Last Updated: Friday, 08 December 2017, 11:58 GMT

Practical Guidelines for Shipowners, Their Agents and Shipmasters Relating to Stowaway Asylum-Seekers

Publisher UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
Publication Date January 1992
Cite as UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Practical Guidelines for Shipowners, Their Agents and Shipmasters Relating to Stowaway Asylum-Seekers, January 1992, available at: [accessed 11 December 2017]

When dealing with stowaways who claim they are refugees and, therefore, wish to seek asylum, shipmasters, shipowners and their agents should be guided by the following considerations:

a) Under no circumstances should the stowaway asylum-seeker be returned to the country of origin or disembarked in any other country from where (s)he would risk to be returned to the country of origin or where his/her life or freedom would be threatened on account of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.

b) The shipowners, their agents and shipmasters, in conjunction with UNHCR, should seek disembarkation of the stowaway asylum-seeker at the next port of call where s(he) would not be exposed to any of the risks mentioned in paragraph (a).

c) To this effect, the shipmaster should immediately inform the shipowners, and/or their agents of the presence on board of the stowaway asylum-seeker, who should in turn contact UNHCR providing as much information as possible on the reasons indicated by the stowaway asylum-seeker in support of his/her claim to refugee status.

d) If unable to contact the nearest UNHCR Representative in the field, shipowners or their agents may consider as a focal point for this and all other communications between them and UNHCR, the UNHCR Headquarters in Geneva.

e) Under no circumstances should the identity or any other details concerning the stowaway asylum-seeker be revealed to officials of an embassy, consulate or other representation of his/her country of origin.

f) UNHCR will provide practical information/advice on the local authorities who are competent in the country of disembarkation to deal with asylum claims.

g) The shipowners or their agents, if required together with UNHCR, should arrange for an interview of the stowaway asylum-seeker upon disembarkation in order to identify the principal elements of his/her case. The interview should preferably be conducted by the immigration authorities from the country of the port of call competent to deal with asylum claims, using an interpreter when this is necessary, in the presence of a UNHCR officer or an attorney cooperating with UNHCR. A transcript of the interview should be communicated to UNHCR. If the interview cannot be conducted by the immigration authorities, a UNHCR officer or an attorney cooperating with UNHCR should interview the asylum-seeker.

h) Where countries are adamant in refusing disembarkation of the stowaway asylum-seeker, shipowners or their agents should arrange for him/her to be interviewed on board. The procedure followed and UNHCR's involvement should be as in (g) above.

i) If the asylum-seeker is determined to be a refugee, UNHCR will assist in finding a durable solution for him/her.

j) Where the asylum-seeker is determined not to be a refugee, s/he would remain under the shipowner's responsibility and would be treated as any other stowaway.

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