SELF-HELP KIT: Appeal to an Asylum Rejection
This self-help kit aims to guide asylum seekers in appealing a rejection decision to their asylum claim.
Disclaimer: This document contains general suggestions for asylum seekers. It is not legal advice. Not all of the sections may apply to you or you may be given different directions by your legal counsel or any relevant authority.
This document is based on various sources, including those written by Asylum Access Thailand, and the Migration and Asylum Project in India, Right to Remain in the UK, and SUAKA in Indonesia. If you are seeking asylum in one of these countries, you can consult these documents on our general Self-Help Kits page, under the section ‘SELF-HELP KITS BY COUNTRY/REGION’.
According to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, a refugee is someone who:
- has a well-founded fear of being persecuted because of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion;
- is outside their country of origin or habitual residence;
- Is unable or unwilling to avail themselves of the protection of that country, or to return there, because of fear of persecution; and
- is not explicitly excluded from refugee protection or whose refugee status has not ceased because of a change of circumstances. Exclusion clauses are laid down in Article 1F or the 1951 Convention. Detailed information about exclusion from refugee status under 1951 Convention and other legal frameworks can be found here.
If you are in Africa, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) 1969 Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa can apply to your case. The OAU Convention expands on the criteria in the 1951 Convention to include:
- Any person compelled to leave his or her country owing to external aggression, occupation, foreign domination or events seriously disturbing public order in either part or the whole of his country of origin or nationality.
If you are in Latin America, the criteria laid down in the 1984 Cartagena Declaration can apply to your case. The Cartagena Declaration expands on the criteria in the 1951 Convention to include:
- Persons who flee their countries because their lives, safety or freedom have been threatened by generalised violence, foreign aggression, internal conflicts, massive violation of human rights or other circumstances which have seriously disturbed public order.
Depending on your country of asylum, other local or international laws and legal standards may apply. Your claim can be processed under different frameworks, and as a result, your rights and entitlements can be different. For example, if you are recognised as a refugee under the 1951 Convention grounds, you can have broader rights for resettlement in comparison to the Cartagena Convention and the OAU Convention grounds. Whenever possible and as it applies, you should try to explain that your refugee status should be recognised on the grounds of the 1951 Convention.
You can find out about the applicable frameworks, legal aid organisations, and other useful information based on your country of asylum in our Refugee Resources of the Rights in Exile platform.
The Refugee Status Determination process (RSD) is the administrative process to determine whether an asylum seeker meets the definition of a refugee under applicable legal frameworks.
States have the primary responsibility in determining refugee status. However, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) may take this responsibility if a country does not have an asylum framework and/ or an agreement is in place between the authorities and UNHCR.
RSD processes can be different in different countries. Therefore, you must learn about the RSD process in your country of asylum and your rights and responsibilities. You can find out about the applicable frameworks, legal aid organisations, and other useful information based on your country of asylum in the Refugee Resources of our Rights in Exile platform.
In most countries, you will need to register your asylum application with the UNHCR or relevant national authorities, and hand in identification documents and an asylum statement. You can then be scheduled for an RSD interview.
The relevant authorities will review your statement, verify facts, and ask you questions during your asylum interview. Your aim with your statement and during the interview is to demonstrate to the decision-making bodies that you fit the criteria for being recognised as a refugee. Following this process, authorities will make a decision on your case. They can recognise your status as a refugee or reject your application.
During RSD, the asylum seeker aims to show the decision-making authorities that their refugee status should be recognised.
Here are some general tips to remember throughout the RSD process:
- Familiarise yourself with the decision-making authorities and other relevant organisations, such as non-governmental organisations (NGOs), legal aid providers, or support groups.
- Familiarise yourself with laws and regulations in your country of asylum and seek help where necessary.
- Knowing your rights and responsibilities will help you. For example, in some countries, the state is required to provide asylum seekers with legal assistance. Having legal assistance is an advantage during the status determination process.
- Always adhere to deadlines and attend your appointments. If a deadline has passed or if you have missed an appointment, make sure to contact the relevant authorities as soon as possible. Rearranging missed asylum appointments can be possible but this is often a lengthy and difficult process.
