The Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada recognizes that for survivors of torture, the effects of trauma can severely impair the ability to testify in asylum proceedings. A policy guideline exists to address mental health related vulnerability by providing special accommodations for claimants who are identified as ``vulnerable persons.'' However, given recent changes to the Canadian refugee determination processes, which imposed strict timelines for claims resolutions, it was unclear how the guidelines were being operationalized and if they would provide effective protections for survivors of torture and other vulnerable claimants. This paper will describe vulnerability factors and make recommendations.
This qualitative study addressed the question of how ``vulnerability'' is defined and operationalized within the Canadian refugee determination process, with special attention to the experience of survivors of torture. Using multiple data sources, including government policy documents, refugee case materials, and qualitative inter- views with government officials, refugee lawyers, health professionals, refugee service providers and recent refugee claimants, this study examined the interaction between the trauma-related mental health issues experienced by survivors of torture and other vulnerable claimants, and the policies and systems in place throughout the refugee determination arena.
For survivors of torture who arrive in Canada as refugee claimants, it can be a challenge to obtain a fair hearing and access the right to rehabilitation. While a policy guideline exists to provide accommodation for vulnerable claimants throughout the refugee determination process, it is used in an idiosyncratic and discretionary manner by decision makers and others in the field. There are no pro-active or standardized methods of identifying vulnerable claimants and there are no official provisions for assessment, referral or treatment.
As a national policy already in existence, the guideline on vulnerability could be expanded and strengthened by the adoption of a standardized screening tool, the integration of a universal trauma-aware approach, and a coordinated referral pathway to facilitate access to rehabilitation.
Funding & No Conflicts Declaration
Research was funded by The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). I have no conflicts of interest to disclose.