SELF-HELP KIT: Asylum Interviews
This self-help kit aims to guide asylum seekers in their asylum interviews.
Disclaimer: This document contains general suggestions for asylum seekers. It is not legal advice. Not all of the sections may apply to you or you may be given different directions by your legal counsel or any relevant authority.
This document is based on various sources, including those written by Asylum Access Thailand, and the Migration and Asylum Project in India, Right to Remain in the UK, and SUAKA in Indonesia. If you are seeking asylum in one of these countries, you can consult these documents on our general Self-Help Kits page, under the section ‘SELF-HELP KITS BY COUNTRY/REGION’.
According to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, a refugee is someone who:
- has a well-founded fear of being persecuted because of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion;
- is outside their country of origin or habitual residence;
- Is unable or unwilling to avail themselves of the protection of that country, or to return there, because of fear of persecution; and
- is not explicitly excluded from refugee protection or whose refugee status has not ceased because of a change of circumstances. Exclusion clauses are laid down in Article 1F or the 1951 Convention. Detailed information about exclusion from refugee status under 1951 Convention and other legal frameworks can be found here.
If you are in Africa, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) 1969 Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa can apply to your case. The OAU Convention expands on the criteria in the 1951 Convention to include:
- Any person compelled to leave his or her country owing to external aggression, occupation, foreign domination or events seriously disturbing public order in either part or the whole of his country of origin or nationality.
If you are in Latin America, the criteria laid down in the 1984 Cartagena Declaration can apply to your case. The Cartagena Declaration expands on the criteria in the 1951 Convention to include:
- Persons who flee their countries because their lives, safety or freedom have been threatened by generalised violence, foreign aggression, internal conflicts, massive violation of human rights or other circumstances which have seriously disturbed public order.
Depending on your country of asylum, other local or international laws and legal standards may apply. Your claim can be processed under different frameworks, and as a result, your rights and entitlements can be different. For example, if you are recognised as a refugee under the 1951 Convention grounds, you can have broader rights for resettlement in comparison to the Cartagena Convention and the OAU Convention grounds. Whenever possible and as it applies, you should try to explain that your refugee status should be recognised on the grounds of the 1951 Convention.
You can find out about the applicable frameworks, legal aid organisations, and other useful information based on your country of asylum in our Refugee Resources of the Rights in Exile platform.
The Refugee Status Determination process (RSD) is the administrative process to determine whether an asylum seeker meets the definition of a refugee under applicable legal frameworks.
States have the primary responsibility in determining refugee status. However, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) may take this responsibility if a country does not have an asylum framework and/ or an agreement is in place between the authorities and UNHCR.
RSD processes can be different in different countries. Therefore, you must learn about the RSD process in your country of asylum and your rights and responsibilities. You can find out about the applicable frameworks, legal aid organisations, and other useful information based on your country of asylum in the Refugee Resources of our Rights in Exile platform.
In most countries, you will need to register your asylum application with the UNHCR or relevant national authorities, and hand in identification documents and an asylum statement. You can then be scheduled for an RSD interview.
The relevant authorities will review your statement, verify facts, and ask you questions during your asylum interview. Your aim with your statement and during the interview is to demonstrate to the decision-making bodies that you fit the criteria for being recognised as a refugee. Following this process, authorities will make a decision on your case. They can recognise your status as a refugee or reject your application.
During RSD, the asylum seeker aims to show the decision-making authorities that their refugee status should be recognised.
Here are some general tips to remember throughout the RSD process:
- Familiarise yourself with the decision-making authorities and other relevant organisations, such as non-governmental organisations (NGOs), legal aid providers, or support groups.
- Familiarise yourself with laws and regulations in your country of asylum and seek help where necessary.
- Knowing your rights and responsibilities will help you. For example, in some countries, the state is required to provide asylum seekers with legal assistance. Having legal assistance is an advantage during the status determination process.
- Always adhere to deadlines and attend your appointments. If a deadline has passed or if you have missed an appointment, make sure to contact the relevant authorities as soon as possible. Rearranging missed asylum appointments can be possible but this is often a lengthy and difficult process.
- If your address, telephone number, or email address change during RSD, inform relevant authorities immediately and update your contact details. Otherwise, they may be unable to contact you and this can impact on the processing of your claim.
The asylum interview
Based on your country of asylum, this interview may take different names (such as an asylum interview, first instance interview, substantive interview, etc.). In this self-help kit, “asylum interview” or “interview” is used.
Your asylum interview is your chance to engage directly with the authorities to tell your asylum history and show them how you fit the criteria to be recognised as a refugee. The interviewer may ask you questions and ask for clarifications where necessary.
You may be interviewed by a UNHCR officer by a government officer.
Note that the authorities may interview you more than once and on different occasions. You may be interviewed after you first submit your asylum application, during the appeal process, and during the reopening process. To find about each of these processes, you can consult our Self-Help Kits page.
