IASFM 18 (2021)

Dr. Nicole Hoellerer and Prof. Nick Gill have presented a paper at IASFM 18 ‘Disrupting Theory, Unsettling Practice: Towards Transformative Forced Migration Scholarship and Policy’. The virtual conference (26 – 30 July 2021) was hosted by the University of Ghana.

We presented our work titled ‘Credibility and credible narratives: The problematic utilization of credibility in asylum determination in European asylum appeal courts’, based on the paper

Hoellerer, Nicole and Gill, Nick (In Press) ‘Assembly-Line Baptism’: Judicial discussions of ‘free churches’ in German and Austrian asylum hearings. Journal of Legal Anthropology.

in the panel Rights of refugees under restrictive regimes (28 July 2021), chaired by Dr. Madison Gonzalez (New York University School of Law).

We have previously presented other parts of our work at IASFM 17 (Thessaloniki, July 2018), see here.


Credibility and credible narratives: The problematic utilization of credibility in asylum determination in European asylum appeal courts

Drawing on around 500 ethnographic observations at European asylum court hearings, the paper discusses how credibility and a “credible narrative” are used by European asylum judges in asylum determination, with a particular focus on religious conversion cases.

For a long time, anthropologists criticised the Global Northern lens by which a credible narrative of one’s biography is characterised by a linear progression of time, critical self-reflexion, and rationalisation. Similarity, European authorities involved in refugee determination – including asylum courts – are preoccupied with identifying incoherencies, discrepancies and “untruths”. Little attention is given to socio-cultural idiosyncrasies, such as cyclical progression of time: for example, those who are unable to coherently present a linear chronology of their biography are dismissed as “non-credible”, and thus not entitled to refugee protection in Europe. Similarly, asylum seekers who base their claim on religious conversion are often dismissed for not being able to “critically reflect” on their faith, or rationalise their conversion by means of theological scholarship. Our research has shown that religious belief is often reduced to theological knowledge that is tested and examined in asylum court hearings, reminiscent of school exams. Religious conversion is assessed by a linear progression of a narrative from point A to point B. However, our research puts into question the judges’ assessment and perception of “credible narratives” that would merit refugee protection in Europe, and we attempt to shed light on the problematic use of credibility that is assessed by Global Northern standards and definitions.

Keywords: asylum courts; asylum adjudication; credibility; conversion, religion