SELF-HELP KIT: Refugee Status Determination Process

This self-help kit aims to introduce key concepts about the Refugee Status Determination (RSD) process and guide asylum seekers in writing strong and credible asylum statements. 

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.

How should I structure my asylum statement/declaration?

When you are filing your asylum application, you may be required to hand in a statement or a declaration that explains why you had to leave your country of origin and why it is not safe for you to return. This statement should demonstrate how you meet the criteria to be recognised as a refugee. Keep a copy of your statement with you because you might need to refer to it later on, for example, during your asylum interview.

You can structure your statement as follows. Please note these are suggestions and not an exhaustive list of elements you should include in your statement. If you are given different advice by your legal counsel or if there are other aspects that are relevant to your claim, you can structure your statement differently.

Before starting to write your statement, please read the following information:

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 rumors 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 as many details as 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 don’t know the exact date but I remember that it was the winter of 2003 as it was very cold outside and the heating was on in our house”.


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 treated in a certain way because of your race? Your religion? Or maybe 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 rude 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, you should 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.

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.)
  • Names, surnames, and dates of birth of the immediate family members on the same claim (if any)

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 minor, you should make sure to explicitly mention that you are underage (under 18). 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 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, you can introduce yourself briefly. You can include information about your

  • Life in your home country before seeking asylum
  • Nationality
  • Religion
  • Ethnicity
  • Educational background
  • Occupation
  • Family members

You should explain all the problems you had in your country of origin. You can answer the following questions:

  • What happened to you in your country of origin?
  • Have you been arrested or detained? Was there a trial? 
  • Have you been subjected to torture or other forms of abuse? By whom?
  • Why did these things happen to you? Make sure to consider the refugee definitions that apply to you. For example, you may be targeted because of your race, religion, ethnicity, political opinion, or membership of a particular social group. 
  • When did you leave your country? 
  • Why did you have to leave your country at that particular time? Was there a particular event that forced you to make this decision? 
  • What do you think would happen to you if you stayed in your country any longer?
  • How did you leave your country? Which transportation methods did you use? 
  • Did you obtain a visa or passport to leave your country? If so, how? You should truthfully explain how you managed to obtain your visa or passport, even if you obtained them through fraudulent or unofficial means. In this case, make sure to explain why you had to resort to such methods as well. 
  • Did anyone help you leave your country? 
  • Did anyone accompany you? For example, family members, friends, etc.
  • Did you cross or stay in any other countries on your way to your country of asylum? Did you try to seek help in any of these countries? If not, why didn’t you?

In this section, explain why it is unsafe for you to go back to your country. You can answer the following questions:

  • Why do you feel you will not be safe in your own country?
  • When you were in your home country, did you do anything to keep yourself safe, like contacting authorities or moving somewhere else within the country? Did they work? Do you think the authorities in your home country will be able to protect you in case you return? If not, why do you think this way?
  • What do you think will happen to you if you go back? Will any person or group harm you? 
  • Why do you think you will not be protected by your state or security forces?
  • Has anyone else in your country been in danger for similar reasons after you have left?

Describe your conditions in your country of asylum. 

  • Do you live alone, with family members, or someone else?
  • What is your economic situation? 
  • Are you working or in school?
  • Do you have any medical, physical, or psychological conditions that authorities should know?

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?

We are always looking to expand the resources on our platform. If you know about relevant resources, or you are aware of organisations and individuals to include in our directories, please get in touch.

Last updated January 2023