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Last week Theresa May revealed her withdrawal agreement with the EU. The immediate reaction, predictably, was not favourable. Amid all the uncertainty of the last year, as the official migration figures show, people who came here to make a life are leaving. Businesses are warning of potentially damaging shortages – of staff, customers, and supplies. What strikes me is how little we know about what the future has in store. Regardless of whether Brexit is good or bad, I think we would be better off if we had information. It reminds me of the important role information plays for people going through another process – people seeking asylum in the UK.
It was time for Afia’s appeal hearing. She had been refused asylum even though she had physical scars from when she was enslaved by the Taliban in Afghanistan. Because she wasn’t comfortable giving graphic details to her male Home Office interviewer, her testimony was not believed. “I didn’t have the mind, the courage, to explain because he’s a guy. I was feeling ashamed” she said.
*Afia’s real identity has been protected for this blog
Sitting nervously, she waited to be called to appear before the appeal tribunal. Afia didn’t know what to expect. This was her last chance to have the refusal overturned and stay in the safety of the UK. “You’ve not been prepared at all so you know it’s not going to go well unless a miracle happens.”
Telling her story
Seeking protection in the UK is a long and complicated legal process. And the people likely to be affected most by its outcome, know the least about what’s going to happen. The consequences of it not going well are severe. For Afia, a negative outcome at her hearing would mean being returned to Afghanistan where she would almost certainly be forced back into slavery.
Re-living hugely traumatic, humiliating events to authorities is a brave thing to do. It’s not easy. Sometimes it’s too upsetting. Sometimes events are so traumatic that the memory of it is suppressed as a coping mechanism. But it is so important that a person can explain what happened to them.
People seeking protection have very little information on what to expect. This makes it all the more difficult. Afia didn’t know what awaited her on the other side of the door. She didn’t know who would be there, where she would sit, or what she would have to say. She hardly spoke English and she didn’t know she could bring a friend to support her – so she was alone. “My lawyer didn’t tell me anything, I thought there would just be a judge, not the Home Office and barrister too. I didn’t know what to call the judge, [or] when to stand up”, she said.
Information is power
Princess, one of our dedicated campaigners who has been through this process, describes the impact of all this: “You see people coming to the Tribunal building, everybody is so anxious. You can’t get much good evidence from somebody that is so, so anxious. If you had known so many things, you would have known what your rights are… because information is power.”
Migrants Resource Centre is dedicated to solving this problem. Our Asylum Aid project has produced an animated film which tells people exactly what to expect, and how best they can prepare. This means when they arrive for their hearing, they can be more confident. They will be able to give their best evidence.
“Watching the video will give a clear idea of the hearing. I knew someone who thought you would be arrested on the day if you failed your appeal. If I was seeing this video I would have been feeling more confident” said one man who appealed his case. I would like to share this film with you here.