As an asylum seeker, you may be entitled to free legal aid. If possible, you should try to get advice from a lawyer before your interview. A lawyer will help you present the facts of your case in the appropriate manner.
You should make it to the interview venue ahead of time. Avoid being late to your interview or missing it. While it is possible to reschedule a missed interview, it is often a lengthy and difficult process.
Bring your identification document and the copies of any document you submitted to authorities previously. You should bring these documents for all the family members in the same claim.
Make sure that you have a copy of your asylum statement/ declaration with you. The interviewer may ask you questions based on the information you provided in your statement so you should be able to refer to it.
Your asylum interview can last several hours, so you should be prepared.
Bring water, food, and any medication you or your family members may need during the day. Make sure that you are dressed in comfortable and weather-appropriate clothes.
You will be interviewed alone even if you came with your family members. The authorities may interview each member of your family separately. Make sure that your family members are aware of this and know what to expect during the interview.
Your interview may be recorded. If this is the case, the interviewer will inform you. This is a standard practice so that the decision making authorities can refer to your interview afterwards. Do not let this intimidate or unnerve you.
If you do not understand something, do not be afraid of asking the interviewer or the interpreter to repeat or rephrase.
You should clearly explain everything that you want the interviewer to know. This should include all information related to your asylum claim as well as any explanations related to your culture and traditions, and any other relevant information. Do not assume that the interviewer will know these things, or the interpreter will explain them for you.
Do not wait until the end of the interview to raise important matters related to your asylum claim. This will give you enough time to talk about important matters, as well as allowing the interviewer to ask follow-up questions. Even if the interviewer does not explicitly ask you about an experience, you can still talk about them.
Do not cut the interview short and leave without saying everything you need to say about your asylum claim. If you leave out any details regarding your asylum claim, the authorities will not be able to consider these aspects when making their decision.
Listen to the interpreter and the interviewer carefully. Always wait until they are done speaking before starting to answer their questions. After a question is asked, you can take some time to organise your thoughts and then start speaking.
If you need to take a break to compose yourself and rest, you can ask the interviewer for this. You can also ask for water or tissues, but it is better to bring these items with you.
The experiences you are asked to recount can be traumatic and/or hard to talk about. Everyone present in the interview is aware of this and you should not feel bad about crying or losing your composure during the interview.
Remain calm and polite throughout your interview. If you need to request something or address any problems, make sure you do so politely.
You should speak openly about your asylum history in front of the interviewer regardless of their gender or ethnic, religious, or cultural background. You can, however, request a different interviewer if you are not comfortable sharing the details of your asylum story with them. For example, if you are a woman, you can request to work with a female interviewer. If possible, your request will be granted. Note that this may mean that your interview may be delayed or rescheduled but you should nevertheless try to have an interviewer with whom you are comfortable.
During the interview, the interviewer will ask you to talk about why you left your country of origin and why you think it is unsafe for you to go back. They will also ask you questions and ask for more details and clarifications where necessary. You should tell your history and answer their questions truthfully and to the best of your knowledge to show that you fit the criteria to be recognised as a refugee.
Never lie or exaggerate. You should provide a truthful and complete account on your asylum history.
Do not let anyone intimidate you or talk you into changing the contents of your asylum history. Only you and your legal counsel can make these decisions.
You may hear rumours about other asylum seekers and what they have talked about in their interviews. Remember, just because a particular information was included in a successful asylum interview, it does not mean that it will help your claim. On the contrary, it can hurt your credibility. You should only provide authentic and truthful representation of your own experience to the authorities. It should not be a repetition of other people’s statements.
Try to tell your history and answer questions chronologically. In other words, events should be recounted in the order that they happened. This will help you draw causal connections between events and your history will be easier to follow.
Include as many details as you can. Events that you mention should contain the following information:
- Dates and times: When things happened. You can say “On June 20th, 2016…” “Two weeks after my arrest…”, “On Christmas day 2005…” etc.
- Places: Where things happened. This can refer to a country, city, building, etc. For example, you can say “In Istanbul…”, “In my brother-in-law’s house in Gidega”, “In the classroom” etc.
- People: When you can, provide the full names of people and other identifying information. You can talk about both governmental and non-governmental actors that are relevant to your asylum history.
- Duration: How long things have lasted. For example, “I walked for 2 hours”, “They kept me captive for 3 days”.
If you are unsure about anything you are talking about or are using approximations, you should acknowledge this. For example, you may be unsure of the exact time of the event. Instead of making something up, which can seriously damage your credibility, you can say “I do not know the exact date, but I know that the event took place sometime between June and July 2014.”