- If your address, telephone number, or email address change during RSD, inform relevant authorities immediately and update your contact details. Otherwise, they may be unable to contact you and this can impact on the processing of your claim.
General information about rejection
The relevant authorities should tell you the reason for the rejection of your application. The reason for rejection will be very important in appealing this decision. The information that you receive may vary from country to country. You may receive a detailed or a very brief explanation. Whatever information you have, you should keep for structuring your appeal.
If you are not given a reason for rejection, you can ask for this information. Keep in mind that the authorities may not give you a response. Therefore, you should be mindful of the deadline to appeal. Do not miss the deadline while you wait for a response. In this case, you can mention in your appeal statement that you have been denied opportunity to properly respond to reasons of rejection as you were not given a reason or the reason for rejection was vague or inconsistent.
Generally, the rejection reason will fall under one of the following categories:
- You are not outside your home country.
- You have more than one nationality and you have not shown that none of those countries can protect you.
- You do not need refugee protection because you have the same rights as a national of your country of asylum.
- The reasons you gave for being afraid to return to your home country are not related to the criteria, which can include: your race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group (this could be your family or persons with similar backgrounds, habits or social status).
- You did not give sufficiently detailed information to support your claim, or you did not give a reason why you could not give more detailed information.
- Your information was not found reliable or credible because: you gave inconsistent information (i.e. you stated different facts in your interview than in your written statement); you gave information that was inconsistent with other sources of information about your home country; or you gave information that was not believable or convincing.
- The harm you fear is not a kind of harm or a serious enough harm to meet the Convention definition of “persecution”, namely a threat to your life, freedom, or fundamental human rights.
- The authorities in your home country can protect you.
- You can live in another part of your home country without fear of persecution.
- You have committed or contributed to serious criminal or similar acts that exclude you from refugee protection.
If your asylum claim has been rejected, you have the right to appeal. The purpose of the appeal process is for the authorities to make sure that they have correctly understood your case and considered all the facts relating to your application.
Please note that there are deadlines for appealing a rejection decision. Make sure that you know these deadlines and meet them. If you fail to appeal before the deadline, your case may be closed.
UNHCR and most states do not set down rules about the reasons for which asylum seekers can appeal a rejection decision. Meaning, you can appeal a rejection decision as long as the deadline to appeal has not passed. However, you should know that there are limited circumstances where an appeal can be successful. These are if the authorities:
- Did not understand or consider all the facts of your case, or
- Did not correctly apply the RSD procedures to your case
How should I write my appeal statement?
When you are appealing a rejection decision, you may be required to submit a statement or a declaration. The aim of this statement is to show authorities that there was a mistake and that your refugee status should be recognised.
In your appeal statement, make sure you:
- Directly respond to the specific reasons for which your application was rejected if you were given any
- Provide any new information or clarify any information that was previously misunderstood or not considered by authorities
- Explain how your case meet the criteria for being recognised as a refugee
Your statement should include truthful and complete information.
Your statement should be in your own words. If you can write in your own language, write your statement yourself. If you cannot write,make sure that the person who is writing it for you only includes the information that you ask them to and nothing else.
You can begin by a simple draft, including core facts and events. You can then flesh it out with details and edit out the unnecessary parts.
Do not let anyone intimidate you or talk you into changing the contents of your statements. Only you and your legal counsel can make these decisions.
You may hear rumours about other asylum seekers and what they have included in their statements. Remember, just because a particular information was included in a successful asylum application, it does not mean that it will help your claim. On the contrary, it can hurt your credibility. Your statement should be an authentic and truthful representation of your own experience. It should not be a repetition of other people’s statements.
If you personally know of any other individuals who experienced similar things as you, you can mention them in your statement.
- For example, if you are seeking asylum as a member of the LGBTI community, you can mention that other people in your community were persecuted due to their gender identity or sexual orientation.
- These examples should ideally be specific and have an impact on your fear of persecution. If there are any parts that you are not sure of and have not personally witnessed, you should acknowledge that your knowledge is limited.
