Entities sharing this good practice: Executive Secretariat of National Commission for Refugees (CONARE)
Submitted by: Executive Secretariat of National Commission for Refugees (CONARE)
Key stakeholders: UNHCR Argentina
In March 2020, with the detection of the first cases of COVID-19 in Argentina, the National Government ordered a mandatory lockdown.
The mandatory social isolation led to the closure of the offices of both the Executive Secretary of the National Commission for the Refugees (CONARE), and the Delegate Agencies of the National Bureau of Migrations in the interior of the country (with competence to register asylum applications outside the Metropolitan Area of Buenos Aires).
In mid-April, the CONARE enabled the possibility of requesting asylum remotely. To do this, it established an online form on the official website of the agency. In addition, a guide has been prepared by the Executive Secretariat of CONARE that offers advice on how to complete the application process online.
The first step for those who wish to apply for international protection as refugees is to read and accept the information regarding the procedure, rights and obligations as asylum-seekers. Upon confirmation, an online form is displayed that needs to be completed with basic identification data, contact details, including email, and information regarding their entry into the territory. A note must be attached to the request explaining the reasons for which protection is requested and the reasons for the flight. Finally, the system requests a photograph and scanned identification documentation be uploaded.
Once the information is completed and the required documents have been sent, the Executive Secretary of the CONARE processes and evaluates them. If more information is required, this is requested via email. The contact email submitted by the applicant shall be the registered email for the rest of the process and shall be the mean by which news, requests and summons are sent.
After verifying the information and fulfilling the requirements, people receive a certificate that proves their status as asylum-seekers called a “provisional document” at the stated email address. This certificate allows them to legally move within the country, establish their domicile, work and access all public health and education services. With the process number that appears in this provisional document, applicants can process and freely obtain the Labor Identification Number as well; with it, they can legally work in accordance with current labor regulations.
Exceptionally, due to the impossibility of online access, difficulties in loading the website, etc., the asylum request can be lodged in-person with necessary health safeguards and reduced staff in office premises.
Impact of the good practice
During 2020, CONARE registered 1509 requests. Of those, 871 were registered between April and December; and 836 of them were registered remotely. In the context of a public health emergency, where social distancing was required, this online registration system helped to ensure that asylum-seekers could still register their claims and obtain documentation, without exposing them, or others, to unnecessary health risks. It also has prevented the development of registration backlogs and has helped asylum-seekers access protection and services more quickly. The applications registered in this way were registered regardless of asylum-seekers registered address in the country.
For those people who lacked a travel document with the stamp of entry to the country, or who were not assisted by the Commission for the Integral Assistance and Protection of Refugees and Asylum Seekers, it was necessary to require documentation to prove their presence in the national territory. Such document could be a certificate issued by a hospital or an educational establishment, a certificate of address or a bill from a public service in their name that proves the real address.
In cases where there are doubts about whether the person is present in the country, the person could be requested to appear at the office of the Executive Secretary of the CONARE or the Delegate Agency of the National Bureau of Migrations closest to the declared address. This is to avoid the risk that people submit fraudulent documentation without actually being in Argentina.
Another challenge is related to human resources; once an asylum application is received through the online system, the registration officers register the online applications in the offline database for which they must be physically present in the office. Due to the Pandemic and reduced capacity, only one officer at a time can register applications in the database which causes delays.
This measure, adopted as a protection response to the emergency caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has proved to be beneficial and continues to be implemented. As observed, remote registration and the possibility of obtaining and renewing documentation electronically has improved asylum-seekers access to all the rights associated with their status as applicants such as work, access to services and social programs. It has reduced waiting times as well. The certificate of residence of asylum-seekers is automatically renewed since March 2020 and shall be extended until the preventive and mandatory social distancing and isolation measures apply.