First Aid for Asylum Seekers

This material was prepared by GEA2000.

The asylum systems in North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand are complicated, involve significant amounts of administrative hurdles, and are oftern adversarial. We are sorry that we partly have to copy the administrative style of language in order to describe precisely how things work. It might take you a bit more time to understand this administrative style. But it is worth trying to understand our text: the text trains you for asylum or similar procedures. Whether you get protection from persecution at home or not can depend on how much you know on the asylum systems. So, please, take your time and read the entire text.

The top things to think about are:

  1. Where (which country) are you going to seek asylum?
  2. How are you going to get there?
  3. How can you increase the odds of winning your case?
Part I: Where are you going to seek asylum?
Consider alternatives to applying for asylum in the rich countries.

The most important thing for you should be whether you are safe from being returned to your country where you are in danger. As you might have seen see by the help of the statistics refugee recognition rates can be high or low whether an asylum country is rich or not.

Many people who are not in danger apply for political asylum, mostly without success. At the same time, many people who are really in danger in their country of origin do not apply for political asylum or refugee status but prefer to become legal, tolerated, or illegal immigrant. E.g.: most of the people who fled Saddam Hussein just became legal or illegal immigrants in Arab neighbour countries.

The range of countries accepting immigrants is wider than the range of countries granting political asylum: Many not so rich countries accept immigrants but do not accept refugees. If you have some money or family members living elsewhere, you should consider settling down at other places than the rich European asylum countries. Rich countries try to keep the recognition rates low (see our statistics under ”Chances and statistics”). Their forcible return policy tends to be very developed. If not compared to refugee camps in poor countries, they offer often a restricted and poor life to asylum seekers. Work is mostly prohibited for some months or years.

Chose your preferred country of asylum on the basis of facts, not on rumours or prejudices.

Many refugees rely on rumours, prejudices or publicity when they chose a certain country as asylum country. However, the chances to become a recognised refugee or to get another form of protection from forcible return differ enormously even between asylum countries and even from area to area within countries (especially the United States). This is rarely taken into account before or during the flight. But once you have applied in a certain asylum country, it is often impossible to move to another one and to get recognised there (see point 3 below); you risk even to lose all rights in the first country of asylum if you do so.

Unfortunately, (future) refugees frequently just follow the example of people they know. But these people do not always tell the truth about their status: Sometimes they are just illegally in a certain country though they pretend to be there legally. People often lie when their families have financed the flight and they thus feel under pressure of success. This is understandable and human. But it risks luring you.

Chose your country of asylum also according the recognition rates and the return policy for your country of origin.

Many times refugees can only flee in one country and nowhere else. But if ever you have a choice between different countries: Be aware of the fact that recognition rates for one and the same country of origin vary enormously even between asylum countries on the same continent. As a consequence, an asylum seeker risks to be returned to his country of origin when he applies in one country though he might have been recognised as refugee in another country ”next door”. Chances for recognition differ between less than one percent and more than 90 % for the same country of origin! Please read Chances and statistics.

In some cases, countries of asylum do not recognise asylum seekers from a certain country of origin, but grant another status or just do not send them back. If you do not have reliable information on the return policy of a certain targeted asylum country, be aware of the risk of forcible return. You might address refugee-assisting organisations in various asylum countries using the pull down menu in order to be informed on the recognition and return practice for people of your origin. By the way, the statistics referred to in our section ”Chances and statistics” take sometimes to some extent account of other forms of protection.

Part II: Travel Considerations. How You Get There Matters.
You have no free choice of your asylum country within Europe. Be aware of (a) the safe third country rule, (b) the European responsibility sharing scheme Dublin II.

Many European countries apply the “safe third country rule” to deny asylum to applicants who lived in or even travelled through another country deemed to give protection to refugees. Whether the “safe” country really is ready to grant protection is irrelevant in most of the cases. The safe third country rule is regarded as assumption. Only in some cases and/or countries of asylum the assumption is refutable.

