For families facing the prospect of being forced apart against their will, the immigration courts are often their last hope for security. As expert witness psychologists, only through a clear and objective understanding of diversity and the unique cultural circumstances, traumatic histories and mental health ramifications can we offer a clear probative value to the court.
Immigration and Trauma: Facing the return to an unsafe situation
The psychological assessment of trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in immigration law is challenged by a number of factors including language barriers, cultural diversity and a lack of standardisation of psychometric tests and limited historical information about the person. The trauma experienced by immigrants is often more severe and prolonged, many having experienced persecution, torture, trafficking, domestic violence and deprivation and this can hold implications for how it presents psychologically. Trauma and fear can present very differently cross-culturally, with greater difficulty identifying dissociative disorders and the subtle differences in thought process across cultures. On arriving in the UK, immigrants often lack the social and professional networks of support compromising their psychological resilience to trauma. Expert witness psychologists to the immigration courts need to hone their skills to identify the diverse presentations of trauma and differentiate these from false claims of trauma.
Immigration and Crime: The effect of trauma and displacement
Asylum seekers are more likely to be the victims of crime and, with an increasing number of women being arrested after reporting crimes against them, asylum seekers are believed to be becoming vulnerable to crime and abuse by dint of their immigration status. Women often feel unable to report domestic violence for fear of deportation. Expert witness psychologists need to be sensitive to the different cultural understanding of domestic abuse and the barriers to disclosure that can influence any assessment of credibility or malingering in working with this population.
Equally, traumatised people displaced from their natural support are at greater risk of mental health difficulties, poor emotional self-regulation and impulsivity. The forensic assessment of perpetrators is challenged to understand how these forensic risk factors can be addressed to reduce the risk of reoffending in asylum seekers.
Immigration and Family: Divided carers and the effects on children
The safety and welfare of a child is of core importance, and this also requires an understanding of the potential impact on the broader family system. Evidence-based assessments of a child’s attachment relationship with a parent can offer clear predictions of the long-term impact of separation on a child. We must also consider the psychological effects of dividing families on child development. For the mother who asks, ‘what will happen if my husband gets deported’, questions of financial, emotional and parenting support also need to be addressed. When assessing the global impact of deportation, psychological assessments need to look beyond the individual and develop a much broader expert knowledge of attachment and family functioning.
Unaccompanied Asylum Seekers: Home Truths
There has been an unprecedented increase of children arriving unaccompanied to this country. Their narratives of war, separation and loss present only a partial insight into the psychological trauma that they have experienced. In her recent book, Karen Treisman describes a toolbox of techniques for working with traumatised children and maps out the therapeutic, sensory and neurocognitive rehabilitation pathways to assist these young people seeking asylum. Psychological assessment can identify clear objectives for placement and intervention to improve mental health outcomes and social integration.