"It strikes me that the refugee crisis is a legal crisis at heart, characterised by misinformation, disinformation, and lengthy waiting-times."TILL GLÄSER

CN: This article includes references to sexual violence and suicide

Let’s do a quick survey.

Imagine that you are an asylum seeker currently residing in Greece. You have gone to your asylum interview and the interviewer asks you why you left your country of origin – let’s say Afghanistan, for the sake of argument.

You, your parents, your grandparents, have only ever known war. But you did what anyone else would do, namely, get on with life as best as possible. So, when the interviewer asks you why you left Afghanistan, do you speak about the instability of the region and the persecution that you and your family faced? Or do you speak about the lack of opportunity, the fact that you could barely feed yourself, that you saw no future there?

In my experience as an interpreter operating in Greece, the vast majority of asylum seekers who have not had access to legal aid will speak of the latter. This is unfortunate, given that a successful claim to asylum, as outlined in the 1951 Refugee Convention, hinges upon a “well-founded fear of persecution” in the country of origin, combined with a detailed and consistent narrative complete with relevant examples. But one reason many decide to discuss the lack of opportunity in their country of origin is clear to me: they have become inured to war. As numerous asylum seekers have told me, “everyone knows Afghanistan is unsafe, so why do I need to tell the interviewer?”.

“It is criminal that asylum seekers find themselves so horrifically unprepared for the most important interview of their life”

Now the asylum interview has moved onto your stay in Turkey. The interviewer asks you why you did not consider a life there - a vital question given that, under the EU-Turkey deal, asylum seekers who are unable to provide proof of a vulnerability or that Turkey was unsafe for them may be sent back. Do you speak about the fact that the Turkish police beat you up when you crossed the border, or that when you went to the asylum office, they told you that they were not taking registrations until 2020? Or should you mention how, when you went to work in a factory for a week, the boss didn’t pay your salary and then you couldn’t find a job?

Again, the vast majority of asylum seekers who have never been told that a poor economic situation is not a consideration for asylum status will place focus upon unemployment above any mention of persecution. The mistreatment they face in Turkey will often pale in comparison to what they faced in their home country, and therefore they will not find it worth mentioning.

These are just two examples of simple mistakes which ultimately cost many their opportunity to gain asylum. Combined with the deep-seated trauma brought on by, and natural discomfort of discussing, torture, rape, or witnessing the murder of one’s family members, it is no surprise that asylum seekers will often steer the conversation to less emotive topics.

Though our hypothetical scenario has taken place in Greece, statistics imply that this situation is common across Europe. Just under half of rejected asylum seekers won on appeal in Germany in 2017; while in the UK, the Home Office loses 75% of its appeals against immigration rulings. Of the 423 appeals issued in Greece between 2015-6 by Syrians appealing against a return to Turkey, in all but three cases, the first decision was overturned.

It strikes me that the refugee crisis is a legal crisis at heart, characterised by misinformation and disinformation. Imagine if each asylum seeker were informed of the procedure and of key terminology before their interview. Those with a claim to asylum would have a greater chance of being moved out of the camps, meaning camps would begin to free up and the amount of asylum seekers having to sleep rough would decrease. The asylum office wouldn’t be so overwhelmed with appeals, and so waiting times would decrease. Perhaps, even, we would decrease the growing possibility of an entire generation witnessing and experiencing sex slavery, stabbings, drug abuse, and suicide in overcrowded Greek camps.


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It is only natural that we focus on what is directly in front of us; the bitter conditions in winter-time and the sordid state of the camps encourage us to focus on aid distribution and community centres for refugees. The work done in this area by actors on the field is admirable. And yet, it is criminal that asylum seekers find themselves so horrifically unprepared for the most important interview of their life. If we are hoping to alleviate the consequences of the refugee crisis and to take the pressure off the Greek government so that they can play their part in this, we should be sending over battalions of lawyers to prepare individuals for their interviews. In any case, it is the only long-term solution we have.

SolidariTee is a student-led campaign fundraising for legal aid for refugees through the medium of selling shirts.

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