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Responding to Hong Kong critics, UNHCR-Beijing implies that 2005 standards may not be binding

September 6, 2006

In a press release sent in July to local media and recently obtained by RSDWatch, UNHCR’s office in Beijing stated that UNHCR’s Procedural Standards for Refugee Status Determinationare merely a “best practice tool” and implied that their implementation is not mandatory for UNHCR field offices.

UNHCR’s regional office in Beijing supervises its RSD activities in Hong Kong, where local NGOs have been critical of the agency’s refugee status determination procedures. UNHCR-Beijing objected to an unpublished survey of refugees and asylum-seekers by the Society for Community Organization (SoCO) where respondents accused UNHCR-Hong Kong of violating the Procedural Standards. SoCO previously published letters from asylum-seekers making similar allegations.

In the press release, UNHCR-Beijing wrote:

The RSD Standards are guidelines issued by UNHCR Headquarters in Geneva for field offices. They function as a best practice tool and have been adopted accordingly to accommodate the resources and capacity of the field offices.

The Procedural Standards were issued internally to UNHCR offices in 2003 and were published in 2005. They include sections that recommend voluntary best practices. But most of theStandards are explicitly mandatory.  Their introduction states, “The RSD Procedural Standards should be implemented in all operations where UNHCR has responsibility to conduct RSD pursuant to its mandate.”

RSDWatch sent an e-mail to UNHCR-Beijing seeking clarification about the press release, but received no answer.

Refugee advocates have expressed concern that many UNHCR field offices have not implemented the Procedural Standards, which are themselves more modest than the benchmarks UNHCR has set for governments. Statements by local UNHCR offices that theStandards are merely recommendations would likely add to concerns about UNHCR’s commitment to reform its RSD procedures.

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