March 4, 2015
Representation of Refugee Claimants
The process of obtaining refugee status is incredibly important to an individual.
I have recently been involved in research where I, along with a team of researchers at the University of Oxford, analyze representations by lawyers and government officials in refugee hearings. Through my observations and interviews, I notice that there is at times an attempt to shoehorn the complex realities of clients into specific narratives. This can lead to an oversimplification and lend itself to an exaggeration of certain aspects of the applicant’s life. For instance, where an individual has only played a small role in a political organization back home, that role can be overstated for the sake of the asylum claim. I observed this in hearings repeatedly.
Although representing an applicant’s life in a compelling narrative is an important litigation strategy, one should proceed with caution for a number of reasons. First, taking a black-and-white approach might be inaccurate and as such, at odds with ethical obligations. It is important to be careful to present facts in a persuasive yet accurate manner.
Second, a client might actually be prejudiced by the presentation of an overly simplistic and inaccurate portrayal because such a narrative cannot be substantiated by evidence. Third, judges and tribunal members might find the oversimplification to be an unrealistic account of the case, and this in turn can call into question the credibility of all the evidence proffered in the case.
The success of our clients is of great importance to us as are our ethical obligations. It is important to present a refugee application persuasively but accurately.
For more information on claiming refugee protection, click here.