Strategies to Promote Protection inside and outside of RSD
From 25-26 April 2016, the Legal Aid and Advocacy Working Group of APRRN held a retreat in Bangkok Thailand: 27 persons from 12 countries across the Asia Pacific Region participated. Recommendations were produced at the retreat and in consultation with our members. These Recommendations are being shared with UNHCR Headquarters, the Regional Office, and with the National Offices in countries where APRRN has members. Some are directed to UNHCR; others are directed at all relevant partners. Our Members do not believe that UNHCR alone is responsible for refugee protection: addressing the many challenges and diverse needs of persons in need of protection with limited resources means everyone must do their part in a well-coordinated and collaborative network.
1. Grant prima facie recognition, or automatic extended mandate protection
For UNHCR to recommend prima facie recognition for certain populations as a part of its eligibility guidelines, may politically be unrealistic in most cases. Prima facie recognition may be granted more flexibly in a camp setting to all who enter the camp from a certain country without establishing a certain policy or guideline globally. UNHCR should consider this more flexible approach in urban contexts as well, where a particularly large portion of the population of persons of concern are from a similar group or context. It may not be necessary to declare prima facie recognition as a matter of global policy. A national office, perhaps through some kind of simple internal approvals system, should be able to decide to grant prima facie recognition or automatic extended mandate protection for certain populations where it would result in significant protection and efficiency benefits. UNHCR may also develop standardized positions on certain caseloads across country offices, with a regular review and monitoring by Geneva or Regional Offices including evaluation of acceptance rates for specific caseloads across the region. We have noted sometimes vast differences in acceptance rates across the region for the same population.
2. Triage for RSD: Engage in Early Needs Assessment and Prioritization
Malaysia recently piloted an expedited ‘Status Verification Procedure’ (“SVP”) with the goal of identifying quickly those with priority needs and vulnerabilities and ensuring quicker access to RSD and resettlement for them. Assessments by APRRN members indicated that the pilot was effective in identifying vulnerable persons and quickly referring them to RSD for timely assessment and pursuit of durable solutions. At the same time, a person screened out at this stage was not even considered a ‘person of concern’ to UNHCR. APRRN members support prioritization and needs assessment to serve as a kind of triage system like hospitals perform at reception, where you are identifying those with the greatest protection needs and vulnerabilities and prioritizing them for early registration and RSD. Those who are not identified as a priority are still persons of concern and must be referred for support services, and scheduled for a mainstream RSD process, though they may receive appointment dates in the future. The protection needs and vulnerabilities of a person may change over time, and so this assessment should be revisited periodically, and through referral by a Network Service Provider or Case Manager. The mainstream caseload must be told about the reality up-front, so that false expectations and preconceptions are addressed, while protection must go beyond RSD and extend to the entire caseload of persons of concern. High standards of fairness should be assured by UNHCR in the RSD process including access to all relevant interviews by legal representatives, detailed written reasons for refusal, and access to transcripts/recordings and other information in the file among other procedural standards measured next to UNHCR’s Procedural Standards.
3. Establish National Referrals Networks with de-centralized case management
All relevant service providers are networked into a common referrals system used by all service providers, and referrals are made systematically from service providers to UNHCR, from UNHCR to service providers, and from service provider to service provider. Every service provider has a ‘Referrals Guide’ on their desk. Consolidation of a ‘Referrals Guide’ will require outreach to partners with a set of agreed-upon questions and should not only include UNHCR and NGOs, but also hospitals, clinics, reproductive health centers, schools, language schools, child care providers, community-based organizations, city offices, and any number of other civil society actors that provide services or assistance in accessing services. Conducting outreach will also contribute to building trust and the identification of new referrals.
Common referrals forms are available to pull out the critical information needed, and trainings are provided to all service providers on needs, vulnerabilities, and risks assessment (the referrals form from the Malaysia Office, and referrals training serve as excellent models for this kind of effort). Data management systems (databases) that suit the refugee context are developed. This should be done in a way that allows the protection of client information, while also making it accessible, searchable and sortable by a variety of criteria. These databases are shared with all members of the network (access to each service provider’s database does not have to be shared, only the database software). This will allow for better data security to ensure confidentiality than what currently takes place in most places where NGOs are often left to work through hard copy files, Microsoft Access databases, free online databases, or even just Microsoft Excel sheets to maintain client data.
Shared Codes of Conduct, consent forms, and complaints mechanisms are adopted or jointly drafted and voluntarily subscribed to as a prerequisite for participation in the referrals network. ‘The Nairobi Code: Model Rules of Ethics for Legal Advisors in Refugee Cases’ is an excellent example and best practice for the production of shared Codes of Conduct, and this Code should be adopted in the context of legal aid, as is, because it is well-established and ensures harmonization of international practice. Codes of Conduct relevant to a broader range of service providers should also be produced with the goal of establishing an international best practice model on the level of the Nairobi Code. This is underway in some jurisdictions and by some networks. APRRN for example has already adopted a ‘Code of Conduct’ and ‘Code of Good Practice’ for the Network, and Members are encouraged to adopt it as is, or customize such a code for their local practice. Where not available, going through the process of jointly drafting the Code of Conduct is good for capacity building in the area of ethics, and all Network members should ultimately be asked to sign the Code after receiving training. An accountability framework of some kind (and a ‘complaints mechanism’) should accompany the Code to provide a mechanism for addressing breaches.
Using a case management approach then means that Case Managers serve as points of contact, maintain the interagency referrals system, may provide some counseling, but do not provide services. Case Managers (whether UNHCR staff, NGO staff, or both) each have a big-picture understanding of their caseload. Case Managers develop a case plan to assist and empower those persons registered to achieve some kind of self-sufficiency, coping strategies, and solutions within the context of their situation. This case management system can be decentralized or semi-decentralized in partnership with some referrals network members. Case Managers maintain the interagency referrals system and know the availability and capacity of relevant service providers so that referrals can be made systematically and regularly within the capacity of each service provider. Gaps are identified where no referrals are available, or where the capacity of available referrals is far exceeded, and these become the focus for outreach to new partners, capacity strengthening of current partners, and advocacy with government and community stakeholders. Overlaps are identified where multiple referrals are available for the same service with more capacity than is necessary to meet the need, and these become the focus of dialogue between stakeholders (service providers and possibly donors) to shift priorities and responsibilities towards gap areas.