Supporting asylum seekers and migrants through the Immigration process.
During 2016 I hosted several learning communities for those people in the Diocese of London new to supporting refugees and asylum seekers. Following these, we were asked to compile a summary of some of the advice given. This blog post isn’t intended to be a fully comprehensive guide to supporting someone through the Immigration Process, rather some helpful hints.
1. Some helpful definitions
The toolkit on the Right to Remain website is a recommended resource for non legal professionals who are supporting people through their immigration case. It is a very helpful way to understand the process of claiming asylum. There are links to help you find a lawyer and helpful tips for communicating with your lawyer.
2. Tips for writing letters of support in immigration and asylum cases.
You or your church leader may be asked to write a letter of support in someone’s immigration case. It may be in order to support their claim to have Christian Faith which may be a reason why they cannot return to their home country. Alternatively, they may not be facing persecution on return to their country because of their faith, but they may want to show their involvement in UK community through their church. This therefore would change the emphasis of the letter. Before you write a letter of support, it’s important to find out exactly what the purpose of it is.
You can do this in the following ways;
• Ask the solicitor where they are up to with the claim: you will probably need your friend there when you do that, to give the solicitor permission to speak to you. Often solicitors are difficult to get hold of, but sometimes there are big differences between what the solicitor says and what their client has understood. They can advise you as to the purpose of the letter.
• Your friend may have copies of their immigration papers. If they are willing to let you see them, it will give you a good overview of what has happened so far, and any reasons for refusal.
• If the solicitor no longer represents your friend, he or she can ask for the asylum papers to be returned. There is usually a small cost for this.
Supporting someone’s claim to Christian Faith.
Written evidence from a pastor / church leader is important. If someone else in the church knows the person better than the leader, there could be two letters submitted but the church leader’s evidence will always carry more weight. If the letters/ statements are for an appeal hearing at the tribunal, they will carry much more weight if you attend the Tribunal. The Solicitor will be able to advise on this.
In your letter, you need to include why you believe that they are a Christian, as well as their frequency of church attendance and how long they have been attending. If you can rely on conversations you or others have had with them; talk about any change of behaviour since they converted, what makes you think they are genuine. Assume the decision maker doesn’t believe the person and considers that they are taking advantage of your goodwill and better nature. Knowledge of the bible and of church traditions are often the way the Home Office checks if someone is a Christian. There are a number of reasons why someone may not do well on these type of questions yet for reasons you can describe, you can explain why you are satisfied they are a Christian.
It can be helpful to read the Home Office Refusal Letter, the Home Office interview or previous appeal determinations to understand why they have not been believed. There will be questions designed to establish the person’s faith. There may be misunderstandings or issues of translation of Christian terminology which, as Clergy you have the knowledge and authority to comment on. The letter should be detailed, written on headed paper, dated and signed
You should avoid commenting on home country situations or other aspects of the case if you don’t have the expertise, stick to your area of expertise; it will give more credibility to your letter.
Helping someone to demonstrate they have a private or family life in the UK
An aspect to someone’s immigration case may require their demonstrating a connection to the UK and it’s community. If you can work with your friend to gather this evidence, it can speed up the preparation of the case, save legal costs or do things that a legal aid lawyer cannot get funding for. What you can do;
• Gather evidence of social, cultural, and educational connections to the UK – current/former teachers, foster carers, school friends, teachers, social workers, counsellors, community groups. By getting to know the person, you can help them to identify the most suitable people to contact in their situation. Obtain a signed and dated letter from each person with as much detail as possible about how they know your friend and anything that demonstrates they have formed relationships, responsibilities, and connections in the UK.
• Gather evidence about the nature of relationships with family in the UK, particularly those with leave to remain in the UK or their own children whether they live with them or not. Obtain a signed and dated letter from these people. If they have children in the UK, obtain letters from people who can comment on their relationship with their child, e.g., how often they see each other, what they do when they meet, your friend’s feelings towards the child.
• Take advice from your friend’s legal representative but it may be helpful for some of these people to attend the appeal hearing at the Tribunal. Generally, the more support at Tribunal the better and letters of support will hold a lot more weight if the person attends the Tribunal as well.
I hope this has been of help. Please do contact the Capital Mass team if you need further help