Accepted Paper:

"Deserving to be believed in": credibility determination in Swiss asylum bureaucracies  


Laura Affolter (Hamburg Institute for Social Research)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines how state officials in Swiss asylum bureaucracies assess the credibility of asylum claims. It looks at criteria used by officials to take and justify such decisions and what evidence they deem eligible for basing their decisions on.

Paper long abstract:

In Switzerland, before deciding whether an asylum seeker corresponds to the refugee definition according to article 3 of the Asylum Act, state officials assess the credibility of asylum claims. Credibility is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as "the quality of being believed in" or, in other words, it means deservingness of being believed in. But how do officials decide who deserves to be believed in? In my contribution, I examine how article 7 of the Swiss Asylum Act, which defines credibility (or rather the lack of it), is applied in practice by two state bureaucracies, the Federal Office of Migration and the Federal Administrative Tribunal. On the basis of empirical material from observations of asylum hearings and state officials' daily work, interviews with clerks and judges in both institutions, as well as asylum dossiers, I analyse criteria used by the officials to take and justify these decisions. I look at how they produce evidence - both in interaction with asylum seekers and other participants of the asylum hearings, as well as with co-workers and superiors - to base their decisions on and also to adhere their own professional credibility. Furthermore, I elaborate on what I have termed "feeling credibility". Often decisions are initiated by intuition, but then the law is used to frame these feelings and to give justifications to them. In this paper, I attempt to identify common assumptions these intuitions are based on and examine how officials go about legally framing their feelings about the credibility of a claim.

Panel P045
Tracing eligibilities: moralities, performances, practices (EASA Network for Anthropology of Law and Rights)