government agency or the UNHCR, depending on which one is adjudicating refugee status in the country. Sometimes registration is done with or in conjunction with a local police or local law enforcement agency. Research your country’s registration process to be able to adequately advise your client of registration procedures and protocols.
1. Government adjudicators
ID number and registration card
At registration, the applicant will receive an identification number that will be used during the Refugee Status Determination (RSD) process. The applicant should record that number on his or her person and should share that information with your organization. The number will help identify him or her in the adjudicator’s system during the process and also in case of detention or any other emergency. For example, if the applicant is detained, a detention official can call the UNHCR or government agency with the ID number to quickly identify that the applicant is a refugee or asylum seeker.
In some instances, the asylum seeker will receive a registration card that can be used as proof of their status and right to stay in the country. Depending on the laws of your country, this ID card may also provide the applicant with other benefits and rights, including the right to work, access health care, public education, and / or other protections under the law. You may find that not all law enforcement or government agencies recognize or understand the registration card (as well as the refugee ID card). Consider engaging in advocacy and public education to inform relevant actors.
In countries where registration cards are not issued, other documents issued at the time of registration may serve the same purpose of an ID card. Applicants sometime laminate these documents and keep them on their person as proof of their application status.
Countries typically have a timing restriction or bar on the amount of time an applicant can be in the country before they register and apply for refugee status. This time varies widely among countries, from 1 year in the United States to 15 days in Ecuador. Time restrictions may also change over time depending on legislation, regulations, or executive decrees. The way that this time is measured is also very important to understand. Make sure you know whether government agency counts business or calendar days and whether they start counting at the time of entry or from another point in time. Additionally, whether the applicant has left and re-entered the country more than once may also impact when and how this time is counted.
If you believe that your client has surpassed the timing restrictions, understand what exceptions may exist that deems the delay reasonable and how they might apply to the client. These exceptions may be explicit in government regulations or laws or they may be considered in an ad hoc or discretionary fashion. First, take time to understand the laws and practices of the government agency. Second, think creatively and work with the client to fit him or her into exceptions to timing restrictions. Some examples may include:
- Changed circumstances: Changes in country conditions, laws, personal circumstances or eligibility based on family connections occur that materially impact the nature of a person’s eligibility for refugee status
- Serious illness or incapacity: Applicant or applicant’s family member was sick or physically/mentally unable to register in the limited time. Victims of torture or persons with severe PTSD may be able to prove an exception is warranted through evidence and testimony provided.
- Bad advice or counsel
- Unaccompanied Minors
- Persons with severe disabilities
- Other legal status held was terminated
- Initial registration was ineffective
- Domestic violence victims
- Other factors: extreme isolation within a refugee community, profound language barriers, or profound difficulties in cultural acclimatization
The information that an applicant gives at registration should be correct and truthful even if only basic biographic information is collected at the time of registration. The information used at the time of registration will likely be used to check for credibility against future statements given to the adjudicator.
An RSD adjudicating office will collect initial screening information to assess the viability of an applicant’s refugee status. The assessment may be based on information collected in the registration application that asks for the applicant to provide general information on the reasons for leaving the country of origin and to explain if there is a fear of return. The adjudicating agency may also collect an RSD application at this time. See UNHCR Registration procedures below.
In some cases, the adjudicating office may have an initial screening or registration interview at the time of registration. Understand the procedures and advise your clients accordingly. If a client has been registered and screened before receiving your assistance, try to understand what information was provided during the registration process. Explore options to amend or correct the registration and screening process where needed.
Advice for client before registration
If given the opportunity, inform and prepare applicants before registration by providing the following advice:
- Make sure that all information provided at registration is truthful and to the best of your knowledge. Refer to credibility section.
- If you don’t have information, say you “don’t know” and explain why
- Do not provide false documents.
- If you do not have identification documents, explain why. Provide other types of secondary evidence that provides proof of who you are.
- Keep all your original documents unless otherwise required.
- Maintain copies of all information and documents given and signed if possible. Take photos of documents, if possible, if you are not given copies or do not access a copy machine.
- Record any other information given at registration.
- Ask for a receipt or form of evidence of the registration and keep evidence of registration in a safe place. If proof of the registration is not provided, record the date of the registration.
- Keep the ID number and a copy of proof of registration on your person for safety and to show law enforcement agents if necessary. (Discuss with your client if an original or copy should be carried on his/ her person)
- If an interview date is provided, record date of interview and call or tell the legal aid organization with this information to begin preparations.
