Every Asylum Seeker will have suffered a great deal of traumatic experiences. A different story of why they had to escape and the difficulties they encountered along their journey. Once they reach the country where they claim asylum, the trauma does not stop there. Retelling these experiences is painful enough, most people are unable to do so due to the levelling of suffering they have been through. However, one of the most painful experiences is Officials being highly sceptical of your account. Being told what you have experienced is a lie, based on a selective or mistaken understanding of cultural backgrounds, evidence, and events; and consequently, being detained and deported to the country you had escaped from.
An applicant based on inconsistencies in their account, however the story of an asylum seeker is never that simple. Most applicants will have to recount their story on numerous occasions to numerous different people. They have to undergo a screening interview, an asylum interview, the preparation of a witness statement, the appeal hearing, with social workers, etc. An applicant can be refused if the account is inconsistent and if the account does not correspond with the cultural background of the country, and therefore making it unbelievable. What is not taken into account is that often their account may vary slightly when they remember a certain detail, and that the persons experiences may not correlate with the evidence of cultural background available to the official, however it does correlate with the reality of that country.
Studies have shown that trauma affects the memory, causing effects such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression, can alter our memory making it harder to recite our experiences. Furthermore, asylum seekers come from many different backgrounds, often they come from rural, family or ethnic minorities with limited education, making it more challenging for the person to recount the facts in a structured order, and describe their fears and emotions in a logical manner.
Another important factor is the acceptance of different culture. Officials can determine an account as unbelieve when they do not understand the applicant’s account or their mannerisms. This judgment will be based on what they know about the asylum seekers culture and the evidence they have about their home country. Yet, often they do not have knowledge of how people act in the country the person comes from, and they will be viewing the account through the lens of British culture. Moreover, they regularly rely on outdated evidence about the applicant’s country.
In the case of young asylum seekers, they are a lot more vulnerable. It is important that all parties involved in cases featuring young asylum seekers are aware of the sensitivity of the applicant. They are a great deal more vulnerable to the trauma and emotions affecting their asylum-seeking process. The signs of PTSD or depression may not always be evident, but the applicant will have always experienced a level of suffering based on their experiences. It is important that young asylum seekers are examined by trained psychologists in order to help the tribunal judge to understand the vulnerability of the young person. In some cases, the official can consider the person to have exaggerated their mental state and that the psychologist has simply accepted this, but this is a grave misunderstanding of the professional’s role. The professional will always explain how they have come to their conclusion and will further provide evidence.
Another problem is that the Home Office, in some occasions, will contact the authorities of the persons home country in order to verify certain information, therefore providing these authorities with valuable information that could endanger this person’s life. This is allowed with certain limits.
Recently, the Home Office conducted interviews with Zimbabwean asylum seekers who escaped political persecution, and the interviews have been conducted by Zimbabwean government representatives. They were reported to be asking distressing questions, requesting personal information and denying the asylum seeker the right to a lawyer. Home Office officials have confirmed the occurrence of the event as a “routine redocumentation interview”.
Overall those seeking asylum are incredibly vulnerable. They have suffered a great deal of trauma and stress caused by the situation in the home country, leaving their lives and families behind, their journey, and now how they are being received in the UK and the lack of support offered to them. All of those involved in the process of asylum seeking, particularly the professionals, need to be aware of the circumstances the individual finds themselves in. It is essential they are received with the adequate support and understanding, and to avoid creating a hostile environment here in the UK.