AWR (2022)

Dr. Nicole Hoellerer and Raawiyah Rifath (with co-authors Jessica Hambly and Nick Gill) have presented a paper at the 67th AWR International Migration Conference. The virtual conference (9-10 February 2022) was hosted by Friedensau Adventist University (ThHF, Germany) in cooperation with Technical University of Nuremberg Georg-Simon-Ohm, Department of Political Sciences, Sapienza University of Rome and University of Applied Sciences Würzburg-Schweinfurt (FHWS).

We presented research from two research projects (ASYFAIR and Raawiyah’s Wellcome Trust funded PhD project) in the panel Legal Perspectives (10 February 2022), chaired by Prof. Dr. Markus Babo (Katholische Stiftungshochschule Munich).


The Global Northern lens in assessments of sexual orientation asylum claims in France, Germany and the UK

European authorities involved in refugee status determination and asylum appeals are preoccupied with identifying incoherencies, discrepancies and ‘untruths’ in asylum seekers’ narratives. The credibility of asylum seekers is often assessed through a Global Northern lens, which characterises credible narratives of one’s biography by a linear progression of time, critical self-reflexion and rationalisation. Narratives that do not comply with socio-cultural expectations in the Global North may be dismissed, leaving little space for different cultural and intersectional experiences.

Similarly, asylum seekers who base their claim on sexual orientation may often be dismissed for not fitting into the Global Northern perception of how individuals self-identify, define and experience their sexual orientation in both their country of origin and in the country of refuge, rendering them ‘undeserving’ of protection in Europe in the eyes of decision makers.

Combing rich qualitative data from two research projects and multiple disciplines – among them law, socio-legal studies, psychology, anthropology and geography – we explore first instance and judicial decision makers’ (potentially problematic) assessments of sexual orientation asylum claims in France, Germany and the UK, which often employ heteronormative Global Northern standards and definitions.

In the UK, we look at the decision-making process and guidance used to determine the credibility of asylum seekers who base their claims on their sexual orientation which is riddled with stereotypes and unrealistic expectations considering their lived experiences. We explore the process by drawing on interviews with people who directly support asylum seekers basing their claims on their sexual orientation – for example, barristers, solicitors and charity caseworkers.

In France we draw on our ethnographic data from hearings at the French National Asylum Court to consider how the juridical principle of the ‘intime conviction’ (or ‘inner belief’) plays out in appeals based on sexual orientation.

In Germany, we draw on ethnographic observations at German asylum court hearings, and describe how some judges talk about and assess sexual orientation during appeal hearings, what kind of questions judges ask asylum appellants, and how sexual orientation was often reduced to heteronormative assumptions of sexual activity and public and ‘proud’ performance of one’s sexual orientation.

Thus, our paper explores (a) how (trans) cultural aspects and experiences of sexual orientation are often dismissed, and (b) how intersectional factors are either ignored or assessed heteronormatively in refugee status determination in France, Germany, Greece and the UK. We discuss these aspects through our multi- and trans-disciplinary lenses, adding to the rich body of literature and research on migration, credibility assessments and the experiences of asylum seekers in Europe and elsewhere.

Keywords: Sexual orientation asylum claims, Global Northern lens, decision making, credibility assessments, decision makers, refugee status determination in Europe