- Bring copies of registration documents to the legal aid organization.
2. Registering with UNHCR
The UNHCR Procedural Standards (“Handbook”) Chapter 3.2 describes “Registration Procedures for Applicants for RSD.” Note that the application of UNHCR Procedural Standards on registration and other procedures may likely deviate from the handbook. Make sure you understand the national and local procedures through meetings with the UNHCR and most importantly, through how they are implemented in practice with applicants. The best practices highlighted above can also be used before the UNHCR.
According to the UNHCR Procedural Standards, registration information permits the UNHCR “to design programmes for protections and assistance” and “identify and assist persons with special needs, and to make decisions about whether individuals should be referred to further UNHCR procedures.” The registration process formally initiates the RSD process under the UNHCR’s mandate. The UNHCR uses registration to gather detailed information about the applicant, including the circumstances surrounding the applicant’s flight from the country of origin and other facts relevant to the refugee status determination.
UNHCR registration operations and staffing
UNHCR staff should receive training and appropriate oversight to implement the registration procedures effectively. Under Section 3.2.3, the Handbook provides that the UNHCR office should provide “sufficient numbers of male and female Registration staff members to accommodate requests by applicants to have a Registration interview with a registration staff member of a sex preferred by the Applicant.” Applicants should be given a meaningful opportunity to issue complaints according to UNHCR Complaint Procedures (Section 2.6). UNHCR should afford separate procedures to unaccompanied minors, as explained in Section 3.4.5. See Child Protection Policy Section of Toolkit. UNHCR should provide applicants with adequate space and privacy to fill out the forms. Id. at Section 3.2.4. UNHCR should be provide in a language and manner that is accessible to all applicants’ needs, particularly regarding literacy, language, and disability needs. Id.
UNHCR RSD registration and application forms
The UNHCR has developed a standard registration sheet that is included the first part of the RSD application form, which is typically collected at the time of registration. The registration Information Sheet should be completed for Principal applicants and every dependent or accompanying family member that are applying for derivative status through the principal applicant. Family members can decide to have their refugee claim determined separately from their spouse, child or parent and submit a separate application registration and application form. Review your clients’ claims and determine if there is a separate basis for the claim and reasons to apply separately. Reasons to apply separately include but are not limited to the following:
- Applicants have weak claims and applying separately will strengthen the possibility of a positive outcome
- Derivative children may age out (turn 18 years of age) during time of application
- There is a lack of evidence or questions regarding the familial relationship between principal applicant and derivatives
Supporting documents and photos
The UNHCR should accept other forms of information and evidence supporting the RSD claims and circumstances of departure from the home country. Original should be presented where possible. However, UNHCR staff should never keep original documents, but rather will make copies and return originals to the applicant. Applicants should always keep copies for themselves if originals are kept by UNHCR officials. According to the UNHCR handbook Section 3.2.8, “[u]nder no circumstances should Applicants be asked to approach authorities in the country of origin to obtain documents, or to take any other steps that could place family members or associates who remain in the country of origin at risk.”
Remember this information will be used throughout the RSD process and during subsequent proceedings (i.e. resettlement, voluntary repatriation, etc.). Accuracy and truthfulness are of utmost importance to avoid credibility and other related problems. Advise clients never to present false documents or information.
UNHCR staff should take photos of the applicant and derivatives during the registration period. Id. at Section 3.2.7.
UNHCR registration interview
The registration interview may take place during the time of registration or at a later scheduled time. According to Section 3.2.6 of the Handbook, UNHCR staff will review the RSD Application Form, verify the applicants’ basic biographic information, confirm that all family members and beneficiaries are identified, request personal documentation and IDs, and assist the applicant with any special protection or assistance needs. If the applicant has previously registered with the UNHCR, UNHCR staff will review previously filed information and update and verify any new information.
The principal and derivative applicants should take part in the registration interview. UNHCR staff interview should provide an individual and confidential for each applicant and his/ her derivatives. Relevant gender and cultural sensitivity procedures should be employed during the interview as according to Section 3.2.6 and other procedural standards found in the Handbook.
UNHCR registration certificate
UNHCR procedural standards require that Asylum Seeker Certificates (ASC) be issued to all applicants during the RSD process to “attest to their status as asylum seekers.” Id. at Section 3.3.1. While the UNHCR is responsible for informing relevant law enforcement agencies of the significance of the certificate, alert your clients may agents may not be familiar with the document. The certificate may require renewal, usually at a year’s time, if the RSD application is still pending.