Resettlement from overseas: Conducting interviews
This section contains policy, procedures and guidance used by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada staff. It is posted on the Department’s website as a courtesy to stakeholders.
Interviews involve meeting with applicants in-person and are an important way to assess eligibility and admissibility. They are used to counsel applicants, obtain and verify information, address concerns, and are a key part of procedural fairness.
When interviewing a refugee applicant, officers should:
- keep questions short and uncomplicated;
- where appropriate, interview spouses separately;
- alternate between open and closed questions;
- give encouragement to show that they are listening;
- clarify any discrepancies (make sure to document any outstanding discrepancies that the applicant could not explain in their case notes);
- pay careful attention to each detail;
- be positive in their approach; be mindful not to lead the applicant by suggestion or otherwise circumscribe the interview; and
- keep in mind that applicants may have different notions of time, or may use a different calendar system which will impact the details of an applicant’s story
Particular circumstances of applicants must be taken into account when reviewing applications and preparing for interviews. Evidence of post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSS) may not be readily apparent on the face of the record. PTSS may only be one of other special needs to be attentive to, such as medical condition, age, or mental or psychological incapacity.
- The interview can be stressful for the applicants for many reasons. For example, the applicant may:
- view the officer as an authority figure representing a government;
- be uncomfortable addressing gender issues;
- not trust an interpreter who may come from a rival ethnic or tribal group;
- have difficulty recounting a story of persecution; or
- suffer from PTSS.
During the interview, the officer should try to reduce or minimize any stress.
Fear of persecution
Few applicants will know the refugee definitions or understand the term persecution, but they might be able to describe specific problems they or other family members have had with:
- military or civil authorities;
- groups in the community;
- neighbours; or
- what has happened to the house or business since they left the country.
Officers should keep in mind that applicants may have difficulty in repeating the story of persecution, particularly if the persecution involved torture, rape, intimidation or humiliation. Trauma or fear of authority can easily cause applicants to forget or confuse details such as dates, times, and/or identities of strangers who have attacked or persecuted them.
Need for privacy
Applicants may be reluctant to discuss persecution in front of a spouse or other family members and prefer to be interviewed separately.
If the officer finds that the principal applicant does not meet the definition of Convention refugee or country of asylum class, the officer must examine whether other accompanying family members meet either of the class criteria. In this case, officers should try to interview the spouse or common-law partner of the principal applicant,
Where the principal applicant or the spouse/common-law partner is female, a female officer should interview a female applicant, if possible. It is particularly important that arrangements are made to have a female officer and interpreter interview the applicant when the applicant:
- has been the victim of sexual violence; or
- it is believed she has been the victim of sexual violence.
Female applicants may be uncomfortable disclosing information about sexual violence or other forms of gender-related persecution, and the presence of family members or male interpreters may undermine otherwise candid disclosure.
It should be noted that female survivors of violence and other forms of persecution comprise only one aspect of gender-related persecution. Officers should be equally mindful of all considerations outlined, including the need to privacy, for all “gender cases” that may involve women or men or members of sexual minorities based on sexuality/gender preference (gays, lesbians or transgender persons).
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Where visa office employees are not available, the UNHCR or IOM may, on occasion, be able to lend the officer one of their interpreters, who are experienced with refugee interviews and have been selected by competition based on language ability. Although it is the least preferred option, the officer may of necessity have to use relatives or friends of the applicant, other refugees living in the same camp, or hired interpreters. Visa office practice will vary based on circumstance.
In practice, refugees are not normally requested to provide their own interpreter. If locally engaged staff cannot interpret, and neither IOM nor UNHCR can provide an interpreter, then mission budget can be used to pay the costs of an interpreter brought in specifically for the interview(s). When locally engaged staff work as interpreters, it is suggested that the consent be sought from the applicant and noted in case notes.
Managers are encouraged to develop lists of interpreters by determining which local agencies meet requirements of honesty and competence. It is suggested to rotate interpreters on a basis deemed appropriate and practical for the visa office for reasons of program integrity. It often becomes known in the refugee population who is hired for interpretation in visa offices (often interpreters are also refugees and some have applied to resettle to Canada) and this can compromise the interpreter’s position by creating a conflict of interest.
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