How to assess the credibility of an asylum-seeker? Moving towards a more objective analytical approach


Asylum-seekers must demonstrate that they have been persecuted in their country of origin or that they are at serious risk of being persecuted if deported (1). They will undergo 2 or 3 hearings during which they must gain recognition for their plight. Many lives are affected as government officials decide whether to accept the claims of persecution submitted by migrants trying to avoid deportation. These adjudications are hidden from public view, and have been typified by a subjective approach. Implicit assumptions about how foreign countries work and, most importantly, how a genuine victim would act or talk can lead to inconsistent, unreliable decisions with grave consequences for people in danger.

Referring to the UK policy towards asylum-seekers from Sudan between 2002 and 2003 which completely ignored the serious human rights violations taking place in Darfur, Michael Kagan (2) explains why immigration offices must change their credibility assessment from a subjective approach based on personal judgment to a more objective analytical approach. In a forthcoming article (Believable Victims), he explains that: « In a highly politicized environment where adjudicators are under pressure to decide asylum cases in a particular way, there is a danger that adjudicators will be implicitly rewarded for confirming preconceptions about asylum claims rather than for objective analysis. »

Because of these concerns, the UNHCR advocated a structured analysis in 2013 which adjudicators should put into practice during and after the hearings in order to decide in a more objective manner. This newer approach has been captured in a training manual, The Credibility Assessment in Asylum Procedure Manual (CREDO Manual (UNHCR/EU))

Unfortunately, American asylum law is not yet following UNHCR’s recommendation according to Michael Kagan. In Switzerland politically motivated decisions were noticed by numerous legal advisers working to defend Tamil asylum-seekers who had fled Sri-Lanka in the past few years. A careful, structured analysis of asylum claims requires training, time and resources. In my point of view, the new adjudicators of the Swiss Federal Office of Migration (ODM) seem better trained and more aware of the human rights violation abroad although every official is under pressure not to let too many people « pass the test ». It is a fact.
(1) The 1951 Refugee Convention spells out that a refugee is someone who « owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country. » The Refugee Convention relies heavily on the concept of persecution, but does not define it. It only gives us two direct indications: First, in order to qualify as a refugee, a person must risk persecution for reasons of “race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion”. Otherwise stated: whatever literal meanings the word “persecution” may have in other contexts, only persecution that is linked to one of these five grounds is relevant for the Convention.
Secondly, as made clear by Article 33 GC, threats to life or freedom are readily included within the scope of the term ‘persecution’. It must be emphasized here that the converse is not true: persecution cannot be defined as including only threats to life and freedom. This view, expressed by Atle Grahl-Madsen more than forty years ago, has become canonical in the literature and in international practice.

(2) By Michael Kagan, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, William S. Boyd School of Law, 2015. Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, Vol. 16, No. 1, 2015, Forthcoming. Link:

2 réflexions sur “How to assess the credibility of an asylum-seeker? Moving towards a more objective analytical approach

  1. Le rapport d’enquête danois est intéressant. Il existe actuellement aucun rapport indépendant concret de ce qui se passe actuellement sur le terrain en Erythrée. Les gouvernements européens ont d’un côté les faits relatés par les demandeurs d’asile et de l’autre, les rapports officiels récents comme ceux que vous mentionnez.
    Je dois néanmoins vous communiquer ce que dit Léonard Vincent sur ces rapprochements avec Asmara. Voir l’article posté sur son blog: Dans son dernier article « Europe, la trahison douce », Léonard Vincent est très critique.

  2. Que pensez-vous du rapport d’enquête danois sur l’Erythrée ?

    Je cite :

    « A Western embassy (D) stated that presently, there are no reports on returning deserters being imprisoned or otherwise severely punished. »

    « An International organisation (B) in Eritrea stated that there were no known examples of systematic prose-cution of people that had left Eritrea illegally. »

    « A UN agency in Eritrea stated that while National Service evaders and deserters may be apprehended, the source doubted that they were actually imprisoned. »

    « A Western embassy (A) in Eritrea stated that “ordinary people who evade the National Service or desert from the service are not being prosecuted and imprisoned and they are not at risk of disappearances. That kind of treatment is reserved for people who have had some kind of oppositional activities i.e. political prisoners”. »

    « A UN agency and Western embassies (A) and (D) in Eritrea concurred and emphasised that the Eritrean government does not consider evaders and deserters as traitors or political opponents to the government. »

    « A Western embassy based in Khartoum (met in Asmara) referred to a public statement made by the Head of the Political Office of the PFDJ, that those who have left Eritrea to avoid National Service are considered economic refugees and not political opponents. »

    « Information provided by several sources in Eritrea (Western embassies A, C, D; a Western embassy based in Khartoum (met in Asmara); an International organisation (C)) support the notion that a significant number of Eritreans do travel back and forth between Eritrea and other countries on a regular basis with the pur-pose of visiting family and relatives, or for business or tourism. This is particularly the case during summer. »

    Source :

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