Stress felt by refugee clients also affects the advocates helping them

Stress felt by refugee clients also affects the advocates helping them

A Vancouver lawyer says the consequences facing refugee claimants are often staggering and even those tasked with helping them face significant emotional repercussions.

Peter Edelmann works with refugees and says many who end up in British Columbia are fleeing violent situations and persecution.

As a lawyer, he says it's a challenge to balance being engaged in a case and not being "overwhelmed" by it, adding it can be traumatizing just hearing what some asylum seekers have been through.

"You experience it vicariously because we go through these stories in great detail. Then, the responsibility that people face in terms of when people go back is quite substantial," he explained.

These stakes — particularly what could happen if claims are denied — put an "enormous amount of responsibility" on the lawyers representing them.

In fact, Edelmann, who also practises criminal law, says what awaits his refugee clients can be more disturbing than the consequences his criminal law clients face.

"Not to minimize the impact of the sanctions that people face in the criminal law, but at worst you're looking at 25 years to life in a Canadian jail," he said.

"The clients that I deal with on the refugee side go through a straightforward administrative [system] but they [could] face torture and death [upon return to their home country]."

Difficult process

Edelmann said refugees also face significant bureaucratic challenges making their claim.

Once asylum seekers are in the country, they go through a substantial vetting process to see if they are eligible to make a refugee claim.

"There'll be a series of questions and investigations referred to generally as front-end security screenings [and] they fill a series of forms explaining why they can't go back to their country," he explained.

"It's very challenging for all the people involved in the refugee system from officers to counsel to support agencies and the community agencies involved."

In the first two months of 2017, 291 asylum seekers were intercepted and apprehended by the RCMP in B.C.

With files from The Early Edition

To listen to the interview, click on the link labelled Refugee process 'overwhelming' on lawyers, advocates