Building fair and efficient asylum processes

A series of projects examining how governments decide who is a refugee, and how this can be done in a way that is both fair and efficient.

Woman in dress holding sword figurine

The challenge

Refugee Status Determination (RSD) is the legal or administrative process used to determine whether a person seeking international protection is a refugee under international, regional or national law. One of the central considerations that has influenced how states design their RSD procedures is the question of how best to balance fairness and efficiency. 

The fairness of RSD procedures is of utmost importance given that the stakes are so high. A negative decision may result in the removal of a person from the country – and where the process fails to recognise the risk of harm correctly, a person may face persecution, torture or death, in breach of the state’s obligations. At the same time, long delays in processing can have a devastating impact on the physical and mental health of asylum seekers and impede their integration into the host community.  

From the perspective of governments, inefficient procedures are financially costly and can compromise the integrity of the asylum system. Delays can incentivise unmeritorious claims, given that asylum seekers are often allowed to live and work in the community until their claims are finalised. However, the broad trend across most states in recent years has been to tilt the balance too far towards efficiency and exclusion, at the cost of fairness. This was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw many states suspend their RSD procedures, which further increased backlogs.

Project highlights

One way in which states have tried to increase efficiency is through fast-track procedures that aim to speed up processing for certain groups of asylum seekers. Kaldor Centre Deputy Director, Daniel Ghezelbash, was awarded a prestigious ARC DECRA Fellowship to examine whether it is possible to design procedures in a way that speeds up processing, while including legal safeguards that ensure fairness.

The project uses an innovative interdisciplinary approach, which combines doctrinal and empirical methods, to compare and evaluate current laws in Australia, Switzerland and Canada. The aim is to identify critical elements required for a system to be efficient, fair and compliant with domestic and international law. Project outcomes will include evidence-based law reform and policy recommendations to improve the efficiency and quality of Australia’s asylum process.

Our work  

Our work examines Australia’s refugee status determination procedures, and compares them with practices around the world, to identify areas of improvement and practical lessons for reform. This includes data-driven work carried out through Kaldor Centre Data Lab, as well as examining how asylum claims are processed in specific contexts, including the use of fast-track and accelerated procedures, asylum processing at airports and at sea, and how best to support asylum capacity development.

Focus areas

  • Fast track asylum procedures 

Daniel Ghezelbash is researching whether it is possible to design asylum processes that are both fair and efficient. This research draws on comparative perspectives, examining evidence from Australia, Switzerland and Canada, under an Australian Research Council DECRA Fellowship.

  • Building national asylum systems from the ground up

Brian Barbour’s research seeks to analyse the institutional set-up of different refugee status determination typologies, alongside the many other aspects of operationalising a holistic refugee protection system, in order to inform the establishment and development of new State asylum systems. 

  • Data driven and computational methods of understanding Australia’s refugee status determination procedures

Keyvan Dorostkar’s research examines how Australia’s refugee status determination procedures operate across each stage of the process using a computational and data driven methodology. The research collects and analyses data from the Department of Immigration, Administrative Appeals Tribunal and the Federal Circuit and Family Court to track the lifecycle of refugee cases, with the overarching purpose of seeking to improve both the fairness and efficiency of refugee status determination procedures in Australia.


D Ghezelbash & K Dorostkar, Understanding the Politics of Refugee Law and Policy Making: Interdisciplinary and Empirical Approaches Journal of Refugee Studies, 2023 

D Ghezelbash, Legal transfers of migration law: the case for an interdisciplinary approach International Journal of Migration and Border Studies 7(2), 2023

D Ghezelbash, Fast track, accelerated, and expedited asylum procedures as a tool of exclusion in C Dauvergne (ed), Research Handbook on the Law and Politics of Migration, 2021 (Elgar)


R Jefferies, D Ghezelbash, A Hirsch Assessing refugee protection claims at Australian airports: The gap between law, policy, and practice Melb UL Rev, 2020

R Jefferies, D Ghezelbash, A Hirsch Assessing Protection Claims at Airports: Developing procedures to meet international and domestic obligations Policy Brief, Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, 2020

At sea

A Dastyari & D Ghezelbash,  Asylum at sea: The legality of shipboard refugee status determination procedures
International Journal of Refugee Law 32 (1), 1-27