Rose Clayton on her internship at the ASRC: “This experience could never have been replicated in a classroom.”

The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and La Trobe Law School partnered together in 2016 to create a new Fast Track Clinic for asylum seekers who had arrived by boat and needed to apply for protection. The clinic was to be staffed by La Trobe Law School students, who would assist clients in pairs to complete their application forms and statutory declaration. We would go to the ASRC for one day per week and work with a client for either four to five weeks, or until everything was complete.

The internship started with two days of training. We learnt about the Fast Track process and the legislative changes of the last eight years, which have led to the ‘if you come by boat you won’t be settled in Australia’-policy. This meant we were assisting asylum seekers to gain temporary protection with a three- or five-year visa. As we would primarily be assisting Sri Lankan Tamils and Afghani Hazaras, we researched more about the country and persecution of each group in-depth. Having this information assisted us in asking our clients the right questions when they recounted their story, and it gave us a sound understanding of the conflicts in Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.

The 866 form

In assisting our clients with their application, we had to complete two things: Firstly, we went through an 866. This is an application form consisting of 3 parts, with over 100 questions. To my surprise the questions were quite confronting, and written in a complex fashion. For example, at the beginning of the form there are ‘character questions’ – these are mainly about the applicant’s criminal history.  One question reads:  “Have you been found guilty of a sexually based offence involving a child?”  I find this very specific, uncomfortable and frankly offensive to ask. In my opinion, asking the client if they had been charged with an offence would suffice. The form also requires the applicant to list the last 30 years’ of their personal travel history and past addresses, as well as a full history on their education and employment.   Questions like this can prove to be problematic, as a displaced person has often travelled far, lived in many places, and has often had a disrupted education. This makes remembering the specific dates extremely difficult if not completely impossible.

I found that this was probably the most difficult part of working on someone’s application as clients would become worried and frustrated if they did not remember any exact dates, and we had to ensure the timeline we established was as accurate and detailed as possible.  Doing this meant cross-checking locations for each date of their address, education, travel and employment history. If there was a discrepancy of one day, the application would be refused on grounds of ‘false or misleading information’.

Taking Statutory Declarations

Secondly, once the form was completed, we moved on to the Statutory Declaration. Across my internship we assisted two clients, one from Sri Lanka, and one from Afghanistan. The information the client relayed to us was both confronting and humbling. One issue that was highlighted by the Afghani client, was that he held Afghani citizenship, but was born in Iran and had lived his entire life there as a dependent on his parents’ refuge cards. He fled Iran for fear of persecution, but had to prove why he feared returning to Afghanistan instead, as that was his country of citizenship. For the reasons listed by his parents, he could still not return to Afghanistan, as it was still not safe for him to go back. .

As he had never lived there, I found that this discrepancy uncovered a huge issue with the current process of proving a fear of persecution.  This client did not experience specific events in Afghanistan that lead to his fear of returning there. However, he still could not return to his parent’s homeland for safety reasons.

To me it felt logical that people should be free to make a better life for themselves. During my training I shadowed an appointment where the client said “there were no jobs, nothing for me to do. Why can’t I try to make a better life for myself here?” I believe it is a human right to be given the freedom to better yourself, and to reach your potential. Currently, there is no consideration for this human right reflected in Australian domestic policy.

I found that the experience I gained during my internship could not have been replicated in a classroom. I learnt important skills like how to file and note correctly, engage with clients, discuss sensitive information, draft Statutory Declarations, and work as part of a team, as well as communicating effectively with my supervising solicitor.

But most importantly, I also was able to build on my knowledge of asylum seeker policy in Australia, and grow my compassion for those who seek a better life.

Rose Clayton is currently studying a Bachelor of Laws/Bachelor of Arts at La Trobe Law School.

La Trobe