Advocacy with Local UNHCR

For a refugee rights organization, engaging with local UNHCR is typically more targeted. However, the type of advocacy you will be engaging in is likely to be tied to whether or not UNHCR is the adjudicator. If UNHCR is not the adjudicator, they can be your potential advocacy partner. If UNHCR is the RSD adjudicator, legal aid providers are often focused on ensuring that UNHCR is upholding the RSD procedural standards. This page will explain how a refugee rights organization can engage in advocacy to hold UNHCR accountable in its RSD procedures.

When advocating for UNHCR to improve its RSD procedure, you may want to focus on areas such as:

  • Clients are not wrongly denied of refugee status
  • Reduction of long waiting time for RSD interview for those identify vulnerable
  • Adequate time notification of delayed interview
  • Lawyer representative present (as observer) for RSD interview
  • Provision of transcripts or interview recordings
  • Access to evidence
  • Fair and transparent independent appeals
  • Development of Child Protection Protocol

Establishing this kind of agenda is most effective when your advocacy is meaningfully informed by your clients’ experience with UNHCR. As you provide legal services to your clients, you might notice patterns in their experiences that suggest non-compliance with UNHCR’s RSD procedural standards. Generally speaking, a good advocate will be able to represent the experience of their clientele. Therefore, to monitor your clients’ experiences more systematically, it is worth developing a system to capture information about your clients’ experiences navigating the RSD system. For further details on data management, you may refer to the Database page in the Legal Services section.

After you have identified ways in which UNHCR should improve its RSD procedure, direct advocacy is the likely starting point for reaching out to local UNHCR regarding concerns about due process in RSD. Ideally, you can resolve the concerns directly with the office. However, if the local UNHCR does not respond to direct advocacy, you can try other strategies. This may include a letter writing campaign in collaboration with a coalition, or asking a regional or international office to assist.

 It is important to note that when UNHCR is the adjudicator, it is critical to maintain a positive working relationship in order to protect your clients ability to receive unbiased treatment. For this reason, advocacy approaches should not be overly publicized or adversarial. This can be especially difficult for young advocates who experience feelings of frustration and injustice. As a program director, it is critical that you keep staff focused on the protection of the client.