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Where Is The UNHCR RSD Surge Happening?

September 16, 2014

The number of people applying to UNHCR for individual refugee status determination grew by 115,276 from 2011 to 2013. That’s a huge increase – 144 percent to be exact. But where is this happening, and who is submitting these applications?

The answer to these questions reveals a lot about the role that RSD plays in international refugee policy. The top three refugee populations worldwide in 2013 were Afghans, Syrians (whose numbers passed the 3 million mark in late August), and Somalis. But while these nationalities do apply to UNHCR RSD in significant numbers, they are not primarily responsible for the big upsurge in UNHCR RSD.

This is because only a small fraction of these large refugee populations go through individualized RSD. It would be impossible to adjudicate so many, so group-based status recognition fills the gap. For example, Lebanon hosted close to a million Syrian refugees by the end of 2013, but UNHCR’s statistical reports list just 547 having submitted individual RSD applications. The others probably weren’t allowed to apply, or would have had nothing to gain.

So, where is the surge happening, and who is applying? Nearly half of the increase in UNHCR RSD is attributable to just two groups: Myanmarese in Malaysia and Iraqis in Turkey.

2013 Applications Growth Since 2011 Percent of total growth
Myanmarese in Malaysia 50,330 36,629 32%
Iraqis in Turkey 25,280 17,368 15%

Although UNHCR RSD takes place in around 60 countries, 20 of those offices received fewer than 100 applications a year, while only 20 received more than 1000. UNHCR RSD is spread across multiple continents (especially Africa, the Middle East and Asia). But it is also quite concentrated in a relatively short list of offices. Malaysia and Turkey accounted for half of all RSD applications to UNHCR last year.  The top 10 offices combined accounted for 85 percent.

UNHCR’s Top 20 RSD Offices (by number of applicants)

Country 2013 Applicants Increase since 2011
Malaysia 53,554 37,818
Turkey 44,807 28,786
Kenya 19,238 16,847
Egypt 10,752 5,576
Indonesia 8,332 3,827
Jordan 6,667 2,088
Yemen 6,143 790
Cameroon 5,826 5,489
India 5,632 1,612
Libya 5,610 5,520
Pakistan 5,181 4,199
Morocco 2,933 2,344
Somalia 2,886 2,859
Lebanon 2,816 1,334
Thailand 2,556 1,756
Algeria 1,967 1,002
Hong Kong SAR, China 1,676 886
Sri Lanka 1,518 1,353
Iraq 1,202 41
Syrian Arab Rep. 1,193 -1,553

Because significant UNHCR RSD operations  occur in regions so far apart, no single refugee crisis accounts for the UNHCR RSD surge. Instead, UNHCR conducts RSD in many countries that are positioned to receive asylum-seekers from multiple trouble spots. Consider the number of countries in the Middle East on the UNHCR RSD list. These countries today are receiving Syrians and Iraqis. But before war tore apart either of those countries, these same UNHCR offices were processing large numbers of cases from Iran, the Horn of Africa, and even Central Asia. In addition to Iraqis, UNHCR-Turkey received 8726 Afghan applicants and 5897 Iranians in 2013.

No single refugee crisis accounts for the UNHCR RSD surge. Instead, UNHCR conducts RSD in many countries that are positioned to receive asylum-seekers from multiple trouble spots.

Other major RSD applicant groups around the world included Afghans in Pakistan (5087 applicants) and Indonesia (3392),  Ethiopians in Yemen (4113), Iraqis in Jordan (4045), Sudanese in Egypt (5317), and Myanmarese in India (3362).

The surge in applications puts considerable strain on UNHCR offices, and on asylum-seekers who may face longer waits to have their cases decided. These stresses are likely to heighten the inherent tension between efficiency and fairness in RSD, a basic quantity v. quality dilemma that impacts nearly all RSD systems at some level. In coming posts, I will look more closely at what the statistical data can tell us about this strain, and about how UNHCR actually decides refugee cases.

One Comment
  1. September 16, 2014 9:30 am

    Reblogged this on Refugee Archives @ UEL.

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