Over the years of working with people going through the asylum and immigration system, we have seen how disastrously unprepared most people are going into their asylum substantive interview.
This is one of the reasons we produce the Right to Remain Toolkit, and why we’re working with a new group in Sheffield to help new asylum-seekers prepare for their asylum interview.
Why does the asylum interview matter?
The substantive interview is crucial to an asylum application. For most applicants, their asylum claim will be decided mainly on the basis of the evidence they verbally present at the interview, and how they present it. For many, it can also be a shockingly traumatic experience. Not only do people have to discuss at length and in detail their experiences of persecution and abuse, but the interview is very often carried out in a hostile manner that many claimants have described as an interrogation. The interview can last for several hours, and the claimant will be on their own, with no lawyer present.
It is at this interview that a person seeking asylum must explain why it is unsafe for them to be in their country of origin, verbally present their evidence in their claim for international protection as a refugee. Home Office interviewer guidance states that a caseworker must ask “rigorous and focused questions” to gather evidence, to “test the credibility of the claimant’s statements”, and to assess whether or not to grant the person protection under the Refugee Convention. From the evidence of research reports going back many years, and from all our experience of talking with people who have been interviewed, it is fair to conclude that the starting point of the Home Office is that an applicant is lying and it is the interviewer’s job to prove this.
On average, around 70% of claims are refused by the Home Office, and most of these refusals are on the basis of “credibility”, deriving from mistakes, misunderstandings or mistranslations and omissions in the interview.
Are people seeking asylum prepared for the interview?
In short, no.
The people in our workshops in Sheffield – preparing for the asylum interview – know very little about what to expect and how the interview might feel, before they came to the workshop.
When we delivered one of our workshops in Swansea, a Sudanese man came up to us and said “I wish you had come before. I wish I knew this before my interview”.
We recently interviewed women who are further into the process in Manchester about this. Even those with lawyers (and good lawyers) said they felt unprepared for the emotional impact of the interview. Read what they said below.
What do experts-by-experience say about the asylum interview?
What advice would they give to people with the asylum interview ahead of them?
Read more about things you can do before the interview, and your rights during the interview, here.
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