Your statement should be chronological. In other words, events should be recounted in the order that they happened. This will help you draw causal connections between events and your statement will be easier to follow.
Include details when you can. Events that you mention should contain the following information:
- Dates and times: When things happened. You can say “On June 20th, 2016…,” “Two weeks after my arrest…,” “During Ramadan 2005…,” etc.
- Places: Where things happened. This can refer to a country, city, building, etc. For example, you can say “In Istanbul…,” “In my brother-in-law’s house in Gidega,” “In the classroom,” etc.
- People: When you can, provide the full names of people and other identifying information. You can talk about both governmental and non-governmental actors that are relevant to your asylum history.
- Duration: How long things have lasted. For example, “I walked for 2 hours,” “They kept me captive for 3 days.”
If you can not remember a specific event or a detail of it, it is okay to acknowledge this. Never make something up. Doing so can damage your credibility.
- When you are unsure, avoid phrases that denote certainty. Instead, use phrases like “I think…”
- For example, if you are unsure of the identity of a person, it is better to say “I think the person who called me and threatened me could have been the police chief,” instead of “The police chief called me and threatened me.”
- When you can, provide dates in day/month/year format. If you cannot remember the exact date of an event, you should try to approximate as much as possible. You can use important events as references to help you remember and say things like “In December 2020, before Christmas…,” “In summer of 2010….”
- Explain why you are unsure and the reasonings behind your deductions. For example, you can say “I couldn’t clearly see as the room was very dark, but I think the person who hit me was male. I thought of this when I heard his voice.”
Make sure you explain why things have happened to you. This is where you should make clear references to the applicable criteria for being recognised as a refugee. Were you wrongly treated because of your race? Your religion? Or your political opinion?
- Do not assume that the people who are reading your statement will know the reasons why you were persecuted. For example, if you belong to an ethnic group that is persecuted in your home country, make sure that you underline this. Even if the authorities already know this, it will be better for you to express yourself in your own words.
When you can, provide explanations and examples. You may think that some details of your situation are crass or inappropriate, but it is still necessary to include them.
- For example, instead of saying “I was insulted by the members of the community and called racial slurs,” it is better to say which members of the community insulted you and which racial slurs they used.
- If you have experienced sexual violence or had reason to fear it, it might be difficult for you to talk about this. You should nevertheless include these types of events in your statement but you do not need to be explicit or graphic. This will help the authorities fully understand your situation.
There may be situations that are relevant to your claim that you do not want to disclose to other applicants in your claim. For example, you may have previous experiences of sexual violence that you do not want to share with your family members. You can raise these matters during your one-on-one interview and request that they are not disclosed to other applicants. You can also request that the interviewers inform you about the confidentiality obligations.
Make sure that the events that you talk about are significant to your asylum claim. You should also clearly lay down why they are significant.
- For example, you may feel that a childhood event had a lasting effect on you, culminating in you feeling unsafe in your country of origin. However, it may not be obvious to the people who are reading your statement. Therefore, always make sure that you clearly lay down these connections.
When it is important in the context, you can briefly explain cultural differences in your statement.
- For example, if you referred to your cousins as brothers or sisters in a particular context, you can tell the authorities that this is common in your culture.
- If your real date of birth does not match the date of birth indicated in your identification documents for cultural or other reasons, you should explain this and include both dates.
Some ethnicities, religions, political organisations, etc. may have multiple names. Make sure you list all the names that you are aware of, including regional ones and the ones in different languages.
Unless you have been diagnosed, avoid using medical terms. Instead, describe how you feel.
- For example, when talking about your mental health, instead of saying “I had PTSD and depression,” you can say “My traumas have a lasting effect on me. I recall certain events during my everyday life, which makes me very distressed and this interferes with my ability to perform daily tasks.”
- If you have been diagnosed with a mental and physical illness, provide details about your diagnosis, such as the name of the doctor and the diagnosing unit.
Try to avoid legal terms. Instead, describe your experience and feelings in your own words.
