Legal Refugee Recognition in the Urban South: Formal V. De Facto Refugee Status

By Kagan, Michael | Refuge, Winter 2007 | Go to article overview

Legal Refugee Recognition in the Urban South: Formal V. De Facto Refugee Status


Kagan, Michael, Refuge


Abstract

The legal relevance of the "urban refugee" concept in the Middle East and Africa stems from the practice of practicing different forms of refugee status determination (RSD) in rural as opposed to urban areas. Urban refugees are usually subject to rigorous individual adjudication, while rural refugees are typically recognized on a prima facie basis. This difference in procedure has no basis in the substance of refugee law, and it marginalizes urban refugees in two key ways. First, in Africa and the Middle East, refugee status recognition is used by host governments to prevent refugee integration, to force refugees to live far from population centres, and to transfer responsibility for their welfare to international agencies. Second, individualized RSD procedures in wide use by the United Nations generally lack key fairness safeguards, increasing the risk that genuine refugees will be wrongfully rejected. This phenomenon means that urban refugee populations will often be systematically undercounted, and will include a significant number of de facto refugees who are in fact refugees in danger of refoulement, but whose applications were rejected and who thus have no access to the protection and resources otherwise targeted at refugees.

Resume

La pertinence juridique du concept de << refugie urbain >> au Moyen-Orient et en Afrique provient de la pratique d'appliquer differentes approches a la determination du statut de refugie (DSR) pour ceux vivant en milieu rural par opposition a ceux vivant en milieu urbain. Les refugies en milieu urbain sont generalement sujets au n regime juridique individuel severe, tandis que ceux en milieu rural sont typiquement admis sur une base prima facie. Cette difference de procedure n'a aucun fondement juridique dans la loi sur le statut des refugies, et mene l'exclusion des refugies urbains de deux manieres fondamentales. D'abord, en Afrique et au Moyen-Orient, la procedure de determination du statut de refugie est utilisee par les gouvernements hotes pour empecher l'integration des refugies, pour les forcer a vivre loin des agglomerations, et pour transferer la responsabilite de leur prise en charge sociale aux organismes internationaux. En second lieu, les procedures individualisees de DSR largement utilisees par les Nations Unies ne contiennent generalement pas routes les sauvegardes essentielles aux principes d'equite, augmentant ainsi le risque que de vrais refugies soient rejetes a tort. Ce phenomene signifie que les populations de refugies en milieu urbain seront le plus souvent systematiquement sous denombrees, et incluront un hombre important de refugies de fait qui sont en realite des refugies en danger de refoulement dont les applications ont ete rejetees, et qui n'ont ainsi aucun acces la protection et aux ressources autrement destinees aux refugies.

Introduction

International refugee law guarantees refugee rights regardless of geography. Yet the law of refugee status is implemented differently in different places, particularly in terms of how a person obtains official recognition of refugee status. In Europe and North America, refugees usually obtain formal recognition of their legal status by making individual asylum applications to systems of administrative adjudication. In the geopolitical South, the presumed norm--at least in rural areas--has been for refugees to gain formal recognition on a group basis, without individual assessments.

Urban refugees in the South are subject to something more anomalous and problematic. They generally must make individual refugee claims, like their counterparts in the North, but these claims are decided through procedures that generally lack critical safeguards of fairness developed in administrative law and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) advice to governments. Whereas Northern states normally have unitary national systems that determine refugee status for anyone inside the country, African states often maintain dual systems of status determination within the same country, with different mechanisms in rural and urban areas. …

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