What is a medical asylum evaluation?

Clinical evaluations occur for asylum seekers in order to establish the facts surrounding abuse and torture. Having a physician or a medical expert produce a written document or oral testimony provides a level of validity to an asylum seeker’s case that often cannot be attained in other ways. An asylum seeker is aiming to demonstrate that they have a well founded fear of persecution due to their membership in a particular social group, religion, political opinion, race, or nationality and are unable or unwilling (due to this fear) obtain protection in that country.

Licensed clinicians provide the level of expertise needed for a valid evaluation. Specialists (such as psychiatrists and gynecologists), primary care physicians, and licensed psychologists can conduct these evaluations, depending on the needs of the client. In some cases, asylum seekers may have multiple evaluations; a client may need a medical examination to document scars and a psychological examination to document PTSD and depression.

During the evaluation, the evaluator will ask a client for a thorough history of his or her torture and other traumatic events, assess the client for possible abuse sequelae, document the psychological and physical evidence of torture, and state the degree of consistency between the narrative that the client has given and the evidence of torture that is found. The clinician is to be an objective evaluator in the assessment of clients.

What is the Human Rights Initiative @ UB?

The Human Rights Initiative at the University at Buffalo (formerly the WNY Human Rights Clinic) was founded in 2014 to serve the need for medical and psychiatric forensic evaluations of refugees seeking asylum status in the Buffalo area. We partner closely with the WNY Center for Survivors of Torture (WNYCST) through Jewish Family Service of Buffalo and Erie County to identify clients who may benefit from our assessments. The WNYCST aims to provide an intensive case management and strength-based client centered model to support survivors of torture in their healing process. The goal of the HRI @ UB is to reinforce this endeavor by providing objective forensic examinations and creating affidavits based on our findings for use in legal asylum cases.

Our clinic is primarily medical student-run, and we are motivated by the knowledge that forensic examinations we facilitate significantly increase the likelihood that asylum seekers will be successful in obtaining protection in the USA. The HRI is a unique opportunity for medical student volunteers to learn about the profound nature of the struggles of our clients and work directly in the forensic examinations and legal affidavit preparation.

To date, we have served over 38 clients from over 20 countries, including multiple from the Democratic Republic of Congo, El Salvador, Rwanda, Afghanistan, and Angola. Our services have now been used by multiple applicants who have successfully received asylum in the United States.

Our efforts extend to include public awareness and clinician outreach events, and within the past year we have hosted experts from HealthRight International here in Buffalo for a day-long asylum forensic clinician training event and we have recently given Grand Rounds presentations for the UB Departments of Internal Medicine, Psychiatry, and Obstetrics and Gynecology.

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Partnership with Jewish Family Service

The Western New York Center for Survivors of Torture (WNYCST) at Jewish Family Service was established in June of 2014 to address the consequences of political and state-sponsored torture experienced by survivors living in Western New York.The WNYCST pairs each client with a care coordinator to obtain services from partnering agencies and resources from the community. These agencies include the University of Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Vive, Inc., Journey’s End Refugee Services, LakeShore Behavioral Health, and Catholic Family Center in Rochester. Since January of 2015, the WNYCST has served over 100 men and women from over 25 countries.

How can I get in touch with HRI at UB?

Feel free to email us: admin@hribuffalo.org