Refugee Status Determination FAQ

General Questions on RSD

What is RSD?

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Refugee Status Determination (RSD) is the process by which governments or UNHCR determine whether a person seeking international protection is considered a refugee under international, regional or national law. Although States have the primary responsibility for determining refugee status, UNHCR may conduct RSD under its mandate in countries and territories that are not party to the 1951 Refugee Convention, or which have not yet established the necessary legal and institutional framework. Malaysia is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and does not have a national asylum system in place, so UNHCR carries out RSD under its mandate in Malaysia. RSD is an individual process carried out for each person seeking international refugee protection. The purpose is to examine why a person fears returning to their country of origin. During the RSD interview, the asylum-seeker is asked questions about their personal history and circumstances, with particular focus on reasons for leaving the country of origin and not wishing to return. Based on the evidence provided during the interview, as well as information about the situation in the country of origin, the RSD Unit assesses the individual case and determines whether the person is a refugee.

Who is a refugee?

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According to the 1951 Refugee Convention, a person is considered a refugee if he/she is outside his/her country of nationality and unable/unwilling to return due to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.

A person is also considered a refugee if they are unable to return to their country of origin because of generalised violence or events seriously disturbing public order (such as war or conflict).

Persons who meet these criteria are recognized as refugees and their legal status is recorded as ‘refugee’ in UNHCR’s database upon completion of the RSD process. Before completion of the RSD process, an individual’s status is recorded as ‘asylum-seeker’.

The principle of non-refoulement applies both to asylum-seekers and refugees, meaning that under international human rights law a person has a right not to be returned to a country where they would face torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Both refugees and asylum-seekers must respect the laws and regulations of the country they are in. If a refugee or asylum-seeker commits a criminal offence, they are subject to due process of the law, just like any other person in the country.

A refugee is different from a migrant. A migrant is a person who voluntarily left their country to take up residence elsewhere, for example for work, education or other personal reasons. If a person left their country only for these reasons, they are a migrant, not a refugee.

The RSD Interview

How can I get an appointment for an RSD interview? I was registered years ago and I still have not been scheduled for an RSD interview.

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Due to the high volume of applications from asylum-seekers, it is not possible to estimate when an RSD interview will be scheduled for everyone. UNHCR prioritises asylum-seekers who have specific needs and are at greater risk, for example those facing problems in Malaysia, who are at risk of serious harm, or who are at risk of being detained or forced to return to their country of origin.. Asylum-seekers who do not have any protection or specific needs will have to wait a long time before being contacted for an RSD interview. There is no maximum time that an asylum-seeker will need to wait to be scheduled for an RSD interview. RSD interviews are scheduled based on need, not date of registration with UNHCR Malaysia, country of origin, religion or ethnicity. When you are scheduled for an RSD appointment, UNHCR will contact you by telephone to inform you of the date and time of the interview. Please make sure your contact details are always updated on our website so we can contact you. If you would prefer either a male or female interviewer or interpreter, please state this preference during the call. Please do not come to the UNHCR Reception Centre if you do not have an appointment. You will not be allowed to enter without an appointment.

Is there anything I should do to prepare for my scheduled RSD interview?

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There is nothing in particular you need to prepare for your RSD interview. The RSD interviewer will explain the process and guide you through the interview. Please come to the UNHCR Reception Centre at least 30 minutes before your scheduled appointment. If you arrive late, UNHCR may not be able to interview you on that day. If you have a legal representative, please inform them of your RSD interview appointment. Please bring all family members who are registered in your UNHCR file, for example your spouse and children. Please also bring your UNHCR document, any identity documents, and anything else you think might be relevant to your case. Please be prepared to spend most of the day at the UNHCR Reception Centre. If you are feeling unwell or have a fever/cough/sore throat, please do not come to the UNHCR Reception Centre. You can call or send a message to the RSD staff who contacted you for your RSD interview appointment and tell them you are unwell and would like to reschedule your appointment to another date. If you have a medical condition that you think UNHCR should be aware of, please tell the UNHCR staff who schedules or conducts your RSD interview, and if at any stage you do not feel well enough to continue with the interview, please also inform the interviewer.

What will I be asked during the RSD interview?

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You will be asked many different types of questions, including about your identity, personal and family history, and the reasons why you left your country and are seeking asylum in Malaysia. The interview process can take several hours to collect all the necessary information to reach a decision on your case, but you will be able to request breaks. If you do not understand any question, the interviewer will clarify.

My community members told me that if I say certain things, I have a better chance of being recognised. I am worried that my case is weak.

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You are obliged to provide a truthful account, and to cooperate with the RSD interviewer during the RSD interview. It is important that you tell the truth about your own profile and experiences. If it is discovered later that you misled UNHCR, this may negatively affect your RSD case.

