High quality refugee status determination procedures are a prerequisite for refugee protection; in order to ensure that refugees can exercise their rights under the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951 Convention), one first needs to know if an individual (or members of a group) is entitled to these rights. As part of its supervisory responsibility under Article 35 of the 1951 Convention, UNHCR supports signatory states around the world to develop and improve asylum systems and related legal frameworks.
UNHCR’s collaboration with asylum authorities has in some contexts extended to the joint development of mechanisms to regularly monitor and review asylum decisions and related processes with a view to maintaining high quality standards. Such cooperation often takes the form of dedicated ‘quality assurance projects’ which usually are jointly run by asylum authorities and UNHCR, often with the involvement of dedicated project staff. Quality assurance projects have been undertaken in a number of countries and regions since the first ‘Quality Initiative Project’ was started in the United Kingdom in 2003.
Quality assurance projects differ in terms of objectives, length of cooperation and breadth of engagement. This special feature on Refworld aims to provide a dedicated platform for sharing publicly available project reports and relevant quality assurance tools and other publications which have been developed in the context of such projects. It also provides some examples of State run quality assurance mechanisms in which UNHCR does not have direct involvement.
In October 2003, UNHCR offered its expertise to work with the United Kingdom Home Office on improving the quality of first instance asylum decision-making. The Quality Initiative project was established in 2004. Since then, UNHCR continues to work with the Home Office to implement recommendations stemming from collaborative work under the Quality Initiative in the form of audits of first instance asylum decisions and related processes. Recognising the Home Office's significant progress in this area, the project has moved into a phase of supporting the Home Office's continued development and integration of quality assurance mechanisms into its work to address international protection concerns. This new phase and the related joint project between the UNHCR and the Home Office is known as the Quality Integration project.
In 2011, UNHCR worked in collaboration with the Swedish Migration Agency (SMA) to present a study of the Swedish ‘first instance’ procedure, or how initial decisions are made by SMA in asylum cases in Sweden. This quality initiative was financially supported by the European Union. After this study the SMA began the 'Daily Learning Organization' project, a large quality assurance project completed in 2014. UNHCR has been part of the steering committee and the reference group for this project, providing advice and technical support.
At the end of 2013, UNHCR undertook a two part process involving a review of first the efficiency and later the quality of the first instance asylum procedure in Iceland, relying in part on the “lean methodology” developed by the Swedish Migration Agency. The report presents the findings and recommendations of both phases of the project. It references progress made on the implementation of recommendations and improvements made to both the efficiency of the procedures and the quality of decision-making.
In 2008 UNHCR, drawing upon the success of the UK project, sought and received funding from the European Refugee Fund (ERF) for the first multi-country Quality Project. The Asylum Systems Quality Assurance and Evaluation Mechanism (ASQAEM) began in September 2008 and ran until February 2010. The countries involved were Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. The Response to Vulnerability in Asylum Project, which ran from 2012 to 2013 in Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and the United Kingdom, involved some quality assurance work and aimed to promote an understanding of the particular difficulties and challenges faced by vulnerable asylum-seekers with a view to improving identification and response.
The Further Developing Quality (FDQ) Project built on the success of the ASQAEM project and was launched in 2010 and ran until September 2011. The FDQ was a hybrid project given that the participating States include those from the ASQAEM Project namely - Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia as well as four new ones – Cyprus, Greece, Italy and Portugal.
Launched in spring 2013, the Asylum Systems Quality Initiative in Eastern Europe and South Caucasus focuses on improvement of asylum procedures and refugee protection in six EU neighbouring countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. The initiative builds on the successes of previous projects in which UNHCR worked with asylum authorities in Central and Southern Europe to improve the quality of refugee status determination.
Following the successful completion of the pilot project on Quality Initiative in Eastern Europe and South Caucasus (QIEE) Phase I (2013-2015) for asylum officials, the participating countries requested UNHCR to continue the project into a second phase (1 November 2015 to 31 December 2017) with the participation of the first instance decision-makers, judges involved in asylum-related cases and the border guards from each participating country. The second phase of QIEE continues to be structured around the following three mutually-reinforcing pillars: quality assurance, capacity building and country of origin information (COI) in Russian and will be implemented in partnership with European Asylum Support Office (EASO), Frontex, International Association of Refugee Law Judges (IARLJ) and with the participation and support of the asylum authorities of Sweden and Germany.
The Quality Assurance Initiative (QAI as the project is known in Latin America), seeks to progressively harmonise asylum systems in accordance with the Brazil Plan of Action adopted in 2014 by States in South and Central America and the Caribbean. The QAI project’s objective is to improve eligibility procedures, increase the knowledge and capacity of asylum authorities on asylum issues and introduce efficient management of refugee status determination procedures (RSD).
Tools and checklists have been developed in the context of quality assurance projects such as ASQAEM and FDQ. The purposes of these tools are to provide a short introduction to the various elements which are involved in establishing and maintaining a high quality asylum system in line with international and European Union (EU) law.
Many asylum authorities have developed quality assurance mechanisms for their asylum systems which are not joint UNHCR projects but may have evolved from quality initiatives carried out with UNHCR. The following links contain examples of state’s quality assurance mechanisms.