African refugees are seeking asylum in the furthest reaches of the globe. When their reasons for claiming asylum are based upon accusations of witchcraft, or on the fear of ritual murder as discussed here, understandably most legal advisors find themselves with insufficient knowledge to defend their claims. Worse still, where the cultural background of the lawyer representing a refugee having such a claim is perceived by the asylum seeker as too greatly different, the refugee is unlikely to be able or willing to articulate such a claim.
There are sources of help. Our website, www.refugeelegalaidinformation.org under ‘Special Issues in Refugee Status Determination’, hosts a witchcraft page and provides contact information for a resource person, Dr. Jean La Fontaine, an anthropologist who is willing to work with you to develop your case. Prakash Shah, a lawyer, moderates the closed list-serv. It is comprised mainly of anthropologists who are experienced at writing ‘declarations’ for cases involving such claims. Dr. Shah is willing to receive questions on such issues and will distribute them on the list-serv with your name and email so that if one of their members is prepared to help you understand or help you defend your case, they can correspond with you directly.
The Refugee Studies Centre also hosts a list-serv that connects with some 3,000 refugee studies academics. You may put a question to those academics, whom I have found to always be very responsive where they have information. The Centre for Refugee Studies at York University Canada offer a similar service through its list serv. Send your request for information to the moderator, Michele Millard.
Finally, the Fahamu Refugee Programme, in partnership with UNHCR, held a course on accusations of witchcraft as the basis for a refugee claim, and it was filmed. We hope soon to be able to offer it as a video training course online. In the meantime, it would be useful if readers would share some of their redacted cases in this Newsletter.