This Viral Facebook Post Highlights a Big Issue for Asylum Seekers Worldwide

May 30th 2017

Anna Albaryan

A photo of a woman laying next to a 41-page asylum application in Australia has gone viral for exposing a major issue with the asylum-seeking process in several countries worldwide.

It was shared by the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, a non-profit organization based in Victoria, Australia that aims to "protect, support and empower all people seeking asylum," according to their Facebook page. The post has been shared more than 3,000 times and received approximately 7,400 reactions.

It highlights a major issue with the asylum-seeking process in Australia, which requires applicants to answer 116 questions in English, and "attach a detailed statement of every experience of torture, rape, war and trauma they've experienced, again only in English," according to the post.

The lengthy process is especially difficult for people who don't speak English, but even for those who do — it's too complicated to complete without a lawyer.

"My wife and I have 8 years of university studies between us and over 50 years of classroom teaching. When we tried to help one of our friends, seeking refugee status, fill in the forms we were gobsmacked at how difficult the legalistic jargon was. He ended up having to pay thousands of dollars to hire a lawyer to fill it in," Philip Beggs, an Australian native, said in response to the viral post.



Asylum seekers in the U.S. are facing similar hurdles, if not tougher ones.

A simple Google search for immigration lawyers handling asylum cases in the U.S. yields more than 5 million results, and yet "refugee processing has ground to a halt" in the States, Jen Smyers, director of refu­gee policy and advocacy with the Church World Service, told the The Washington Post.

More obstacles have been placed in front of asylum seekers since the election of President Donald Trump. According to reports from CNN, the Trump administration has quietly been making it harder for refugees to seek asylum in the U.S. by adding unreasonable roadblocks to the interview process. Among the changes quietly implemented by the Trump administration is new guidance allowing immigration judges to be more skeptical of applicants seeking asylum.

For example, under new guidance provided by the Trump administration, asylum officers are allowed to consider signs of stress a significant factor in undermining an asylum seeker's credibility, CNN reports. Previous guidance provided by the Obama administration said such signs of discomfort shouldn't be considered "significant factors."

Navigating the asylum process in the U.S. is riddled with unreasonable challenges.

According to the American Immigration Council, "in 2016, the U.S. immigration court and asylum systems were backlogged with more than 620,000 pending removal and asylum cases, resulting in combined wait times of up to six years for asylum-seekers."



Even before the Trump administration started to crack down on asylum seekers, the process to earn asylee status in the U.S. was a difficult one.

"Each year more than 100,000 people apply for asylum in America and begin their journey through this complicated and nerve-wracking process," according to an essay published by Humanity in Action.

There are several factors that tie into the making of this fractured system. According to the essay by Humanity in Action, some of those factors are low-quality legal services.

Australians march for refugee rights

"The combination of poor understanding of the American legal system and limited access to competent, low-cost asylum lawyers makes asylum-seekers easy prey for low-quality and exploitative immigration services," authors Julia Brooks, Martina Bunk, and Leïla Haddouche wrote. Despite the initial challenge of finding appropriate legal counsel, asylum seekers will then have to prove their case, and gather evidence of the trauma they've endured to be considered. And that in and of itself is considered "mission impossible," according to the essay.

"After they file their initial application with immigration officials, asylum-seekers must testify to their fear of persecution in an initial screening interview. For the applicant that means expressing in great detail the traumatic events which they have suffered, yet the readiness to tell a compelling story is not enough. Even when emotionally prepared to tell their story, asylum-seekers find themselves in situations where they have to defend their credibility rather than the facts of their case."