An Iranian national applied to be reunited with his two children and wife. He had arrived in the UK in 2009 after suffering physical abuse by the military and then persecution by the Iranian government for involvement in political protests. He was physically well (despite experiencing three months’ abuse by the Iranian military) when he arrived in the UK, but was suffering from the trauma associated with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) (although this was undiagnosed at the time). The condition had led to a lack of direct contact with his family for a two-year period. He had experienced significant problems first in his applications for asylum status and then in his applications for family reunion. He had, with the assistance of solicitors in the first instance, made two previous applications for refugee family reunion, however, due to the poor drafting, bundling and interviewing, these were rejected by the Home Office’s Entry Clearance Officer (ECO). Interestingly, following the rejections the client’s lawyers failed to provide him with reasons. The client was left with failed applications and the distress of not fully understanding why or what could be done to resolve the matter beyond submitting an appeal. Failed applications such as these are not uncommon due to a range of factors which include PTSD and the existence of cultural differences between the client and their advisor/members within the legal system. Further, the stress the client is experiencing and linguistic difficulties will each influence judgments of the client/applicant’s disposition, the consistency and veracity of testimonial evidence, and the details of accounts presented to ECOs and/or the immigration judge.
He came to the HKC Law Clinic following a referral from the British Red Cross and our team devised and rebuilt an application including a bundle of documentary evidence and a clear statement explaining the medical reasons for the lack of contact (which is usually devastating to the success of a claim of family reunion). Statements are not a requirement for applications of refugee family reunion but we insist on our students taking the time to interview the client in sufficient depth to produce a statement which outlines the reasoning and background of the client’s circumstances. This is used to clearly articulate the pre-flight family members’ relationships, the reason why the client fled the country of origin, the danger facing the existing family and hence their need to join the client in the UK, and, where appropriate, a reference to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) which obliges the UK government to dutifully consider the client’s application for family reunion and enables an appeal should it become necessary. This method of interview, implementing “contextual interviewing” ensures the students, by adopting client-centred representation, do not simply receive advice on their legal position, but involves the students acknowledging the client as a person. It has also been recognized that Narrative Exposure Therapy can be an effective method for treating people with PTSD with its focus on the power of speech in the healing process (and has been used by asylum lawyers, advisors and counsellors with their refugee clients in preparation of their claim and to manage trauma).
The client lodged an application in April 2016 and he was informed in the following July that this was unsuccessful. The client was, naturally, distraught by the news but we had spent time with him, our students employed the skills we developed in them at the training stage. The client displayed obvious signs of emotion and distress. He was anxious, agitated and upset when he came to the Clinic. The student volunteers explained the service we provide, how the process operated and what the likely success and failures were going to be. In so doing they helped to emphasise with his situation, explained that the clinic would help him to prepare the best application possible, and that due to expected lack of success of this application to the ECO, that an appeal would be made in the event of his application being rejected. We reiterated that we would help and support him to the exhaustion of any legal redress available. After the negative result in July 2016 we resourced a lawyer who submitted his appeal and who would represent him in the IAC, and provided this service on a pro bono basis. The client’s appeal was heard in December 2016 and his claim was successful. The judge remarked favourably on the comprehensive bundle of evidence and its very good organisation. The Home Office subsequently informed the applicant that it would not be appealing this decision and therefore the client was to be joined in the New Year with his wife and two sons.