Refugee Claim Filings and Hearings: Best Practices

Steps to Take When Filing a Refugee Claim in Canada

Are you considering filing a refugee claim in Canada? Gerami Law Professional Corporation (PC) can help you navigate this complex process with its team of experienced lawyers who practice exclusively in refugee and immigration law. Our firm has successfully represented numerous refugee claimants through our effective process.

Starting Your Claim

Refugee Claimant Clients Who File Their Claims in Ottawa

After you have decided that you want Gerami Law PC to help you with your refugee case, you will meet privately with one of our lawyers who will listen to your story. Our lawyers are well versed in a trauma centered approach that allows space and time for our clients to share their stories. Your story will be drafted into a well written and clear narrative which will be sent to the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) as evidence of your claim.

Following this narrative drafting session, one of our assistants will send the necessary and up to date forms that must be filled out by each refugee claimant. We make ourselves available to our clients for any questions that they may have about the forms. Your forms will be reviewed several times before we meet with you to finalize and sign them.

After the forms and narrative are finalized, we will explain the filing process to you and meet with you at the Ottawa Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) office, which is conveniently located just a block away from our office. We will take you to the filing office and wait with you to submit your claim. We understand that this stage of the process can be a stressful one for our clients and we are there to support you through this important step.

Once you have successfully filed your claim, you will receive a date for your eligibility interview. We will also explain what the eligibility interview process looks like and will accompany you to that interview.

Refugee Claimant Clients Who File Their Claims at the Border

For clients who filed their claim at the border, there is no Eligibility interview. Once you have filed your claim at the border, you will have only 15 days to submit your Basis of Claim/Narrative to IRCC. We recommend that you retain a lawyer as soon as possible after submitting your claim at the border to help you fill out your Basis of Claim and draft your Narrative in time for this deadline.

Next Steps

Once you have filed your refugee claim and attended your eligibility interview, there are several next steps that will give you a great chance of success.

Building Your Claim

Gathering Your Personal Documents

After you filed your claim, we will prepare and send you a personalized list of documents that could support of your claim. Such documents include identity documents, letters of support, photos, etc.

The purpose is simple: establishing your identity and proving the credibility of your claim. In other words, the Board Member who will decide your claim must be satisfied that you are who you are claiming to be, and that your fears and risks are real and credible.

It is not unusual for this process to take up to several months. In fact, depending on your personal situation, the nature of your risks, the type of documents suggested, the required translations, and the country you are fleeing from, some documents may take more time to gather than others. Our experienced team will accompany and advise you throughout this process.

Our team will also advise you in gathering and putting forth the most credible and compelling personal evidence you can reasonably obtain in your situation. We understand that every case is different, and we work closely with our clients to develop a strategy that is tailored to their particular needs. Our expertise in refugee law is key to ensuring the best possible chances of success and to help you avoid some trappings in navigating through the asylum claims system.

Your personal documents will be gathered and included in your Record, which will be subsequently submitted to the IRB ahead of your hearing.

The Situation In Your Country: Finding Documentary Evidence

In addition to your personal documents, your Record will contain documentary evidence showing the situation in your country. We have extensive expertise on country conditions research to support your claim. We will gather and review objective evidence which speaks to the political, economic and social circumstances of your country.

This objective evidence will help establish your risks and show there is danger in your country for you and other people of the same group or characteristics. Moreover, it helps to show that the discrimination and persecution you endured has been experienced by others.

Documentary evidence is also key to establishing that you will not benefit from state protection if returned to your country. It can also serve as evidence that you will suffer undue hardship if returned, even after relocating to another place in your country.

Finally, documentary evidence is useful to demonstrate the urgency of the risks you face. This can be particularly useful when a Claimant has filed their claim several years ago. Recent documentary evidence on the state of affairs in your country will show that the risks remain the same or that the danger has become greater since your arrival in Canada.