When an asylum country wants to apply the safe third country rule, it is only allowed to return the applicant to the third country, not to the country of origin. However, in practice asylum countries often prefer to examine the case themselves in order to return the applicant to his country of origin. This is often easier for them.

The U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, Norway, Island, and all European Union Member States are regarded as safe by all European states. In some cases, asylum countries regard also other states as safe third countries though refugee help organisations haven’t the same opinion. The European Union tries to harmonise its criteria for a state to be regarded as safe, but has not succeeded yet in doing so.

In addition, those seeking aslyum in Europe should have an understanding of the “European responsibility sharing system” that is commonly referred to as “Dublin II.” This system is based on a couple of criteria determining the responsibility of the responsible European asylum state. The aim is to avoid double or multiple application of the same asylum seeker. The fingerprints of applicants are registered so that double applications are revealed. Once the authorities learned that you used a wrong identity not just to get out of your country of origin, but to apply for asylum twice, your credibility will be extremely difficult to re-establish. Chances for recognition as refugee are thus diminished. Be aware of the risk that your double identity will be revealed by the European Union fingerprint recognition system Eurodac and other systems described under 4. or just by accident. Always prefer to make an intelligent use of the existing rules instead of violating them. Reveal your real identity once you have got access to an asylum procedure.

All Member States of the European Union (except Denmark) plus Norway and Island take part in Dublin II. Dublin II is not applicable in Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, San Marino, and in the overseas territories and departments of France. It is not applicable in the Balkan states (except Slovenia and Greece), Moldavia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia, but asylum procedures in these states are extremely difficult or even not existent.

As recognition practices vary very much, Dublin II is likely to influence the outcome of your asylum procedure in Europe. You should therefore study thoroughly the Dublin criteria. We prepared for you the complicated legislative text in a way that makes it easier understandable. Please see No free choice: Dublin II.

Is it possible to avoid the application of Dublin II by saying: ”I do not apply for asylum but I apply for humanitarian protection”? Humanitarian protection is protection against forcible return / expulsion for other reasons than the once mentioned in the Geneva Refugee Convention (see our page “Are you a refugee?”). The answer to this question is not easy. We deal with it on Alternatives to Dublin II? Humanitarian protection”).

Try to enter the asylum country legally, with a visa if one is required.

Visas are often difficult, but not impossible to obtain. But compared to an illegal journey, it is much safer to travel with a visa. Visa are normally refused when the applicant is suspected to apply for political asylum. Only high profile refugees and refugees with a very strong link to a certain country of asylum sometimes get a visa for the purpose of applying for asylum. The U.S. and other resettlement programs might sometimes help if you already left your country. But you cannot rely on them as they tend to be restrictive. Read some suggestions on obtaining a visa for more tips.

Many thousands of asylum seekers still travel by a tourist or business visa to their targeted asylum country or a neighbouring country that is ready to issue a visa. In order not to be sent to the visa issuing state they frequently destroy their original travel documents before applying for asylum. They pretend to have another name than the one on the passport. But there are some risks:

    • You are less credible when you try to be somebody else, even when telling the real true story that happened to you. You should therefore reveal your real identity once you have got access to an asylum procedure.
    • Some asylum countries verify whether the applicant has really lived at a certain place in his country of origin. This is another reason to reveal your identity once you are in the asylum procedure.
    • Your real identity might get revealed when your fingerprints have already been registered within the same state or by one of the European Union states co-operating by a common fingerprint recognition system (Eurodac). This fingerprint recognition system registers people who applied for asylum for a period of ten years and those who entered illegally one of the European Union states for two years.
    • Your real identity can also be revealed by the so-called Schengen Information System (SIS) which registers people who asked for visa or had to leave one of the European Union Member States. SIS registers names, alias names, dates and places of birth, civil status, unique physical characteristics, passport data, but no photographs, fingerprints, or other biometrical data yet (biometrical means: measuring electronically a part of the body). If somebody uses an authentic passport which has already been used once for an illegal entry or stay in the European Union, the SIS will also detect it. Biometrical data will be included to the next generation of SIS, SIS II, that is also aimed at integrating the 10 new European Union member states. Biometrical data and an electronic photo will be integrated in the future visa of the European Union (from the end of 2005 onwards). The United States of America already now use biometrical data and an electronic photo in their visa.
  • Please note also that airways personnel or European/American border policemen working at airports in your country or a transit country sometimes detect falsified visa or travel documents. There is no asylum in the plane yet. Only once on the ground of the targeted state you can apply for asylum. According to some reports this right is even not always respected at European airports! Inform a friend or a help organisation for refugees of your arrival if you are really in immediate danger at home when returned by plane to your country!

