RSD Watch Offers Resource for Refugees
Volume 1, Issue 2 / January 2009
Information is power, and sharing information with refugees on matters that affect their lives is vital. Refugee Status Determination Watch (RSD Watch, www.RSDWatch.org) is an organization devoted to just this purpose—disseminating information to create awareness on and advocate for refugee rights under the RSD process.
RSD refers to the legal process by which an asylum-seeker applies for refugee status from a host government. In the case of Kakuma Camp, asylum-seekers apply to the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for refugee status.
RSD Watch observes that UNHCR decides the fate of tens of thousands of people seeking safety from persecution. In fact, UNHCR was the largest refugee status decision-maker in the world in 2006 (RSD Watch). Thus, UNHCR serves as gatekeeper in deciding who is or is not eligible for refugee status based on the international legal definition of a refugee.
RSD procedural fairness matters, because wrong decisions put people in danger of deportation, arrest, detention, violence, torture, and worse.
The RSD Watch website addresses issues relating to RSD and covers a wide range of debatable aspects of cases. RSD Watch identifies loopholes in the RSD process based on case studies, and advocates for improvements to the process. This information would come in very handy to refugees living in Kakuma Camp. It may also increase efficiency in UNHCR’s RSD decisions.
According to RSD Watch, nearly every independent assessment of UNHCR’s RSD procedure has raised serious concerns in a procedure that can have life or death consequences. These concerns primarily center on lack of basic fairness safeguards. For example, UNHCR does not permit refugees access to the contents of his/her files or interview transcripts, withholds secret evidence from the claimant, and does not give reasons for rejections. Even more disturbing, UNHCR offices do not allow for independent appeals. Instead, refugees must submit their appeal to another UNHCR colleague in the same office.
In fact, UNHCR RSD procedures currently fall far short of the standards that UNHCR declares that States should follow.
On the relationship between UNHCR and host governments, RSD Watch maintains that UNHCR itself has no mandate to directly provide protection and that only governments can fully protect refugees.
The Kenyan Government was previously responsible for RSD before the 1990s, and the 2006 Kenya Refugees Act provides for the government to eventually take this role again.
All asylum-seekers are advised to seek out the RSD Watch website in order to inform themselves on their rights. RSDWatch.org provides links to key provisions of UNHCR’s RSD Standards which include the right to interview, conduct of the RSD interviews, providing reasons for rejections, right to an independent appeal, complaint procedures, and other matters. Inform yourself!