What about confidentiality and protection of my personal data?

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Everything you say will be kept strictly confidential, cannot be shared with any third parties outside UNHCR unless you agree to it, and will never be shared with the authorities of your country of origin. If UNHCR needs to share your information with a third party, we must obtain your consent first. All information and documentation will be stored securely in UNHCR systems. The interview will be audio-recorded and a written transcript of the questions and responses will be taken by UNHCR. However, for reasons of data protection and security of UNHCR staff you are not permitted to record any interview or interaction with UNHCR. You have the right to confidentiality, to request to access, correct or delete your personal data, and to object to the processing of your personal data. You also have the right to ask the interviewer to explain any aspect of the process.

Will other family members in my file be interviewed?

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All individuals registered in your file, both adult and children, need to be present on the day of your RSD interview. Other family members registered in your file may need to be interviewed individually. They also have a right to seek asylum and to be heard.

What about interpretation during the interview?

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It is your right to be interviewed in a language that you are comfortable speaking , and UNHCR will provide an interpreter if required. The interpreter’s role during the RSD interview is only to interpret the questions asked by the RSD interviewer and the responses you provide. The interpreter plays a completely neutral role and plays no part at all in the decision on your case. The interpreter is also bound by an oath of confidentiality.

What if I feel the need to change my interviewer or interpreter?

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If there are communication problems or other issues with the interpreter, you may request for a change of interpreter at any time. It is your right to request an RSD interviewer or interpreter of another sex, if you would feel more comfortable. Doing so will not affect your case in any way. You do not have the right to request an RSD interviewer of a different nationality, religion or ethnicity. All UNHCR staff abide by the principle of neutrality, and their profile will not influence their ability to perform their duty. If there are specific reasons why you do not wish to be interviewed by a particular RSD interviewer, please inform the RSD interviewer you do not wish to proceed with the interview and that you would like them to bring this to the attention of their manager. The RSD manager will consider the matter, but there is no guarantee your request will be accepted if there are no exceptional reasons for changing your interviewer.

After the RSD Interview

What if I need to submit more documents after my interview?

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Please bring all your original documentation with you to the interview. However, if you need to share any other information or document with the RSD Unit following the interview, please send an email to the RSD Unit at mlslursd@unhcr.org and attach a copy or photograph of the documents. Please write your case number, name and phone number in the email.

I have had my RSD interview. How long do I need to wait for the decision?

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Following the RSD interview, your case will be assessed and a decision will be made. You will be contacted by telephone to notify you of the decision. UNHCR tries to finalise RSD decisions promptly, but the timeline will depend on the individual circumstances of the case. You might even be called for another interview if more information is needed to reach a decision on your case. We appreciate your understanding and patience. It is important you keep UNHCR informed of any changes to your phone number, email, address or other contact information. Click here to update your personal information.

If your application is successful, you will be recognized as a refugee. If your application is unsuccessful, you will have the right to appeal this decision.

Appeal and Reopening Procedures

What happens if I get a negative RSD decision at the first instance stage?

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If your application is unsuccessful, the reasons for the decision will be explained to you, and you will also receive a letter explaining the decision. You have the right to appeal this decision within 60 days of being notified of your negative decision, and UNHCR staff will explain the appeal process when notifying you of the decision. You must send your appeal application by email to mlslursd@unhcr.org. You must write “Appeal Request” in the subject of the email and include your name, UNHCR file number and updated contact number in the text of the email. If you do not submit an appeal application within the specified period and you do not have exceptional reasons for failing to submit an appeal before the deadline, your file with UNHCR Malaysia will be closed.

What can I expect after I submit an appeal application?

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If you submit an appeal application, your case will be reconsidered. Not everyone who submits an appeal application will be called for another interview. A decision might be made based on the available information in your file and appeal application. If you have new issues or evidence you want to raise in your appeal application, you may do so. You can also raise any issues related to interpretation or how the RSD interviewer handled your case. At the appeal stage, your case will be processed and reviewed by different staff than those who were involved in the first instance decision. After your case is reviewed at the appeal stage, you may receive either a positive or negative decision. If you are rejected at the appeal stage, your UNHCR file will be closed. You cannot further appeal this RSD decision, which is considered final. You will no longer be issued any UNHCR documentation.

I was informed that my file with UNHCR was closed. Why did UNHCR close my file?

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There are several reasons why your file might have been closed:

  • Your RSD case was rejected at the Appeal stage.
  • You did not submit an appeal application within 60 days of being notified of a negative first instance decision.
  • You left Malaysia, either to return to your country of origin or to go to another country.
  • You cannot be contacted to schedule an appointment, or you did not attend a scheduled appointment and subsequently cannot be contacted or cannot provide a satisfactory explanation.

