Dave Smith
New Training in Religious Persecution for Asylum Operations Decision Makers

Both of these training packages have been developed in collaboration with key stakeholders, including the All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief (APPG); the Asylum Advocacy Group; Freedom From Torture; Helen Bamber and UNHCR.

‘Considering Religion or Belief in the Asylum Claim’ Training
This training was developed following concerns raised by the APPG, and the Asylum Advocacy Group, in their 2016 report “Fleeing Persecution: Asylum Claims in the UK on Religious Freedom Grounds”. The training seeks to directly address issues raised in the report, including the appropriate application of policy when assessing asylum claims involving religion or belief. This one-day training package is now mandatory training for all Decision Makers joining Asylum Operations.

The course focuses on 6 key learning objectives:
1. Understanding the concept of religion in international and domestic legal instruments when dealing with claims under the 1951 Refugee Convention;
2. Understanding the overlap between religious or belief-based claims and other Convention reasons;
3. Identifying the various forms that religious or belief-based persecution takes and the actors of such persecution;
4. Adopting a structured approach to credibility when gathering and assessing evidence in religion or belief-based claims;
5. Understanding the value of using appropriate questioning techniques (particularly open questions), when gathering evidence at interviews where religion or belief are raised;
6. Writing well-reasoned and evidenced decisions, considering all available evidence and the importance of mitigating and/or underlying factors that may impact on credibility

‘Assessing Evidence: Medical Legal Reports’
Following publication of the Freedom From Torture report ‘Proving Torture’ in November 2016, a collaborative response to improving training for asylum Decision Makers was initiated. The resulting package is now mandatory training for any Decision Maker carrying out decisions on asylum claims where Medical Legal Reports have been submitted, and ‘Second Pair of Eyes’ caseworkers checking those decisions.

The course focuses on 6 key learning outcomes:
1. Demonstrating an understanding of the methodologies of Medico-legal report examination as per the Istanbul Protocol;
2. Recognising the range of clinical evidence and how it relates to the decisionmaking process;
3. Accepting the clinical findings of the report where the writer has demonstrated the relevant authority and attaching appropriate weight to the content;
4. Recognising the potential impact of torture, ill-treatment and trauma on memory and disclosure, and the role of the MLR expert in analysing these effects in individual cases;
5. Evaluating medical evidence alongside other evidence submitted as part of an asylum claim when assessing credibility and risk on return;
6. Applying the correct standard of proof as per the Istanbul Protocol and Home Office Policy.

It is hoped that these training courses will lead to fewer unjust decisions in cases of religious persecution and torture.