Documentary evidence is usually found in the National Documentation Package (NDP), a source of information curated by the IRB. In addition, our team will conduct further research to find the most up to date and credible sources of information as it relates to your claim, whether it is featured on the NDP or not.

Reviewing and Compiling The Record

Once your personal documents and documentary evidence are gathered, our team will diligently review your personal evidence and provide further advice if necessary. When reviewing your personal documents, our team will flag inconsistencies and determine which documents are most relevant to the claim. Our review will be conducted based on credibility, relevance, and respect of the rules.

For example, we will verify if you have provided a certified translation of your documents that are not in English or French, or we will ensure that every letter of support provided has an accompanying identity document to identity its author.

We will communicate with you regularly, and in some cases, provide further suggestions for new documents based on material changes to your situation. This can include having a child, receiving new threats, or having health issues.

Every case is different and our team will adapt our strategy to position you for a successful outcome.

Legal Submissions

Our advocacy work continues with the legal submissions which are drafted and submitted by our expert team. The legal submissions are part of your Record and provide an opportunity to plead your case. The legal submissions contain the key facts of your Narrative along with the relevant legal arguments, and rely on your personal documents and documentary evidence to show why you should be accepted as a refugee and granted protection in Canada.

This is great opportunity to shine a light on the stronger aspects of your case and to advocate on your behalf for the most challenging aspects of your case, if any. It is a great way to link together the foundations of your claim and to put forth a comprehensive case for the benefit of the Board Member.

Please remember that throughout this process, a Claimant must continuously respect the conditions imposed by IRCC – and in some cases, the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) – in order to stay in Canada as a refugee claimant. One of the most common conditions is to update IRCC and the IRB (and sometimes CBSA) when you change your address or contact information. Our team will be happy to assist you by updating your records on your behalf with the relevant authorities.

Once the IRB announces your Refugee Hearing date, our team will meet with you for the final steps.

Your Hearing

Preparing the Claimant for their Refugee Hearing

Close to the refugee hearing, perhaps two to three weeks before the hearing date, a hearing preparation meeting will be scheduled to prepare the client for what to expect at the hearing.

Firstly, the client will be advised on exactly what to expect in terms of the logistics:

  • What is the address of the IRB for the hearing?
  • Who will be there to meet them to get them registered and what will the process be like?
  • What will the hearing room look like and how big is it?
  • Is there one decision-maker or more?
  • How formal is it?
  • Is the hearing recorded?
  • Will there be breaks?

Secondly, the client will also be advised on what Board Members will explain about the hearing process. For example, the client should know that the Board Member will start by explaining that the various parts of the hearing, including:

  • Taking an oath/affirmation by the claimant to tell the truth
  • Ensuring that the claimant and the interpreter have spoken to each other and understand each other well
  • Verifying signatures on the Basis of Claim forms and confirming that all the information provided therein is accurate, complete and truthful
  • Preliminary background questions by the Board Member about the Claimant, such as name, nationality, highest level of education, any remaining family in their home country, any communications with family, and if so, how frequently
  • Questions by the Board Member on the claimant’s fear of return to their country/former habitual residence
  • Questions by Counsel to the claimant to seek clarifications
  • Observations/submissions by the Counsel on behalf of the claimant
  • If possible, a decision from the bench by the Board Member, and if not, preparation of the decision to be sent to the claimant at a later date

Thirdly, our lawyers will review the claimant’s narrative, forms, and any disclosure with the clients, highlighting the main areas of anticipated questioning.

With respect to the Narrative, if there are any inconsistencies or areas that may give rise to credibility assessment questioning, the clients will be advised accordingly. If there is any new evidence that has emerged since the narrative was drafted, the client may be advised to amend the Narrative ahead of the hearing, and this would be done as soon as possible.

With respect to the forms, one last review will be done to see if there are any errors identified by the claimant that need to be corrected, any missing information or gaps that still needs to be addressed will be taken care of.  Again, if there are any issues to be addressed, this would be done right away.

