© UNHCR/James Oatway


Country: South Africa
Timeframe: January 2019 - Ongoing

Entities sharing this good practice: Refugee Appeals Authority of South Africa and UNHCR South Africa Representation and Multi-Country Office

Submitted by: Nigel Holmes, Chairperson, Refugee Appeals Authority of South Africa and Jesus Perez Sanchez, Senior Protection Officer, UNHCR

Key stakeholders: UNHCR South Africa Representation and Multi-Country Office


The Refugee Appeals Authority of South Africa (RAASA), established by section 8A of the Refugees Act 130 of 1998 (as Amended) in 2020, functions as an independent administrative tribunal. The RAASA, is responsible for adjudicating asylum applications on appeal, that are rejected by the Department of Home Affairs (DHA), the mandated body for conducting first instance Refugee Status Determination (RSD) in South Africa.

The RAASA has built up, over the years, a sizeable backlog of appeals requiring final adjudication. About 3,300 of this appeal backlog includes cases that have already been heard, and thus the applicant’s evidence from this appeal hearing is on file but these cases were never adjudicated.

To prioritise the adjudication of this group of appeals that were heard but pending decisions, the RAASA requested UNHCR’s support to design a methodology to effectively triage these cases while, at the same time, a longer-term plan for the larger appeal backlog, for which hearings have not yet taken place was jointly developed by RAASA and UNHCR.

Pre-audit of files
Because the profiling would not be successful without access to all the information relevant to the appeal, prior to the profiling stage, as described below, the team undertook a ‘file audit’ to ensure that all key documents were on the appeal file, approaching DHA for more information when they were not. As the South African asylum system does not make use of digital files, the physical files had to be located from the DHA’s offices and audited.
Methodology and Tools

The profiling tool itself, which is in the form of an excel table, lists the specific risk profiles that have been identified for one specific country of origin. The identification of the risk profiles is based on up-to-date country of origin information (COI).

In sum, for each country of origin, for the most common caseloads in the backlog, the team created:

(1) A word document summarising the identified risk profiles based on an analysis of up-to-date country of origin information with sources provided

(2) An excel document or “grid” setting out, along the top of the grid:-
– Case details relevant to profiling (gender, date of birth, ethnicity, religion, number of dependants, etc.)
– The risk profiles, including sub ‘risk’ profiles, taken from the COI research (e.g. ‘women and girls’, ‘leaders and members of an opposition group’, ‘persons of diverse sexual orientation and gender identity’, etc.
– Past activities relevant to the asylum claim
– Past experiences or harm relevant to the asylum claim
– Any key credibility issues (preventing clear establishment of the facts of the claim)

Once these were created for a particular country of origin, the profiling team would then review each appeal file for that country of origin and ‘populate’ the relevant information from the file into the excel grid.

Once all the appeal files for a particular country of origin were populated in the grid, it was then possible to identify, from the exercise, the most common risk profiles within the caseload. For the most common profiles, pre-populated ‘inclusion’ legal analyses were then drafted.

Once profiled, the COI sources, profiling excel grid and draft inclusion analyses were then referred onwards to the decision-making staff. They could then review each case in a more efficient manner and, barring any flagged concerns regarding credibility or questionable facts, could tailor and adapt the ‘inclusion’ analysis to make a final decision on the claim. As rejections require more tailored, case specific reasons, template analyses were only draft for recognitions.

Capacity Strengthening’ nature of the tool / methodology

Two UNHCR ‘RSD’ staff initially designed the proposed methodology and undertook a ‘pilot’ of the methodology for 100 cases for a particular country of origin. The methodology and the results were then presented to the Appeal Board Chairperson who approved further profiling, this time in collaboration with his staff.

UNHCR then provided a full-time dedicated staff member to act as the main focal point for the exercise, but who then worked collaboratively with four staff from the RAASA, modelling the methodology – the preparation of COI, the identification of the risk profiles, the creation of the profiling ‘grid’, the profiling itself, a ‘peer review’ method of revision of the grid entries, and finally the drafting of the ‘inclusion’ analysis for the most commonly identified profiles. This method of ‘on the job’ collaboration facilitated the RAASA staff’s own capacity and ability to take the work forward in the longer term.


One of the challenges identified during the audit of the files was the lack of complete physical files as some key information such as first instance interview transcripts, application forms and appeal hearing notes were missing.

Other challenges identified included:-

– Lack of human resources available;
– Geographic challenge – original physical files are located in the five first instance offices around the country. To retrieve a copy of the file, RAASA officials need to personally visit and request the file that is then copied and handed to them;
– Poor archiving methods and facilities in the first instance and appeal body offices, including a lack of a central digital archive
– Lack of digital central archive;
– Same officials assigned to the project are involved in many other tasks;
– COVID limitations and other tasks slowed down the profiling exercise.

Impact of good practice

Primary outcomes
(1) All 3300 appeal files were fully audited for completeness
(2) 289 cases were profiled and are now ready for decision issuance
(3) 610 cases finalized from the list during the period (caseload clear up)

Secondary outcomes
As a result of the work developed during the period of collaboration between UNHCR and RAASA for the profiling exercise, several secondary outcomes were achieved:
(1) UNHCR and RAASA strengthened their collaboration and working engagement
(2) Training needs were identified and delivered (e.g. COI research skills, RSD procedural standards, word and excel skills);
(3) COI support provided to RAASA decision-makers
(4) Strengthening of RSD knowledge within RAASA officials;

Impact of COVID-19
In March 2020, the Government of South Africa declared a national state of disaster in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The response measures included temporary closures of establishments and adoption of health and safety measures. As a result, RAASA temporarily closed its office from April to May 2020. From June 2020 onwards, RAASA officials worked on a rotational basis that involved partly working from home. However, challenges remained as RAASA officials had limited access to files due to the restricted access to the office facilities. The lack of strong connectivity and adequate ICT equipment while working from home also slowed down the implementation of the profiling exercise.
Lessons learned
Practical recommendations based on lessons learned:
(1) The methodology is not as useful where there are not significant caseloads of a particular nationality / country of origin – i.e. where the caseload is very mixed.
(2) A pre-audit of the file to ensure all relevant information is on file is necessary to ensure the main objective of the exercise is a success.
(3) Staff involved in the exercise must have the time and space in their schedules to dedicate to an exercise such as this one to make it a success.
Next steps
In March 2021, the Government of South Africa and UNHCR agreed upon a four-year appeals backlog elimination project. The project will address 153,391 cases to be implemented in three phases collaboratively between the Department of Home Affairs (DHA), the RAASA and UNHCR.