How to Write a Recommendation Letter for a Refugee

By Janine Murphy ; Updated June 16, 2017
Business woman with pen writing on notebook in vibrant lighting

A letter of recommendation is an important component of an application for refugee status. These letters can help underscore the reason that an applicant is applying and substantiate the applicant’s assertions. The selection process for refugee status is highly competitive; many countries limit the number of people granted asylum each year. Therefore, a strong letter of support can make a significant difference in the applicant’s chance of gaining residence in the country.

Determine the requirements. Regulations for refugee claims differ from country to country. To ensure the usefulness of the letter of recommendation, be certain that you meet the criteria for referees. Furthermore, some countries have specific forms you need to fill out; they will not accept a free-form letter. Government institutions such as the United State’s Citizenship and Immigration Services can outline the specific regulations.

Familiarize yourself with the applicant’s case. If you are able to highlight specific information about the applicant and his or her reasons for making a refugee claim, you will be able to personalize your letter while offering support for what the applicant has already claimed. You can use relevant information to highlight why the applicant deserves special consideration.

Use an official letterhead to establish your credibility. If you do not have your own letterhead, use a business-letter format, including your address, the institution’s address, school and the addressee. Use a subject line to identify the applicant’s name and case number (if applicable).

Introduce yourself and your relationship to the applicant. In your first paragraph, you should explain relevant facts about yourself, including where you work, what your title is and what your duties include. Once you have provided details about yourself, provide information about your relationship to the applicant, including how you met him, your family relation or how long you have known the applicant. When possible, use specific dates and locations.

Describe the applicant’s situation. There are special circumstances that deem whether a candidate can be considered a refugee. Refugee status is almost universally based on potential or perceived persecution in the home country. If you can substantiate these claims, or provide further information about the applicant’s experience, you can help to establish if the applicant meets the requirements.

Provide an assessment of the applicant’s personality. Throughout the selection process, a committee is presented with facts about the case. Therefore, providing some information about the applicant’s character can help to humanize the applicant and familiarize the committee with the applicant as a human being instead of a case number. Provide a character sketch of the applicant, including strengths, professional qualifications, the role the applicant could hold in the receiving country and how she will benefit from leaving her country of origin.

Provide an overall assessment of the applicant in your last paragraph. Make it clear and concise. Try to summarize the key points that support the application in one or two sentences. Finish your letter with a strong statement of support. For example, you could write, “It is my belief that Applicant has a strong case for refugee status; if Applicant were to return to Country X (s)he would certainly face persecution.”

Proofread your letter. Grammar and style mistakes can reduce your credibility. When possible, have a third party act as an editor.

About the Author

Janine Murphy has worked since 2006 as a researcher, and editor for academic theses. She completed her Masters of Arts in cultural history in 2006 at Memorial University of Newfoundland and is one year away from completing her Ph.D. in 19th-Century German history at the University of Frankfurt, Germany.