With respect to any disclosure received, the lawyer and the client would have both reviewed the disclosure already, but in preparation for the hearing, any potential issues that can be anticipated will be discussed with the client. This includes any inconsistencies in the disclosure as compared to the information provided in the clients’ refugee claim. Disclosure can be the client’s previous TRV or Study permit applications and supporting documents previously provided, and information shared by US government officials, which typically relates to identity issues.

If the Minister has intervened in the case, then the grounds of intervention will be also disclosed and the Minister will indicate whether or not they will be appearing at the hearing in person. The Minister may provide disclosure specifically relating to the ground of intervention, and if the intervention relates to an exclusion ground, then disclosure and the particulars relating to and supporting the intervention will also be provided.

In such cases, preparation of the client will be much more detailed, particularly if the Minister will be appearing at the hearing to question the claimant. The client will be prepared on all the elements of the particular exclusion ground, the criteria that will be considered to decide the case and the evidence that the Minister has presented.

If any witnesses will be called at the hearing, the RPD will be notified at least 10 days before the hearing, along with the purpose of the testimony, the anticipated time required, the witness’s name, contact information and a piece of his or her identification.

Refugee Hearing 

Refugee hearings are typically scheduled for a half day if the Minister has not intervened and there are no exclusion issues.  However, it all depends on the particular Board Member and the issues that may emerge at the hearing.  Some cases may be heard and decided on the same day by the Board Member, and others may require more time and possibly a continuation to a second hearing date.  If the hearing does not conclude in one day, it’s essential to ask for the audio recording and review it ahead of the next hearing date, and also prepare the client a second time based on what has transpired in the first part of the hearing.

On the hearing date, the Board Member will start by introducing themself, referencing the claimants’ names and file numbers and explaining the purpose of the hearing, as well as the process to be followed. The process then unfolds by the Board Member’s questions relating to the case, testing the claimants’ credibility as well as questions relating to any other issues such as the possibility of state protection and/or internal flight alternative.

Counsel has an important role, namely making sure the questions put to the client are clear and respect the requirements of procedural fairness. If there are any issues that require counsel’s intervention, then an objection should be made along with the reasons for the objection. It’s important to note that many procedural fairness issues, such as inadequate interpretation issues and a reasonable apprehension of bias, require a timely objection by counsel at the hearing in order for the issue to be placed on record and potentially be relied on in an appeal later on.

After the Board Member has completed their questions, counsel will have a chance to ask questions. The type and details of questions will all depend on the particular case. In some cases, there may be very few questions if the claimant has already answered the Board Member’s questions well. However, if there were areas that the Board Member had concerns with and clarifications are needed, then counsel should address those areas by asking specific questions that help provide the necessary explanations and details.

If there are any witnesses being called, they can testify after the questions for the claimants have concluded. All witnesses have to wait outside the hearing room and are not permitted to hear evidence of the claimants before providing their own testimony. Most of the time claimants can provide supporting letters from their witnesses, but in some cases, it may be preferable for the witness to testify in person if they are available, credible, and on balance, can provide strong testimony in support of the refugee claim.

Finally, Counsel will be given an opportunity to make oral observations. What transpires at the hearing is critical to the counsel’s observations and what needs to be highlighted. For example, if the Board Member’s main area of focus is IFA, then that needs to be the focus of the counsel’s submissions. If the Board Member has concerns with the claimant’s identity, then of course, it needs to be carefully addressed by counsel, along with supporting jurisprudence in support of the case. For this reason, if Counsel has prepared written submissions, they should always be accompanied by oral observations, incorporating the evidence provided by the claimants, highlighting important aspects of their testimony, as well as the supporting documentation they have provided, and the relevant documentary evidence.

In some cases, Board Members will request some time to review the case and within 30 minutes to an hour, they may be in a position to render a decision. However, in many cases the Board Member may decide to reserve and render a decision, which will be mailed to the claimant in a few weeks. Even if an oral decision is provided, in all cases a written decision will follow as well.