On Feb. 28, Legal Aid Alberta hosted an Immigration and Refugee Law Training webinar for LAA roster lawyers featuring LAA staff lawyer Ruth Williams, and members of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada.
On Feb. 28, Legal Aid Alberta hosted an Immigration and Refugee Law Training webinar for LAA roster lawyers featuring LAA staff lawyer Ruth Williams, and members of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB).
While the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect healthcare systems across Canada and global pressures around the Ukraine-Russia conflict, the refugee crisis remains to be an urgent issue around the world. During opening remarks, LAA President & CEO John Panusa reported that at the end of 2020, over 82 million people had been displaced from their homes. Exacerbated by the ongoing health crisis “the closure of borders comes the prolonged trauma for inland claimants,” Panusa said. “There’s longer wait time to reunite with family, and more pressures for decision-making.”
New challenges prompt new solutions
On the other hand, these impactful pressures have resulted in changes in service delivery. Initiating claims has gone online, hearings take place virtually, and the finalization of refugee protection claims are increasing. Williams shared how the changes in the refugee claim process and hearing preparations have shifted her perspective on virtual hearings: “Before the pandemic, I would always say in-person hearings were marginally better. Now, I enjoy working with the online format as I find that it adds a personal element to have the claimant be present in their own surroundings.” From implementing tickler systems to the workflow to practice hearings, Williams also offered best practices for immigration and refugee lawyers based on her own experience.
Immigrants and refugees often can be adversely impacted by trauma—as the refugee claim process can be daunting for most, Williams encouraged lawyers to “be trauma-informed to understand clients and better prepare them for what they will encounter.”
Trauma-informed lawyers are described as compassionate with empathetic professionalism and communicative relationship building skills. “This will give us the tools we need to translate their experience clearly,” added Williams. As the refugee crisis continues, this approach is vital for client service-delivery to build trust and successful outcomes.
Additional resources at IRB
Guest speakers from the IRB spoke to the additional legal and policy resources available for lawyers at the IRB and best practices for representing clients. The Refugee Appeal Division (RAD)’s Reasons of Interest, for example, lists notable decisions made by the IRB that have helped progress the claimant process. Basis of Claim forms and disclosure packages should be complete and concise prior to hearings, and, on hearing day, limiting submissions to issues identified by the member can support a concise and persuasive case.
Previous training webinars for the public