- Don’t rush! Speak as slowly as you need to speak.
- It’s okay to have to think about an answer first, but if you are going to need a moment – for example, to work out or recall a date – say so. It’s okay to say “I need a moment to work out that date” – otherwise the Member (or your lawyer) may think you didn’t hear or understand the question.
- Make sure you have a bottle of water or beverage available – you will be talking a lot, and your throat may get dry. It is a good idea to also have a snack ready for during a break.
- There will be at least one break, but you can always ask for a break if you need to use the washroom or anything else.
- You can address the Member as “Sir” or “Ma’am”, “Mister Member” or “Madam Member”, or if they give you their last name, “Mister” or “Miz” followed by their last name.
- If you are giving an estimate or opinion or something someone else told you, TELL US that is what you are doing.
- It is always okay to say “I don’t know” – HOWEVER, if you are not 100% sure but do think you know what the answer probably is, it is better to say that. For example:
- “I don’t know how many men were in the room, but it was at least three”
- “I don’t know exactly what time they phoned me, but it was in the morning before I went to work”
- Or you can ask what the person asking you the question wants, for example: “They never told me why they were threatening me, so I don’t know for sure, but do you want me to say why I think they were doing it?”
- DON’T GUESS – don’t give a specific answer if you only have an estimate – if you only know something happened in the middle of May, say “the middle of May”, not “May 15”.
- Make sure you understand the question before you answer it!
- It is very hard to ask a question that can only be understood one way – especially through an interpreter – make sure you understand what time (WHEN), what people (WHO), what location (WHERE) is being asked about.
- Sometimes Members (or your lawyer) will switch to a different area and not tell you. For example, they will be asking you about the time you lived in a particular city, and that will go on for a few minutes. Then they ask “Did you ever have any trouble with the police?”, and since you never had trouble in that city, you say “No”, but they actually meant “Have you ever in your life had any trouble with the police?”
- You can just say “I don’t understand the question”
- You can also ask them to be more specific, for example: “Do you mean ever or when I was at school?” or “Do you mean ever or when I worked in that city?” of “When you say trouble with the police, do you mean just the police or with any of the authorities?”
- Sometimes the Member (or your lawyer) will ask a question that sounds like they misunderstood something. For example, if you only have brothers, and they ask “How old is your oldest sister?” ALWAYS CLARIFY! Maybe they misspoke and meant to ask “How old is your oldest brother?” or maybe they misunderstood and thought you had sisters. Either way, asking for clarification will make sure you are answering the correct question and there is no confusion.
- If you realize that earlier you made a mistake or forgot to say something, IT’S OKAY TO CORRECT YOURSELF.
- FOCUS: answer the question that was asked; don’t start talking about something else.
- Do not memorize your story word-for-word and recite it. This would be obvious, and makes you sound dishonest.
- Wandering off-topic makes it sound like you are avoiding the question and thus like you are being dishonest.
- Sometimes you may have to give an explanation first. If you think you have to do that, say you are doing that, for example: “To tell you how I got out of the country, I have to explain something about my father first” – otherwise the Member (or your lawyer) will think you have misunderstood the question.
- If you are asked to give a “Yes or No” answer and you can, please do so. If you are asked to give a “Yes or No” answer and you can but it doesn’t give the whole story, you can say “Yes, but I have to explain something” or “No, but I have to explain something”. If it just isn’t possible to give a “Yes or No” answer, it is okay to say “I can’t just give a ‘Yes or No’ answer to that question”.
- Sometimes the Member is having a bad day, or isn’t a very warm person. Don’t worry about this. Some good Members aren’t very friendly, and some bad Members are very friendly. Don’t get defensive, and don’t let their attitude get to you. They won’t be rude or inappropriate (or your lawyer will step in). This is also true of Minister’s Counsel if there is one.
- The Member’s job is to make sure you are telling the truth. Sometimes this means they will ask questions that imply they don’t believe you or think you are incorrect or lying. Don’t take it personally, and don’t get defensive. Just give the best, most truthful answer you can.
