Mental Health Expertise in Refugee Status Decision-Making: Judging or Caring?

AuthorLinda Pearson,Mehera San Roque,Jill Hunter
Publication Date01 October 2014
Date01 October 2014
DOI10.1350/ijep.2014.18.4.462
SubjectArticle
MENTAL HEALTH EXPERTISE IN REFUGEE STATUS DECISION-MAKING
Mental health expertise
in refugee status
decision-making:
judging or caring?
By Jill Hunter*
Professor, Faculty of Law, UNSW, Australia
Linda Pearson** and
Senior Visiting Fellow, Faculty of Law, UNSW, Australia
Mehera San Roque***
Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, UNSW, Australia
‘Merely’ having a spouse or parent killed before one’s eyes—or being raped
without a clear political motive—counts for very little on the prevailing scale of
persecution assessment [by refugee status decision-makers].1
Abstract Therapeutic and legal methodologies address credibility assessment in
crucially different ways. These differences can generate mistrust and antipathy
between refugee decision-makers and mental health professionals whose
expert assessment reports are offered to assist decision-making. The anthro-
pologist Good, quoted above, provides a graphic expression of one aspect of this
discipline rift, highlighting the contrast of focus between the decision-maker’s
perspective and the therapeutic lens in the highly sensitive legal environment
of refugee determinations. Here a high percentage of applicants exhibit psycho-
logical sequelae of trauma. In addition, cultural and linguistic differences add
doi:10.1350/ijep.2014.18.4.462
310 (2014) 18 E&P 310–339 THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF EVIDENCE & PROOF
1 A. Good, Anthropology and Expertise in Asylum Courts (Routledge-Cavendish: 2007) 3–4.
* Email: j.hunter@unsw.edu.au.
** Email: l.pearson@unsw.edu.au.
*** Email: m.sanroque@unsw.edu.au.
to the challenge. These elements are particularly pertinent where, as is often the
case, the applicant’s story is the pivot of his or her claim for protection. This
article draws upon an Australian cross-disciplinary empirical study (known as
the Tales study) in which the authors and psychology and psychiatry colleagues
explored the propensity for psychologists and refugee decision-makers to mis-
understand each other’s perspectives. The authors discuss the reasons why such
misunderstandings arise, and the consequences for the decision-making
process, and conclude with reference to guidelines developed from the Tales
study which are intended to assist those providing expert opinions, decision-
makers, and representatives.
Keywords Witness credibility; Refugee tribunals; Expert opinion; Trauma
his article explores the findings of a unique multi-disciplinary Australian
study that examined the use of expert psychological reports in refugee
decision-making.2The study, which is referred to as the Tales study,3
followed 52 applicants through the refugee status process in decisions that were
determined at the primary stage by delegates in the Australian Department of
Immigration,4on appeal by the Australian Refugee Review Tribunal (RRT), and in
some cases, both, between 2001 and 2004, and where the applicants provided
THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF EVIDENCE & PROOF 311
MENTAL HEALTH EXPERTISE IN REFUGEE STATUS DECISION-MAKING
T
2 The Migration Act 1958 (Cth) establishes the process and criteria for asylum decision-making. The
criteria for the grant of a ‘protection visa’ are that a claimant is a non-citizen in Australia in respect
of whom the Minister is satisfied that Australia has protection obligations under the Convention
Relating to the Status of Refugees and Protocol, or (since March 2012) is a person in respect of
whom the Minister is satisfied that Australia has protection obligations because the Minister has
substantial grounds for believing that, as a necessary and foreseeable consequence of the
non-citizen being removed from Australia to a receiving country, there is a real risk that the
non-citizen will suffer significant harm. An application is initially determined by a delegate of the
Minister in the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. There is a right of appeal, on
the merits, to the Refugee Review Tribunal, an independent tribunal which is not bound by the
rules of evidence and which conducts its review in a non-adversarial process. Different provisions,
most particularly relating to assessment and review, apply to persons who arrived in Australia at
an excised offshore place.
3 From the name of its report, see J. Hunter, Z. Steel, L. Pearson, D. Silove, M. San Roque, N. Frommer
and R. Redman, Tales of the Unexpected & Refugee Status Decision-Making: Managing and Understanding
Psychological Issues Among Refugee Applicants (Report and Resources Manual, Faculty of Law and
Psychiatry Research and Teaching Unit, University of New South Wales, 2010) (hereafter ‘the Tales
study’). The guidelines from this report are: J. Hunter, Z. Steel, L. Pearson, M. San Roque, D. Silove,
N. Frommer and R. Redman, Managing and Understanding Psychological Issues Among Refugee Applicants:
Resources Manual and Guidelines for Best Practice (Faculty of Law and Psychiatry Research and Teaching
Unit, University of New South Wales: Sydney, 2013) (hereafter ‘the Tales guidelines’), available at
www.kaldorcentre.unsw.edu.au>, accessed 13 August 2014.
4 Now called the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP).

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT