The UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, recently published recommendations for refugee status determination in Australia. The guidelines were written by mental health experts including Guy Coffey from Victoria’s Foundation House, Phoenix Australia’s Jane Nursey, and Dr Zachary Steel from the University of New South Wales, in consultation with the UNHCR. The Guidance Note on the Psychologically Vulnerable Applicant in the Protection Visa Assessment Process provides practical guidance for immigration staff involved in interviewing and assessing psychologically vulnerable asylum seekers in order to determine refugee status.
Asylum seekers often live through stressful and traumatic experiences in their country of origin, on their journey and in their country of asylum. These experiences can be detrimental to their mental health and can affect their ability to engage in the refugee status determination (RSD) process.
In applying for refugee status, asylum seekers are required to undertake a variety of tasks such as completing forms, attending interviews, and making submissions. Applicants who have a mental illness, a history of psychological trauma, an intellectual disability, or are otherwise psychologically vulnerable, may be at a significant disadvantage in the RSD process. In order to ensure the fairness and accuracy of the assessment, it is important that it be informed by the applicant’s mental state and cognitive abilities. The Guidance Note offers immigration staff, including legal representatives, registry staff, and decision makers, ways to identify and assist psychologically vulnerable applicants. It presents a framework for assessment in light of an applicant’s mental state, and describes a range of procedural modifications to facilitate the fair and accurate assessment of the applicant’s claims.
Training in relation to the Guidance Note is currently being offered to staff of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) and the Immigration Assessment Authority (IAA), as well as to immigration officers in the Department of Home Affairs.
The Guidance Note on the Psychologically Vulnerable Applicant in the Protection Visa Assessment Process can be found on the UNHCR website.