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Is a 30-day appeal deadline fair?

February 7, 2011

A common complaint of asylum-seekers and legal aid providers is that it’s difficult to prepare an effective appeal of a refugee rejection within the 30 days allowed by UNHCR policy. But the problem may be less a question of when appeals should be filed than a question about what should be filed so quickly.

According to Section 7-2 of UNHCR’s Procedural Standards, UNHCR offices should establish time limits for filing appeals, which should be at least 30 days from the notification of first instance rejection. The standards also call for flexibility about the deadline “in appropriate cases,” and provide for a grace period of six weeks after the appeal deadline before a file is closed.

On the surface, UNHCR’s rule is not especially strict. Appeal deadlines of 30 days are common in refugee status determination systems and in a wide range of judicial systems. In some systems, even less time is provided. But not all deadlines are created equal.

Submitting an entire appeal in just 30 days is a challenge if an applicant wants to prepare a thoughtful, focused and well-researched case, and it is especially an impediment to providing legal aid. A legal advisor who has never met an asylum-seeker before might need to conduct two, three or more interviews with the client, then conduct hours of research and writing, all of which might need to be reviewed by a supervisor. Asylum-seekers may not find a legal aid office until weeks after being rejected.

To solve this problem, many judicial systems let claimants submit an initial appeal that is quite short to meet the deadline – typically a simple notice of appeal, or a summary of appeal grounds. More developed arguments and documentation are submitted later.

UNHCR’s Procedural Standards are silent about what exactly must be filed within 30 days, and call for general flexibility about the format for RSD appeals. But the practice at many UNHCR offices is to insist that an entire appeal submission be filed within 30 days.

Instead, UNHCR offices may need establish two appeal deadlines rather than one, an initial appeal deadline (i.e. 30 days) and a time frame for supplemental information. This need not slow down the decision-making process, so long as the final submission deadline is sooner than UNHCR would normally be able to decide the appeal anyway.

UNHCR also needs to ensure that it has a clerical system that will ensure that all submissions about a case are added to the correct case file so that all of the materials is present when the case is actually decided. Applicants and legal advisors often worry about submissions being lost in an overstretched RSD system, although it is not clear how often this happens.

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