Some of these risks also exist when a refugee uses a travel document issued on another, a wrong name. This practice will become even more common: It is not easy to falsify a high tech visa. But it is easy to falsify a standard passport or to bribe somebody to get an original passport on a wrong name. In this case like in all others we recommend to reveal the identity once access to an asylum procedure has been granted. By the way: If a refugee reveals his real identity after the illegal entry he cannot be punished for illegal entry (Article 31 of the Geneva Convention).

Be aware that illegal journey to your asylum country carry risks, inlcuding death.

It does not make sense to escape from a danger at home but to die on the way to a potential country of asylum. However, several hundreds if not thousands of people die each year while trying to reach Europe, North America, or Australia. Travel to Europe, for example, is risky on the sea between Morocco and Spain or Libya and Italy, at the mined boarder between Turkey and Greece, in the rivers in Eastern Europe, and in lorries(trucks) without air in which people are trafficked. Based on recent press articles and reports of refugee help organisations, we assume the death rate per year to be higher than 500 for Europe. Quite similar figures are reported from the electric fence between Mexico and the Unites States of America or from those trying to reach America or Australia by boat.

The international press reports also extensively on cases of betrayal (you pay for a service, but you do not get it), usury (you pay too much for a service or goods), and armed physical attacks against illegal migrants on the land and sea way. As you cannot recur to the police, you are the ideal victim. Especially horrible stories are heard about illegal migrants in Morocco. Many African illegal migrants, some of them refugees, live there under horrible conditions because they cannot afford the $2,000 (or €) needed to get – mostly with bound hands! – access to the unsafe throw-away barks going to the continental Europe or the Canaries.

Women and minors: be aware of the risk of being sexually aggressed or ”sold” as prostitutes though you paid for the trafficker.

We have numerous reports about women and sometimes also children who have been forced into prostitution and slavery on the way to Europe. This happens sometimes even when the women have already paid for the journey. It happens on all routes, be it in Morocco/Spain, Libya/Italy, Turkey/Greece, the Balkans, Ukraine/Poland, Czech Republic/Germany etc. Not only a trafficker can sell you as prostitute, but also his ”employees” or ”partners”, sometimes even to the traffickers’ unknowing. There is a huge ”European market” for female and child prostitutes. Therefore, try to travel with men you can rely on. Do not accept to be separated from them. Do not get lured by offers for ”household”, ”waitress” or other jobs. According to some reports, there is also a remarkable risk of getting sexually abused by policemen or border guards in some transit countries, e.g. in the north-west of Africa.

Part III: The Asylum Application Process

Try to (a) find information on the asylum procedure, (b) seek help from organisation for refugees and (c) contact a lawyer recommended by them.

(a) The asylum procedures in all rich, ”industrialised” western countries aren’t easy to understand. Legal remedies against negative decisions are extremely difficult to use in practice. An overview on legal and social conditions in European asylum countries is given here. For many of these files you need to download and install the acrobat reader unless it is already on your computer. For getting an overview on legal and social conditions in the United States, Canada, Australia, and Europe use the pull-down menu above.

(b) The likelihood of getting protection from forcible return depends on the early and qualified assistance. In order to find an appropriate organisation in your asylum country please have a look at the various directories using the pull-down menu.

