Refugees have certain rights under international law, but whether they can enjoy them depends on the asylum system they encounter. Too often, these national systems are failing – inefficient for governments, which waste resources without resolving asylum claims, and ineffective for refugees, who are left without rights or protection.

That’s where a vital, emerging area of policy and practice comes into play: asylum capacity development. It’s about strengthening the legal, institutional and social arrangements that are put in place to meet the needs of refugees.

A new Kaldor Centre Policy Brief sheds light on what asylum capacity development is, how it should be understood and put into practice, and spells out the best-practice standards for measuring success.

Authored by Brian Barbour, Kaldor Centre Affiliate and Senior Refugee Protection Advisor at Act for Peace, Asylum Capacity Development: Building New and Strengthening Existing Systems comes at a critical time.

This still-new concept is a focus internationally – 181 nations voted in favour of the 2018 Global Compact on Refugees, which encourages strong asylum systems. It’s a focus for national governments establishing asylum systems or struggling with backlogs. And it’s a focus for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), where tools and guidance for asylum capacity development are under way.

Barbour’s policy brief makes the case that asylum capacity development is about much more than the refugee status determination (RSD) process. Asylum systems must address needs ranging from legal and language support to medical care, shelter, education and work. So, to achieve a system fit for purpose – one capable of resolving asylum claims and meeting refugees’ needs – local lawyers, interpreters, doctors, social workers, and other people in the community and civil society need to be involved in its development.

The detailed policy brief identifies 10 criteria for evaluating an effective asylum system: accessibility, specialisation, expertise, independence/impartiality, transparency, integrity, accountability, efficiency, adaptability, and collaboration. It includes real-world examples of each measure in action, such as posters flagging access to civil society before the immigration counters in Japanese airports, or the collaborative efforts of government and more than 100 NGOs to provide services to Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.

As national governments and UNHCR struggle to respond to growing numbers of refugees worldwide, this policy brief offers timely guidance on the benefits of thinking more broadly. Asylum capacity development is about more than a single process, and it involves a wide range of stakeholders. Taking an evidence-backed, whole-of-society approach will result in better asylum systems – systems that are efficient, effective, fair and sustainable, and that offer real protection to people who need it.

Read the policy brief, Asylum Capacity Development: Building New and Strengthening Existing Systems.


Image: ©UNHCR/Lucrezia Vittori