Lawyers say preparation is everything | Photo: Mehdi Chebil
Lawyers say preparation is everything | Photo: Mehdi Chebil

If you are seeking asylum, your first interview may determine whether you are accepted or rejected. It may be one of the most important conversations of your life. Lawers advise that you should prepare for the interview in order to have the best chance of getting the decision you want, without having to appeal.

Preparing for your (eligibility) interview

The organization RefuComm has good information and contacts for people seeking asylum in Greece. They explain the procedure step-by-step.

First, you will receive a call or a letter from the country's asylum authority telling you that you have an interview to decide whether your application for asylum will be accepted or rejected. You may have to wait a long time because of the large number of asylum applications.

RefuComm says that in some asylum interviews, applicants have been asked to come with a prepared written statement, but the Greek authorities have not asked for this. Make sure you check whether you need to bring a statement, and if there is a form you need to fill out in advance.

If you are a woman and would prefer to have a female interviewer and interpreter, you have a right to ask for them. A man with a serious reason to prefer a male interviewer or interpreter can also ask.

Your right to an interpreter

You should do the interview in your own language. Even if you speak a second language but are not as confident in it as in your mother tongue, you should ask for an interpreter in the language you are most confident in.

You may also be allowed to take someone you trust into the interview with you. You should ask the authorities as early as possible if this is permitted.

What will you be asked to talk about?

At your interview, you will be asked about your background, and what happened in your country to make you leave. You may be asked whether you tried to relocate internally within your country and if so, what happened, and why you can’t return safely to your country.

Try to prepare yourself to be asked questions that may be painful to answer.

A Somali woman at an arrival center in Hessen in 2016 Asylum seekers sometimes have to wait a long time for an interview

Credibility

You have a duty to substantiate your claims. This means you have to explain the facts of what happened to you in detail. If possible, you should also provide supporting evidence, such as documents or photographs that might be relevant to prove what happened to you and why you need international protection, or who your close family members are. Try to get copies printed in advance. Digital copies on your phone are also ok.

The interviewer will record your statement and make an “individual, objective and impartial assessment” of whether your needs match the criteria for international protection. Try to be specific in what you say and make sure you tell them everything that is relevant, even if it seems obvious to you.

Credibility criteria and assessment

Be prepared to tell your story in chronological order, giving as much detail as possible. Tell your complete story, not just what you think are the most important events. It may help to write down the names and ages of your family members beforehand.

If you have any evidence to support your claim, you should take it to the interview. RefuComm says this includes: any written, graphic, digital, visual materials, exhibits (physical objects, bodily scarring) and audio/visual recordings.

It is best not to take any personal notes that you may have made -- to help you to organize your memory, for example -- to the interview. This could give the impression that you are telling a fabricated story.

Your credibility will be assessed on whether your story is consistent and whether it matches what other family members have said. The interviewer will probably have researched your country of origin, so details you give must also match generally known facts. The details you provide in the interview must also be believable, meaning they must seem reasonable or probable.

Do not add anything to your story which isn’t exactly true. For example, if you can’t remember exact dates, don’t make them up or guess.

Categories for protection

RefuComm lists three categories of protection under European law – Refugee Status, Subsidiary Protection, and Humanitarian Residency. There are many criteria for each of these categories, which can be found in the RefuComm infopack “preparing for your asylum interview.”

Confidentiality

Everything you say about your claim for protection, from the moment you first declare your intention to apply for asylum, is confidential. It cannot be shared with your country’s government or with anyone who might hurt you or anyone associated with you.

You should take your time and not let yourself be pressured. In most cases, the interview can be stopped if necessary, including if you are sick, and continued on another day.

The interview may be recorded and later transcribed. The transcript will be read back to you in your own language and you should ask for a copy to be given to you either at once or before the decision on your application is made.

How do you find an asylum lawyer, and what should they do?

In most countries in Europe, including Greece and Spain, you are entitled by law to free legal aid. It is recommended that you talk to a lawyer before your asylum interview. Ask local asylum authorities and NGOs to find you an asylum lawyer. Choosing a lawyer based on personal recommendations is not advisable. Make it clear when you are accepting a lawyer’s offer to advise and represent you. Also, make sure the lawyer is clear with you whether and when they are committing to you. If they cannot take your case, ask where else you can find help.

RefuComm provides a checklist to assess the quality of legal advice you are given. Here are some of the most important things a lawyer should do to help you prepare for your asylum interview:

  • Ask questions to find out about your case and your history
  • Tell you clearly what they will do for you
  • Understand the issues in your country, or do background research before doing a practice interview with you
  • Explain asylum criteria and key terms
  • Do a practice interview with you
  • Allow you enough time
  • Discuss what supporting evidence you may provide
  • Explain your rights in the interview and afterwards
  • Explain what happens if you get a rejection and how to get help if you need to appeal


 

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