(c) In many asylum states, it is necessary to consult a lawyer sooner or later. However, we advise to consult, if ever you have enough time, a refugee-assisting organisation first so that they can recommend you a good and dedicated lawyer. Unfortunately, there are not only good and dedicated lawyers working for asylum seekers, but also lawyers who are not so good or not very much dedicated to refugee assistance. Lawyers listed as asylumspecialists in our directories will, in most of the cases, be both good and dedicated.

During the whole procedure, give a true, complete, detailed and consistent picture of the reasons for your application, both in writing and orally!

Even if the interrogating officer of the asylum country is only interested in the way you took to get here, you should always insist on laying down the reasons for your application. Credibility criteria vary slightly from one asylum country to the other. But generally speaking, you better prepare both a written and oral statement, which is

  • True (lies are mostly revealed and hinder any form of protection),
  • Complete (mentioning all elements of your personal history which are relevant for your flight),
  • Detailed (describing the concrete circumstances of all the elements, even if they might seem shameful)
  • Consistent (without contradictions to former statements or evident facts).

Some recommendations for the asylum interview which takes place in most of the European asylum countries:

  • Whenever possible, prepare a written statement on the reasons for your flight in advance. This takes time to be done well. Use the questionnaire here to check whether you really mentioned all relevant points. Keep a copy or two of your written presentation when you hand it over to the authorities.
  • It is better to present your asylum case both orally and in writing in a chronological way, so one event after the other, in order to avoid misunderstandings. But you should also refer back to facts you mentioned earlier if there is a thematic link.
  • Also in interviews, indicate precisely the time and the place when and where something happened. Be aware of the fact that the asylum officer does not know your story as you do.
  • Insist on presenting all facts legitimating your asylum application even if the officer asks you only about the way you took to get to Europe. Asylum officers sometimes neglect their task to find out the facts of your persecution.
  • Indicate right from the beginning that you do not understand the asylum officer or the translator/interpreter if this is the case.
  • Ask for an asylum officer and translator/interpreter of your sex/gender if you do not dare to mention delicate/intimate facts otherwise. Officers are mostly trained to accept these requests.
  • If you are still shocked by what happened to you, ask for psychological assistance. Let the officer know that you cannot (yet) present all delicate / intimate details of what happened to you or your loved ones.
  • Do not sign interview minutes or other documents that you do not fully understand or that are not complete, not absolutely correct or that are not at least orally retranslated into a language you fully understand. In lawful states nobody is obliged to sign documents. No signature is a “must.”
  • Do not sign the withdrawal of your application unless you have thoroughly reflected this step for several days at least, preferably after legal advice by a lawyer or a refugee-assisting organisation. Do not believe any arguments of urgency with respect to the withdrawal.
Collect and bring documents supporting your asylum claim.

Your major task as asylum seeker is, in your own interest, to present your individual case in a complete, detailed and consistent way. Documents that back up your claim, however, can be very helpful in proving your case. Documents your shoudl try to bring with you include:

  • Documents confirming your identity and citizenship. Passports, licenses, work papers, birth certificates, etc. Identity is an issue in every asylum case, and the more documents you have to prove idedntity, the better.
  • Documents confirming what happened to you. Arrest records, medical records, newspaper clippings, political or religious identity cards, pictures of injuries, and the like are all very valuable.
  • Documents describing the conditions you are fleeing. While many countries have general information about country conditions, do not think that all officers or judges deciding on asylum claims are well informed about the situation in your country of origin: Sometimes they are, sometimes they are not. In order to guarantee a minimum level of knowledge you should add to your application, the sooner the better, documents indicating that people in your situation are in danger at home. Keep a copy of these documents like of all other asylum procedure documents. The first step to find adequate information is to click on and to insert your country in the white field on the left top. If you cannot find what you look for, please use the search tool. The later will search as well as 14 other human rights databases.