The first interaction with a client is very important. In addition to being a time to identify client history, client needs, and avenues for relief, it also allows the advocate to begin establishing a relationship of trust between the organization and the client and communicate important information about your organization and your role. Because many refugees come from places where trust was difficult, it is important to explain your role clearly and carefully, emphasizing confidentiality and ensuring that the client is being heard. The following checklist, welcome script, and confidentiality script is mean to helps ensure your first interaction with a client is successful.
- Introduced yourself and interpreter
- Explained role of interpreter and ensure that client and interpreter understand each other
- Confirmed client is comfortable with the gender of both interpreter and legal advisor (sometimes, you will need to find different ways of assessing this than asking directly).
- Explained role and types of assistance provided by your organization, including independence of from UNHCR and the government
- Explained the services are provided on pro-bono basis and this conversation is confidential
- Explained purpose and structure of the interview:
- Just an intake interview
- Purpose is for your organization to get basic information about the client
- And for the client to get some basic information about the process
- It is not for the purpose of legal advice or counseling at this stage
- The interview will help us to decide what level of service we can give
- The client will be contacted later /informed of the level of services we provide at the end of the intake.
- Explained confidentiality (including interpreter)
- Asked if client needs explanation of refugee definition and if yes, explained (see B. Orientation)
- Asked if client needs explanation of the refugee definition and the local RSD process and if yes, explained
- Asked if client has received legal advice from any other organization
The initial intake interview is usually the first opportunity a potential client has to learn about your organization and the services you may be able to provide for him or her. As the intake interviewer it is important that you put the client at ease, and manage his expectations, by clearly reviewing what your organization does, how your role differs from that of the local RSD decision-making body, and what you are and are not capable of assisting the client with. Be sure to explain your organization’s independence from the government and the UNHCR.
Below is a sample script that you should review and modify to reflect your organization’s vision and provision of services:
Before we begin, let me tell you a little bit about our organization and the work that we do. First of all, we are a non-profit organization, which means that all the services we provide are completely free of charge. Most of our staff works on a volunteer basis and nobody will ever require or request any money from you. While we appreciate the sentiment, this also means that we are unable to accept any type of gift or token as compensation for any work we do.We are also a non-governmental organization and are completely independent from both the government and the UNHCR. While we do, on occasion, work closely with several agencies and other organizations in the promotion of refugee and human rights, the services we provide to our clients are in no way dependant on outside politics or forces.
That being said, in order to provide the most thorough and effective service we can, it is important that you share as many details of your story as you can and that you be completely honest. While it may seem like a good idea sometimes to exaggerate details or make up certain facts in order to strengthen your case, I can assure you this will only create problems for you. If you are ever found to be lying on your application for refugee status, it will be very, very difficult (if not impossible) to regularize your situation and get you status in the future, regardless of the strength of your case.
One of the most important ethical obligations we have to our refugee clients is our duty to maintain client-advisor confidentiality. It is imperative that this duty be explained to the clients so they can feel at ease about sharing the details of their case. However, in order to best assist our clients, it is also sometimes necessary to communicate portions of the client’s case with others within the organization as well as in other refugee or human-rights organizations. Before doing so you must get the client’s informed consent. This requires that you clearly explain both the duty of confidentiality and its limitations.
Below is a sample script of what you can say.
I also want you to know that we are bound by a duty of confidentiality so you should feel free to share as many details of your situation as possible. Nothing you tell me will leave this organization, or even this room, without your express consent.
That being said, in order to provide you with the best possible advice and assistance it will be necessary for me to share your case with other members of the organization so that we can decide together how best to proceed. In some cases, resolving your situation may require that we communicate some of the details of your case with other human rights organizations or even with the UNHCR. In such cases we always take great care to protect any details that might give away your identity; we merely share those details that are absolutely necessary to resolve the matter before us.
Before we share any details of your case with anyone outside our organization, however, we will always get your express consent first. You are always in control of where and with whom your information is shared.
Is all of this okay with you? Do you have any questions?