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By: Rigoberto Paredes Ayllón 

In this article, we offer our clients the possibility of knowing the structure, deadlines, evidentiary system, and most important aspects of the refugee application procedure in Bolivia, from the moment the applicant touches Bolivian soil until the process concludes with the granting or denial of refuge. 

  1. Procedure for the asylum seeker who arrives in Bolivian territory

When an airport or border authority has in front a migrant who has requested or is requesting refugee status in Bolivian territory, it is obliged to authorize the entry of such person respecting the principles of confidentiality and non-refoulement. They must responsibly handle the applicant’s sensitive information and may not expose or deport such person from Bolivia without due process.
Procedimiento de solicitud de refugio en Bolivia
Thus, the authority must refer the refugee applicant to the Technical Secretariat of CONARE to comply with the procedures established for the granting or rejection of the refugee application.

In cases of massive entry of people in need of international assistance, the State through CONARE must establish specific mechanisms to guarantee the protection and ensure humane treatment of these people. Therefore, the procedure may vary according to the number of people who demand refuge and the capacity of the Plurinational State to take care of them.

  1. Migratory regularization and deadlines for the asylum seeker.

Once the person interested in obtaining the refugee qualification is in Bolivian territory, they have 90 computable calendar days from their entry into Bolivian territory to formally submit the written application for refugee status to the Technical Secretariat of CONARE. After that, the same Technical Secretariat will register the applicant and their family or dependents, if any. The registration is carried out in the refugee database specially established for this task.

Subsequently, a temporary document will be issued that allows the applicant, their family group, and dependents to remain in regular situations in Bolivian territory until the resolution of the application. This document will be valid for only 60 days and allows the applicant to exercise their right to education, health, and work in Bolivian territory.

  1. The burden of proof during the shelter procedure

It is necessary to clarify that, during the refugee application process, the burden of proof lies with the applicant; this means that Bolivian authorities have no obligation or function to obtain evidence to approve or deny the applicant’s claims. Rather, the applicant must provide the Bolivian authorities with the necessary evidence to corroborate their situation and comply with the conditions to be granted refuge.

In this understanding, the Bolivian authority may play a passive role in obtaining evidence if necessary and depending on the case. This does not mean that it cannot investigate or is not allowed to carry out its investigations since the Technical Secretariat has the facultative power to obtain the pertinent or necessary evidence of its motion to analyze refugee claims.

In summary, while the burden of proof falls on the applicant, the Bolivian authority has investigative powers that may or may not be used. This means that they have the discretion to accept or reject the refugee status without the need for further investigation.

  1. The basic structure of the procedure in the first instance of refuge in Bolivia.

The procedure begins with the initial interview conducted by the CONARE Secretariat to identify the main points of the application to issue a technical-legal opinion, where the reasons that justify or make inappropriate the offer of refugee status to the applicant will be evaluated.

When the initial interview is insufficient, there may be a need to conduct a complimentary interview in case the Executive Level of CONARE has doubts regarding the record of the initial interview and the Technical-Legal opinion of the refugee application. A complimentary interview is then conducted to clarify specific points or expand on the main points of the application.

Subsequently, the Technical Secretariat issues a technical-legal opinion, which is not binding; this means that it is not mandatory and that the reasons for the decision of one case do not necessarily apply to another similar case. However, in this technical-legal opinion by the norm, the rights of challenge, interview, interpreter, and information, among others, must have been respected.

Once the Technical-Legal opinion of the Technical Secretariat is issued, it will include the case in the next meeting of CONARE for its evaluation and decision.

  1. The resolution of CONARE’s refugee status

In general, CONARE should resolve applications for refugee status within 120 working days computable from the admission of the application. Exceptionally, this term to issue the resolution may be extended by an additional 120 working days when there are circumstances that justify it, such as the lack of evidence for a correct analysis. In that understanding, only the pronouncement of CONARE could take a total of 240 working days. Note that by business day is meant any day of the week from Monday to Friday, not including weekends or holidays.

CONARE’s resolution must be express, written and duly grounded, and signed by its members. This resolution takes effect from the personal notification to the applicant. However, it is possible to make the notification by using other alternative legal means. For example: when the applicant has not expressly established an address and his whereabouts are unknown, the notice will be made through personal email. If the legal domicile was established at the Technical Secretariat, notification will be made there.

In all cases, the nature of the CONARE resolution, unlike the Technical-Legal opinion of the Technical Secretariat, is binding in the area of its competence. This means that to make use of the right of a challenge it is possible to argue the treatment and the reasons for the decision of previous factually similar cases.

  1. The Right of Challenge and its procedure in cases of refuge.

If the resolution issued by CONARE resolves the denial of refuge in the first instance, i.e. exclusion, cessation, cancellation, revocation, or expulsion, the applicant may exercise their right to challenge it.

The challenge of the resolution of the CONARE must be filed within a maximum period of fifteen (15) business days, computable from its notification, before the Presidency of the Challenge Commission. The Challenge Commission is the competent body to hear and resolve appeals arising from decisions or decisions at first instance.

The challenge of the decision or resolution of the first instance will have a suspensive effect; this means that the CONARE resolution will not be executed while the appeal is being substantiated. In this understanding, the applicant may continue to live and exercise all his rights within Bolivian territory while the challenge is resolved.

In turn, the Challenge Commission will issue a reasoned resolution of the appeal within a period not exceeding fifteen (15) business days, the same as once notified, does not admit an appeal or subsequent challenge in the administrative route.

When the decision of the Challenge Commission is confirmatory, that is, it decides to uphold CONARE’s decision of cancellation, revocation, or expulsion; the applicant has 30 days from the date of notification to leave the country or regularize their immigration status through the General Directorate of Migration.