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Individual RSD grows in the global south

June 20, 2010

UNHCR’s most recent statistical reports show that South Africa and UNHCR are by far the largest refugee status decision-makers in the world.

Five Largest RSD Systems in the World (by new applications – 2009)

  1. South Africa:  222,324
  2. UNHCR: 114,100
  3. France: 42,118
  4. USA: 38,080
  5. Ecuador: 35,514

UNHCR’s office in Malaysia alone would have ranked fourth in the list, with 40,063 new applications, more than doubled from 2008. The Malaysia surge led the way in a global 62 percent increase in RSD applications to UNHCR last year.

The fact that only two of the top five RSD systems in the world were located in Europe or North America highlighted the emerging reality that individual refugees status determination is no longer characteristic only of asylum systems in the wealthiest states of Europe, North America and Australia. UNHCR’s RSD operations are spread across close to 60 countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. In previous eras, there was a common assumption that refugees in these regions would be recognized on a group basis, and would often be housed in refugee camps, rather than go through an individualized procedure.

The increasing prominence of urban refugees, coupled with restrictiveness of many host governments, has made individual status determination more prominent in the global south. In addition to  South Africa and Ecuador, Ethiopia received 22,211 applications. RSD systems in Angola, Congo, Costa Rica, Mozambique, Sudan, Tajikistan, and Venezuela all received more than 1000 new applications in 2009.

Traditional asylum states in the West tend to be farther from the main refugee-producing conflicts, and have extensive visa requirements that make it more difficult for refugees to reach their shores. Those who do often come from a diverse range of backgrounds. By contrast, the asylum-seekers in major southern asylum states tend to be from nearby trouble spots. In Malaysia, 94 percent of the asylum-seekers at UNHCR were Burmese. In South Africa, two-thirds were from Zimbabwe. In Ecuador, 88 percent were from Colombia.

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