- The people asking you questions may pause after your answer, to take notes or think of their next question. You don’t have to fill the silence. If your answer is finished, it is finished.
- It is okay to get emotional or cry while testifying. It is also okay to not get emotional or cry. People react different ways. If you need a moment to compose yourself, that is okay – just ask.
For In-Person Hearings
- The microphones on the tables ONLY RECORD, so make sure you are speaking loudly enough to be heard by everyone else in the room.
- However, also make sure you are speaking into the microphone, so your answer is recorded.
- Try to look at the person who asked you the question when you given your answer; when in doubt, look at the Member.
- Bring a bottle of water (there are water fountains in the hallway but often no cups). Bring a snack (you cannot eat in the hearing room, but you can eat in the waiting room if you are discreet).
Working with an Interpreter
- Even if you think you understood a question in English, wait for it to be interpreted to you so that the recording captures each individual speaking.
- Break up your answers into short pieces so the interpreter has time to interpret them – you don’t have to give short answers, just say a sentence, and pause to allow him or her to interpret it before you continue.
- If you speak in too-long sentences, sometimes only the beginning and end gets interpreted and the middle gets missed.
- If you notice the interpreter making a mistake SPEAK UP! The interpreter is there to make sure your story is told correctly. They might make an honest mistake, but if you don’t say anything, no one will know.
- If there are repeated difficulties with the interpreter, we will get another interpreter.
Common Questions or Types of Questions
- Are there any documents that you tried to get that you were not able to get?
They are giving you an opportunity to explain why you don’t have documents they expect you to have.
- How did you get the identity documents you presented:
- To the US authorities?
- When you made your original refugee claim?
- At this hearing?
They are trying to verify whether your documents are genuine, based on your explanation of when and how you got them.
Make sure to explain who exactly obtained or sent the documents, whether they were applied for and obtained legally, illegally, or partially illegally (for example with false information or a bribe), and whether or at what times you had real original versus a scan, photo, or copy.
They may not understand how you could have multiple “originals” of a document, because it isn’t possible with every document in every country.
- How did you enter [any country] without your passport/without a visa?
If you don’t know at all, you can just describe what happened from your perspective. People expect borders to be perfect, but they are not. If you took a bus to the border, crossed illegally on foot, and then caught a bus on the other side, don’t say that you took the bus from one country to the other – describe what really happened.
- Who are you afraid of in your country?
It is important that you describe ALL of the people or groups that you fear. Start with those harmed or threatened you in the past, but don’t leave out persons or groups that might harm or threaten you in the future.
- Why are you afraid of that person/group?
This is a question with multiple possible meanings.
- Why would that person/group be motivated to cause you threat or harm?
- What are you afraid that person/group will do to you or cause to have done to you?
- Why do you believe that person/group would have the ability to cause you harm or threaten you?
You should clarify with the Member which they intend to ask about. Don’t exaggerate. Make sure to explain the full range or possible outcomes – not just the worst-case scenario.
- What do you think will happen to you if you return to your country?
In order to be found to be a refugee, all that is needed is a real risk of a violation of your rights. In order to be protected under the Convention Against Torture, you need to show that it is more likely than not that you will face torture or death. However, in neither case does it need to be certain that the worst thing that could happen to you would happen to you. Part of the problem is that you don’t know what would happen for certain.
Explain what you think is realistically the most likely thing that would happen. Explain why you think that is the most likely thing to happen. For example, because it has happened to you before, or it has happened to a friend or family member, or you were threatened that it would happen.
Also make sure to explain any other things that you think are quite possible. For example, you might think that it is most likely that you will be arrested on arrival at the airport, detained, and mistreated—but it may also be the case that you would be allowed to go home and arrested a few days or weeks later, or that they would kidnap you instead of arresting you.
- Why would the people of whom you are afraid still want to harm you? Why did they want to harm you in the first place?
- Other questions with multiple possible meanings:
- Why did you leave at that point?
Why didn’t you leave before that?
Why did you feel you should leave at that point?