Make sure you explain why things have happened to you, if you know. This is where you should make clear references to the applicable criteria for being recognised as a refugee. Were you treated in a certain way because of your race? Your religion? Or maybe your political opinion? Do not assume that the interviewer will know the reasons why you were persecuted. For example, if you belong to an ethnic group that is persecuted in your home country, make sure that you underline this. Even if the authorities already know this, it will be better for you to express yourself in your own words.
There may be situations that are relevant to your claim that you do not want to disclose to other applicants in your claim. For example, you may have previous experiences of sexual violence that you do not want to share with your family members. You can raise these matters during your one-on-one interview and request that they are not disclosed to other applicants. You can also request that the interviewers inform you about the confidentiality obligations.
When it is important in the context, you can briefly explain cultural differences. For example, if you referred to your cousins as brothers or sisters in a particular context, you could tell the interviewer that this is common in your culture.
The information you provide during the interview should be consistent with all the information and documents you have previously supplied to authorities. If there are any inconsistencies, clarify them. You should also explain why there was an inconsistency. For example, you may have recently remembered something, or you may have recently gained access to new information.
When you can, provide explanations and examples. You may think that some details of your situation are rude or inappropriate, but it is still necessary to include them. For example, instead of saying “I was insulted by the members of the community and called racial slurs,” it is better to say which members of the community insulted you and which racial slurs they used.
If you have experienced sexual violence or had reason to fear it, it might be difficult for you to talk about this. You should nevertheless talk about these types of events during your interview, but you do not need to be explicit or graphic. This will help the authorities fully understand your situation.
If you do not speak the same language as the interviewer, you should ask for an interpreter.
Make sure that you clearly understand the interpreter and the interpreter clearly understands you. The interpreter, should therefore, be able to speak your exact language and dialect. If you think that this is not the case, you should inform the interviewer immediately and ask for a different interpreter. Note that this may mean that your interview may be delayed or rescheduled but you should nevertheless make sure that you have an interpreter with whom you can clearly communicate.
Note that the interpreter is there to facilitate the conversation between you and the interviewer. The interviewer is the one who is trying to understand your case and make a decision. Therefore, you should make eye contact with the interviewer and make sure you engage with them. Do not worry about offending the interpreter by not looking them in the eye.
Speak slowly and clearly. Take breaks between sentences to allow the interpreter to interpret every word you have said. If you go on for too long, the interpreter may ask you to stop or use a hand gesture to stop you. Do not think of this as rude behaviour.
Avoid interrupting the interpreter. Wait until they are done interpreting to correct something or to continue speaking.
The interpreter will interpret your words to the interviewer without any changes. They are not allowed to summarise your answers, omit any details, or add anything that you have not said. If you think that this is not the case, correct them and inform the interviewer.
If you think that the interpreter misunderstood you or misinterpreted something you have said, correct them and inform the interviewer. Do not wait until the end of the interview to make corrections. Rather, make corrections right away.
You should speak openly about your asylum history in front of the interpreter regardless of their gender or ethnic, religious, or cultural background. You can, however, request a different interpreter if you are not comfortable sharing the details of your asylum history with them. For example, if you are a woman, you can request to work with a female interpreter. If possible, your request will be granted. Note that this may mean that your interview may be delayed or rescheduled but you should nevertheless try to have an interpreter with whom you are comfortable.
The interviewers are required to be impartial and neutral. They should also allow you enough time to comfortably recount your asylum history.
The interviewer may ask you difficult questions or ask the same question in different ways to verify information. Keep in mind that this is part of the process and try to give an honest and accurate account of your history.
If you think that the interviewer is asking inappropriate questions, you can politely raise the impact that this is having on you.
If you think that your interviewer is cutting you off and not letting you recount your asylum history or answer their questions, you can politely ask them to allow you to speak.
If there are particular aspects of your interview that you are not comfortable with, you can ask the interviewer to put them in the record. After your interview, you can inquire about the complaints procedures.
You should always remain polite and calm. If you struggle to do so, you should ask for a break and calm down. Never argue with the interviewer or walk out of your interview.
If you think that your interviewer was not impartial and your application was rejected for this reason, you can mention this as a procedural fairness issue in your appeal. However, please note that your claim would need to be substantiated in order to be successful. You should, therefore, make note of the instances during which you thought your interviewer was biassed and clearly reference these instances in your appeal. For example, you can mention if you requested more to explain an issue but the interviewer denied this request, or if you thought the interviewer was aggressive or had an inappropriate manner of speaking. Do not wait until you have to appeal for making note of these instances. Instead, write them down right after your interview when your memory is fresh and provide as many details and examples as possible.
On certain occasions, your interview may get postponed/ rescheduled.
You should make sure that you have the correct information about the date, time, and location of your interview and attend your interview.
We are always looking to expand the resources on our platform. If you know about relevant resources, or you are aware of organisations and individuals to include in our directories, please get in touch.
Last updated January 2023