Prima facie recognition is an approach to the recognition of refugee status in accordance with any of the applicable refugee definitions (see the Entry on Refugee definition) on the basis of readily apparent, objective circumstances in the country of origin, such as persecution, conflict, occupation, massive human rights violations, generalized violence, or events that seriously disturb public order.
Prima facie recognition may be used in individual refugee status determination procedures (see the Entry on Refugee status determination). However, it is more often used in situations of large-scale displacement in which individual status determination impractical and unnecessary, for example during large-scale movements when the refugee character of a group of similarly-situated persons is apparent and the need to provide protection and assistance is extremely urgent.
Refugees recognized on a prima facie basis benefit from refugee status in the country of asylum and enjoy the rights contained in the relevant instrument on the same terms as refugees recognized by means of individual procedures.
A prima facie approach may be declared by States, or by UNHCR under its mandate.
Relevance for emergency operations
Prima facie recognition is appropriate where there are grounds for considering that the large majority of those in the group would meet the eligibility criteria set out in the applicable refugee definition. Large-scale movements for which prima facie recognition is appropriate occur when persons in need of international protection cross an international border as a result of readily apparent, objective circumstances, such that individual refugee status determination becomes impractical, impossible or unnecessary (see Entry on Refugee status determination).
In humanitarian emergencies, where there is typically no time for resource intensive individual refugee status determination, prima facie recognition may be the most suitable approach, if the refugee character of a group of similarly situated persons is apparent.
A prima facie approach will not be appropriate for all large-scale arrivals. The profile of the caseload, based on available information, as well as security and legal factors (including potential for exclusion from refugee status) and operational considerations should be taken into account. Alternative responses may be more suited to some situations, including screening and related procedures (see the Entry on Temporary protection) and, in certain exceptional circumstances, individual status determination (see the Entry on Exclusion).
Description and guidance
A State can recognize status using a prima facie approach on the basis of readily apparent, objective circumstances in the country of origin, in accordance with applicable refugee definitions. UNHCR has authority to declare persons to be refugees on a prima facie basis under its mandate.
In emergency situations, prima facie recognition is usually made after an assessment has confirmed that conditions in the country of origin are such that groups of persons who seek international protection should be considered refugees.
Decisions to utilise a prima facie approach recognition of refugee status should be based on relevant and reliable country of origin information. Information on the characteristics of the population should also be gathered, both through registration and protection interviews, to the extent feasible, to allow a reasoned decision to occur as to whether advocating for a prima facie approach is appropriate. The results of an assessment and analysis should be shared with HQ and, if it is decided to advocate for the adoption of prima facie recognition, with Governments. Data protection principles should always be observed (see the Policy on Data Protection).
A prima facie approach may be used in urban, rural, camp, and out-of-camp settings.
Once in place, a prima facie approach applies to all those who belong to the beneficiary group, unless there is evidence to act otherwise in individual cases. Evidence to the contrary includes evidence that particular individuals should not be considered a refugee. However, this does not mean that an individual should be rejected, rather, it requires that the individual should be referred to individual procedures. In other words, a prima facie approach can be used only for the purpose of according refugee status. Decisions to reject refugee status require an individual assessment.
Registration procedures play a crucial role when a prima facie approach to refugee recognition is applied. They are the main tool for identifying individuals who should qualify for prima facie recognition (see the Entry on Emergency registration). Where a prima facie recognition approach is in place, protection colleagues should work closely with registration colleagues to implement robust registration procedures (using an appropriate accountability framework), facilitate their application, and ensure that persons who appear not to be refugees (see the Entry on Refugee definition) are properly referred for further screening and/or individual refugee status determination. In certain emergency situations, individual status determination procedures may not be available or operational and so the assessment of the contrary information cannot take place. In such cases, the information should be recorded for future assessment in the registration or other case management system and the individual should be accorded some alternative form of stay.
Persons identified as fighters or combatants cannot be admitted into refugee status determination procedures until such time that they have genuinely and permanently renounced such activities, and even then, should not benefit from status accorded prima facie, but rather undergo individual assessment (see the Entry on The civilian and humanitarian character of asylum).
When a decision has been made to adopt a prima facie approach, refugees recognized on a prima facie basis should be informed accordingly, via local public announcements, information campaigns, or leaflets and notices. Like all refugees, they should be given documentation that certifies their refugee status.
Refugees recognized on a prima facie basis are entitled to the same rights as refugees recognized by means of individual procedures. Their rights include the right not to be sent back to their country of origin (principle of non-refoulement), among others. (See the Entries on Access to territory and non-refoulement.)
It is appropriate to utilize a prima facie approach as long as the circumstances prevailing in the country of origin continue to justify doing so. Decisions to adopt a prima facie approach should therefore be reviewed periodically. The asylum authority may opt to reintroduce individual RSD procedures if there is a change in the circumstances in the country of origin that had initially justified application of a prima facie approach. The asylum authority may also opt to apply individual RSD procedures if the volume of applications no longer exceeds the capacity of resources available to decide the claims on a case-by-case basis.
A decision to end a prima facie approach does not affect the refugee status of those who have already been recognized as refugees, meaning that those recognised prima facie should not be required to undergo individual RSD in order to maintain their status. Nor does it affect the right of asylum-seekers to apply for asylum through individual refugee status determination procedures.
As first port of call, the UNHCR Dep. Representative (Protection), UNHCR Asst. Rep. (Protection), and/or Snr Protection Officer in the country; or the UNHCR Regional Asst./Dep Rep (Protection) and/or Snr. Regional Protection Officer at the regional office (if applicable); or The Snr. Regional Legal Advisor in the respective UNHCR regional bureau, covering the respective country region, who in turn will liaise as required with UNHCR DIP.