Receiving a health assessment can mean life or death for asylum seekers

Wes Boyd leads Asylum Network training on April 28, 2018

By Phoebe Knox

Asylum seekers only have a thirty percent chance of being granted asylum before psychological and physical evaluations. If they are granted an evaluation, those chances go up to ninety percent. Harvard Medical School Center for Bioethics Associate Professor of Psychiatry, J. Wesley Boyd, MD, PhD, is leading a training with the Harvard Chapter of the Physicians for Human Rights to train healthcare professionals in the Boston/Cambridge area on evaluating asylum seekers. 

Boyd hopes that those who participate in the training become more comfortable performing evaluations on asylum seekers, increasing the number of people in the Boston area who are willing to do these evaluations. "The need is great," Boyd says, "and tapping into the Harvard community is a way we can contribute to this immigration crisis."

According to Boyd, many of the asylum seekers he treats are fleeing from Central America and Africa. Boyd says those fleeing Central America are usually escaping gang violence, although often there is a lot of intrafamily violence as well. If they're fleeing Africa, he says it is due to either political reasons — such as political opposition or they have been beaten, jailed, and tortured because of their political beliefs. In many cases it's because of people's sexual orientation as well. "In my experience almost everyone who is facing deportation fears death if they are returned to their country of origin." 

Boyd has been evaluating asylum seekers for almost ten years, conducting nearly 100 evaluations. If asylum seekers have a psychological assessment to support their position for asylum, the grant rates go up to about ninety percent. Boyd has countless examples from around the world. Boyd says, "I see these evaluations as being life saving for the people who get them." 

Dr. J Wes Boyd and other members of the Harvard Chapter of Physicians for Human Rights will lead a training with the Asylum Network on Saturday, April 28 from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. in the Armenise Amphitheater at Harvard Medical School. Breakfast will be served. Register here.