Many asylum seekers are confused about the Danish asylum system before the first interview with the authorities. Luckily there are places where asylum seekers can seek useful advice. New Times visited one of them, the Trampoline House in Copenhagen
Søren Rafn is the counseling coordinator in the Trampoline House in Copenhagen and together with a group of volunteer counselors and translators, he helps asylum seekers understand the Danish asylum system and tells them what to expect from their interview with the Immigration Service.
“Many asylum seekers are nervous and uncertain about the asylum process in Denmark so it’s important for people to feel some safety before going to the interview”, Søren Rafn says.
It is crucial with knowledge about the process and some idea about the kind of questioning and the details required for answering. It’s good to have a basic idea about the culture of conversation in institutions like the immigration service. The counselors encourage people to focus on their case and give important information during the form filling and at the first interview.
“We underline that people should tell the truth and stick to the truth”, Søren Rafn says. “Some people give misinformation in the first interview about their asylum motive. I think the big reason is that there are rumors and bad advice in the camp about what to say in order to add something to the truth and it destroys the cases. We say all the time to people don’t add to your case any new things because of your anxiety and stress. Stick to the truth.”
Søren Rafn and his colleagues focus on the fact that asylum interview counseling is a matter of principle.
“We think it should be a right for all asylum seekers to have thorough legal counseling before the interview process starts. In our opinion, the Danish state should guarantee this kind of counseling to all asylum seekers upon their arrival. Unfortunately, in Denmark you are not appointed a lawyer before you get a rejection from the Immigration Service and have to go to the Danish Refugees Appeal Board,” he explains.
Last year 82 people came for counseling specifically regarding the asylum interview. Already in May 2017, there has been 80 people.
Besides that kind of counseling, there is also open counseling by the organization Refugees Welcome on Tuesdays and counseling by asylum lawyers on Wednesdays. Refugees Welcome has a great experience within both asylum and family reunification cases. Furthermore, there is legal counseling for women in the Women’s Club every second Saturday.
There is a difference between the counselors in the Trampoline House and professional lawyers, Søren Rafn explains.
“We are mostly self-taught, non-professional counselors. However, we work closely with some of the best immigration lawyers in the country. We try to do many things in a similar way to how the lawyers work. We often collaborate with the lawyers in these cases. And our place is a social community house where we often have close relations with people we advise. I think this gives us a unique possibility to work with people on a very individual level. The lawyers might not have this relationship but they are often very good at being strict and really demanding something from their clients,” Søren Rafn says.
It is not necessary for people who come for counseling to know English or Danish. “We have a team of very gifted translators from different countries who help us. Sometimes, it can be a problem to find a translator for a specific language but usually we will find one,” he explains.