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Keep calm and tell the truth. How to talk to a reception officer


Today's situation in Russia is forcing many people to go abroad. We aren’t only talking about the category of wealthy citizens who for a long time had connections and maybe even real estate in Europe, but also about ordinary human rights activists who have encountered the Russian political regime and have faced the choice of fleeing abroad or becoming subject to the penitentiary system of the Russian Federation.

Journalist, human rights defender, and activist Aida Mirmaksumova shared with Trendz Europe her recommendations on how to structure an interview with an officer of the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (OFPRA).

I have a long association in France with migrants, asylum seekers from different countries, local lawyers and social workers, and recently I have been consulting on emigration to this country. This material is written on the basis of stories I know personally and is advisory in nature.

What does your question depend on?

Two interrelated factors: the story of your persecution, and how you tell that story in the interview. Don't believe it if they say it's impossible to get a positive out of OFPRA. That is absolutely not true!

A few rules for a good interview:
  • Act naturally. If you are who you say you are, you have nothing to fear. Your nerves won't help your case.
  • Don't retell your story the way it's written in that dossier you sent to OFPRA.

Move away from the text, say everything in your own words, and give more details that are not in the story.

For example: "I remember I was wearing a new black jacket that day, the sleeves were torn after the fight" or "He walked to my left and grabbed my elbow like this" (show). You don't write about these little things in the text, but they play a big role in a face-to-face encounter.

  • You are entitled to forget details.

Some date, someone's name, car number. Especially if a lot of time has passed between the time you left the country and the time of the call for an interview. We are all living people. You may remember what color shirt the person who attacked you was wearing, but you may forget whether it was May 13 or May 15. That's okay. Be honest and say, "It was spring (it was April/May), but I don't remember the exact date." The more natural you act, the better.

  • Don't sob, or overact!

Officers don't believe in tears, nor fainting.

Tears are acceptable when you are talking about something that really hurts your feelings: you remember how they tried to snatch your baby out of your arms, or how you hugged your elderly mother for the last time, or you grieve over the murder of someone close to you.

These are natural emotions, but uncontrollable sobbing looks unnatural from the outside.

  • Sometimes an officer may ask the same question several times in different words.

Why? Perhaps he wants to catch you off guard. Or perhaps you talk incoherently, confused, skip over - and he does not understand anything. In any case, you heard a clear question - give a clear answer.

Under no circumstances tell the officer "I already answered!", or "I have a history of it," or "Google has more about it" (I've read transcripts of interviews, people really do answer that way). Even with a real and well-written story, there will be a negative response!

So, as many times as you hear the question, give the answer.

Not a vague, vague answer, but a clear one. Then, most likely, the officer will not come back to it again.

  • Sometimes during the interview, the officer will give the wrong dates of incidents or names from your history.

Why? Perhaps he's testing you. Or perhaps he really is confused. Especially if it's a complex story with lots of actors and locations.

In that case, gently correct the officer, once again provide the correct information. It's only good for you.

  • Some people mistakenly start their story "from the beginning" - the way it is written in the text.

However, bear in mind that your story is not a school essay that must be retold strictly from beginning to end. The officer may already at the beginning ask a question about an event that happened, shall we say, at the end, just before your departure. Don't get lost and say, "Let me tell you first," or "Oh, there was so much before that." This creates a negative impression.

Give a clear answer to the question, even if it is "from the end". Then - and only then - can you add to the answer by briefly mentioning what preceded it. If the officer is interested, he will elaborate. Otherwise, he will continue to ask his questions.

Is it true that the final decision is made by an officer together with an interpreter?

No! In fact, not even all OFPRA officers have the authority to make the final decision.

Basically, the officers make a recommendatory decision and passes the file higher up, and then even higher. It continues like this up until the person who has the authority to do so.

The interpreter only translates. Very often refugees complain about a bad or even incorrect translation when they are rejected. In most cases though, this is just an excuse for their failure.

If you talk about a sunny day and a red skirt on you, the interpreter will not translate about winter and a fur coat. He will translate exactly what you told him. However, it can happen that the interpreter misplaces the accents and does not emphasize what is really important to you.

That is why it is imperative that you make your point clear so as not to confuse the interpreter or the officer.

How long does it usually take for OFPRA to make a decision after the interview?

It's all very individual. Some people get a positive decision in a week, while others get rejected after three years.

In rare cases, OFPRA can call you a second time. On the one hand, this is good: most likely, the officer is not brushing off your story, it is important to clarify something. Having said this, a second call does not guarantee a positive outcome.

If you've been recalled to OFPRA, and by then you have new evidence of persecution, take it with you to your new interview.

New evidence can also be sent in the mail after the interview. Some people collect them in case of rejection so they can present something new in court later. I know of several cases where people have sent in this new evidence a couple of months after the interview, before the verdict, and it ended up being positive.

If denied by OFPRA, you have 21 days to find a lawyer and challenge that decision with the CNDA (in court). The principle of behavior and answering questions in court is the same: clear and to the point. The less water, dust in your eyes and brainwashing, the better for the result.

Author: Aida Mirmaksumova

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