- For example, instead of saying “I was arbitrarily detained by the police,” you can say “The police officer did not give any explanation as to why I was detained. This left me feeling very confused and vulnerable. I later found out that they did not have any reason for detaining me. I suspected it was because of my gender identity.”
Your statement should be consistent with all the information and documents you have previously supplied to authorities. If there are any inconsistencies, clarify them in your statement. You should also explain why there was an inconsistency.
If you are adding new information to a previous statement or submitting new documents, explain why that information and documents were not included in the first place.
Keep a copy of your statement because you might need to refer to it later on, for example, during your interview.
You can structure your statement as follows:
The first section of your statement should include the following information about yourself and your immediate family members who are in the same asylum claim as you:
- Name and surname
- Date and place of birth
- Country of origin
- Identity numbers (national identity number, passport number, registration numbers given by the UNHCR, etc.)
- Relevant dates (the date you entered your country of asylum, the date you registered your asylum claim, etc.)
- Contact information (address, phone number, email address, etc.)
If you are not sure about your date of birth or dates of birth of any family members or if there is a discrepancy about dates of birth between documents, you should explain the discrepancy or lack of documentation honestly and to the best of your knowledge. If you can estimate your age, you should do so and explain the reasoning behind your estimations. For example, you can estimate your age based on the year you started school, the year you got married, etc.
If you are seeking asylum as an unaccompanied child, you should make sure to explicitly mention that you are underage. If you have an identification document that incorrectly shows that you are over the age of 18, you should make sure to address this and provide evidence regarding your real age.You can use important life events to explain your real age. For example, you can say “I started school when I was 6 and had finished 7th grade shortly before I came here. Therefore, I am 13 years old and not 18 as my document incorrectly states.”
In this section, explain if there were any breaches to procedural fairness that may have led to your application being rejected. Procedural fairness means that authorities must:
- Assess your case in a fair and unbiased manner
- Assess your case without undue delay
- Base their decisions on applicable laws and regulations
- Provide reasons for any decision
- Provide you with ways of expressing yourself and the facts of your case (interviewing you using suitable questions, providing quality translation during your interview, etc.)
Keep in mind that if you are appealing on these grounds, you should make a very substantiated claim. Make sure that you provide concrete reasons and examples as to why you think that there were procedural problems in your case. You should, therefore, make note of the instances during which you thought there were procedural fairness issues and clearly reference these instances in your appeal. For example, you can mention if you requested more to explain an issue during your interview but the interviewer denied this request, or if you thought the interviewer was aggressive or had an inappropriate manner of speaking.
Refer to why your asylum application was rejected and how this is a mistake. If the authorities have given you multiple reasons, refer to all of them. You can divide this section into subsections and divide one subsection to each reason. Under each section, give specific reasons and facts why the authorities were mistaken in rejecting your application.
You may have new evidence or information that you have not previously included in your application. In this case, explain why this information was not introduced before.
If the authorities found any inconsistencies or credibility issues in your application, make sure that you clarify each of them. You should address any gaps in information, provide detailed explanations, reference and clarify any corroborating evidence.
Clearly lay down why you should be recognised as a refugee.
Make sure that you refer to the criteria to be recognised as a refugee according to the legal frameworks that apply to you.
You do not need to include everything you have included in your initial application and interview. Instead, summarise them and underline the facts that support your claim.
Include any supporting documents in your application file and list them at the end of your statement. These documents may include identification documents, medical reports, police reports, documents attesting to your race, religion, ethnicity, or membership to a particular social group, etc.
End your statement by signing your name.
Before handing in your statement, ask the following questions to yourself. If you answer “no” to any, you should consider rewriting your statement.
- Have I reread my statement and checked if all the necessary information is included?
- Do I clearly show why I should be recognised as a refugee??
- Is my statement chronological?
- Would my statement make sense to a third person (in other words, to someone who did now previously know me and my history)?
- Is my statement consistent?
- Is everything I have included true to my knowledge and not exaggerated?
- Have I included all the supporting documents?
- Do I have a copy of my statement and supporting documents as a reference?
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Last updated January 2023