How can I reopen my file with UNHCR after it was closed and how can I get a new UNHCR document?

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You can submit a written reopening request by email to the RSD Unit email at mlslursd@unhcr.org in any language. You must write “Reopening Request” in the subject of the email and include your name, UNHCR file number and updated contact number in the text of the email.

If your file was closed after you missed an RSD appointment:

You must explain why you missed your RSD appointment(s). The RSD Unit will review your reopening request and assess if you have provided a satisfactory explanation for missing your appointment(s). If the RSD Unit decides to reopen your file, you may be contacted with further details on a new RSD interview appointment, if required, and what to expect next.

If your file was closed because you did not submit an appeal application within the deadline after being notified of your negative first instance RSD decision:

You must explain why you did not submit an appeal application within the deadline. The RSD Unit will review the request and assess if you have given a satisfactory explanation for not submitting an appeal application within the deadline.

If your file was closed because your case was rejected at the appeal stage:

If your case is rejected at appeal stage, your file is closed and you are no longer registered as an asylum-seeker with UNHCR. Your RSD case was already assessed in detail, and you were found not to be a refugee. You need to return an existing UNHCR document to UNHCR. You will need to take your own measures to either regularise your status in Malaysia, or consider other options if this is not possible.

You can request file reopening if your RSD case was rejected at the appeal stage, and your request will be considered, however it might take the RSD Unit a long time to review a reopening application and there is no guarantee that your file will be reopened. If you have already submitted a reopening request, please do not send follow-up emails as this will slow down the process further. A file may only be reopened after a final rejection at appeal stage if:

  1. There has been a significant change in the conditions in your country of origin that may affect your eligibility for refugee status,
  2. There has been a significant change in your personal circumstances that may affect your eligibility for refugee status, or
  3. There is relevant and reliable new information indicating that your case was improperly decided and/or that grounds for eligibility for refugee status were not adequately examined or addressed.

Other RSD-related Questions

I was recognised as a refugee by UNHCR in another country. What is my status here in Malaysia?

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When a person has been recognized as a refugee by UNHCR in another country, UNHCR Malaysia needs to verify that information with the other UNHCR office before we can confirm your refugee status. This can take some time. The more information and documentation you provide to UNHCR Malaysia about your file with the other UNHCR office, the faster the process will be. Once we receive confirmation of your status from the other UNHCR office, we might still need to interview you to gather additional information to assess whether your refugee status can be confirmed.

Where can I seek legal advice and representation?

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You have the right to engage the services of a qualified legal representative.

Asylum Access Malaysia (AAM) is a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that provides legal assistance and representation for RSD procedures. It is independent of UNHCR and the Government of Malaysia, and all services are free of charge. For more information:

Website: Asylum Access Malaysia
Telephone: +603 2201 5438 (landline) or +6012 224 5439 (messages can also be sent to Signal on this number)
Email: legal.aam@asylumaccess.org

Please note that AAM has limited capacity and may not be able to assist every person requesting services. AAM is not currently open for walk-ins. Kindly contact AAM via telephone or email for an appointment.

I want to add new family members to my UNHCR file. They are not yet registered with UNHCR. How do I do this?

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Please click here to make a request to add new family members to your file.

I have other questions which are not answered on this page. How can UNHCR help me?

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If you have any issues or problems you wish to bring to UNHCR’s attention you can click on the Contact section of our website, and the relevant UNHCR department may contact you.

If you face a serious problem with police or authorities in Malaysia, you can contact the Detention Hotline number: +6012 630 5060, which operates Monday to Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and Saturday to Sunday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. in English and Malay. Or click here to make an arrest and detention report on our website.

Click here for information on registering with UNHCR
Click here for information on Health services
Click here for information on services for Survivors of Gender-Based Violence (GBV)
Click here for information on Child Protection services

All UNHCR services are free of charge!

Make a report through any of these channels if you have been asked to pay for any UNHCR service:

UNHCR Malaysia’s Risk, Integrity and Oversight Team: mlslufrd@unhcr.org
You can also click here to make an online complaint about fraud and corruption

UNHCR’s Inspector General’s Office (IGO): inspector@unhcr.org

All complaints will be treated confidentially.

If I pay money, can I have my RSD interview with UNHCR?

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No, you cannot. Please note that all services provided by UNHCR and its partners are free of charge. Do not trust anyone or any organization that asks for money to be paid for UNHCR or its partners’ services. They are lying to you. You will lose your money, and you will not get an interview appointment. People who tell you such lies are seeking to take advantage of your situation. Avoid them at all costs. They may show you information to persuade you that they are connected to UNHCR. Do not believe them.

If you have been approached by someone claiming they can help your case with UNHCR, please inform UNHCR immediately.