Trauma, Refugees and Asylum Law

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Fall 2013 Reading Group
Meets: Th 5:00pm - 7:00pm in WCC Room 5048
1 classroom credit

Refugees are the quintessential trauma survivors. Trauma affects refugees’ memory, emotions, and demeanor. Refugees who have experienced trauma often dissociate themselves from their past, exhibit patterns of forgetfulness and avoidance, and experience a distorted and fragmented sense of time. Representation of refugees requires lawyers to surmount cross-cultural barriers to elicit information about the harm suffered, and to narrate the refugee’s story persuasively and effectively in order to present a coherent legal case. Close collaboration with psychologists and medical doctors is often critical both to treat refugees and to substantiate their claims, which necessarily involves explaining the effects of trauma to adjudicators and corroborating the fact that the persecution occurred.

This collaboration raises provocative and important issues for lawyers who, alongside clinicians and doctors, have expertise in their own fields, but view their mandate through different optics. Expert evaluations are more and more frequently submitted in asylum cases; yet, without consultation with a refugee’s attorney, evaluations may be inconsistent with the facts or theory of the applicant’s case, thereby undermining the applicant’s case.

This reading group will address the intersection of refugee law, trauma, and psychology, drawing on literature from both law and psychology, as well as on immigrant and refugee narratives as told through various genres and media. Medical doctors and psychologists from Harvard Medical School, Physicians for Human Rights, and Boston Center for Refugee Health and Human Rights will be invited to join the group.

Subject Areas: Human Rights , International, Comparative & Foreign Law .