ASYFAIR Workshop 2019

Failing Refugees in Europe: Law, Space, Hypocrisy

Workshop Cover

ASYFAIR hosted a workshop at the University of Exeter on July 4th & 5th 2019. 

Keynote Speakers:

Prof. Anthony Good (University of Edinburgh)

Prof. Barbara Sorgoni (University of Turin)

What does asylum law promise and what is actually happening in practice? What can social science and social theory tell us about the development of the gaps between the two? The discourse of human rights as applied to asylum governance implies fair treatment, careful consideration of applications for refugee status and effective legal remedies for wrongly rejected claims. It also implies non-refoulement, independence of judicial processes from political events, and the ability for everyone, regardless of vulnerability, status and economic means, to access protection when they need it. Inherent to these discourses are a series of spatiotemporal claims: universal human rights and consistency of approach, separation of legal and political systems, accessible forms of protection, and asylum processes that are neither rushed nor drawn out, but undertaken in a timely manner. In practice the picture is very different. There are multiple sources of arbitrariness in decision making, demonstrable inconsistencies in decisions and decision-making processes at various scales, recurring instances of the pollution of legal procedures with political concerns at both everyday and systemic scales, and frequently slow or overly rapid decision making. The systems of asylum claim determination in Europe and elsewhere, it seems, are failing in multiple ways even on their own terms.

In this workshop we discuss papers that explore these hypocrisies. We are interested both in the formation of the gaps between legal policy and practice, and the consequences of these gaps. With respect to formation, papers speak to the way that legal claims-making is made in asylum law, in Europe and elsewhere, and the factors that can allow it to become divorced from everyday life and experience. How does such divergence occur, what factors exacerbate it and what factors can limit it? With respect to the consequences of the gaps, how are we to understand trust and distrust in systems of asylum determination and adjudication, and to what extent have human rights on paper come to obscure their abuse in reality? The workshop provides an opportunity to share ideas that are developing or at an early stage.


Keynote 1: Uses and Misuses of Country of Origin Information (COI) in the Refugee Status Determination Process

Prof. Anthony Good (University of Edinburgh)

Country of Origin Information is crucial for decisions regarding the credibility of asylum applicants’ accounts, and for assessments of the risks they would face if returned to their home countries. In the United Kingdom, the forms taken by ‘official’ Home Office COI have differed over time, in both factual content and linguistic structure. At the same time, Country Guidance cases in which COI is judicially assessed in order to establish ‘factual precedents’ have come to occupy an increasingly prominent role in asylum jurisprudence. This presentation critically examines these various formats and assesses how they affect the ways in which COI is used in practice by administrative decision-makers and immigration judges. Though the focus will be primarily on the UK, some brief comparisons will be drawn with COI provision in other European states.

Keynote 2: Another country: A world of refugees?

Prof. Barbara Sorgoni (University of Turin)

Assuming ethnography as both a method and a form of knowledge, I focus on how an ethnography of migration law has enabled the analysis of performative powers of legal categories. To understand how law sees the world means to explicate how it comes to create that discrete world it then proceeds to both order and discipline.

Taking a step back from the frantic and hotly debated attempts in Europe (and definitely Italy) to stop human mobility, I look at how the creation of an ontological distinction between economic/voluntary migration and political/forced migration after WW II has impacted on the reception of migrants, legal procedures, and social sciences. Focusing on legal procedures in particular, I argue that at a time in which human mobility is transformed into a threat to be prevented, an analysis of the naturalization of historically and culturally crafted categories of migrants can contribute to an understanding of the many ways in which law systematically fails those who aspire to a legal, secure and dignified life in a new country.


List of Presenters

Panel 1: Fairness, Adjudication and Consistency

Chair: Prof. Nick Gill

Papers in this section address sources of unfairness, the dilemmas and challenges of asylum adjudication both from the perspective of judges and other parties involved, and the differences in approaches to asylum determination across countries as well as within countries and courts.

Dr. Robert Gibb

(University of Glasgow)

Social Theory, the State and Asylum Adjudication in France
Teresa Büchsel

(Oxford University)

Judicial Perspectives – Law and Experience in Asylum Status Determination in German Administrative Courts
Martin Joormann

(Lund University)

Two Asylum Cases at Sweden’s Migration Court of Appeal: The Political Goal of Regulating Immigration, and Law’s Promise of Certainty
Dr. Nicole Hoellerer & Laura Scheinert

(University of Exeter)

Inconsistencies in asylum adjudication in a federal system: The case of Syrian draft evaders in German asylum courts.


Panel 2: Participation and Inclusion

Chair: Dr. Jessica Hambly

Papers in this panel consider the experiences of exclusion and marginalisation that asylum processes fail to address, and can exacerbate. Papers address the exclusion of “others”, as well as the challenges of dealing with child asylum seekers, and reflect on what efforts have or could be made to improve inclusion and participation. Presentations also focus on presence, and the impact of exclusion on court atmosphere.

Dr. John R. Campbell


The rights and wrongs of ensuring ‘the best interests’ of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in the United Kingdom
Dr. Alex Jeffrey

(Cambridge University)

Entrance strategies: Creating the outsider within
Dr. Nick Gill

(University of Exeter)

What’s Missing from Legal Materialism? Law, Hearings and the Geographies of Absence
Dr. Daniel Fisher

(University of Exeter)

The Tribunal Atmosphere: Pushing the Boundaries of Access to Justice in Asylum Appeals


Panel 3: Time and Bureaucracy

Chair: Dr. Nicole Hoellerer

Papers in this section consider the dissonance between bureaucratic considerations and the imperatives of justice. For example, what effect does speed (and slowness) have over legal systems, in what ways are legal systems susceptible to the demands of speed, and how are legal speeds and times related to state power and control in asylum determination systems? Papers also address the relation between new technologies, language, bureaucracy and time.

Dr Melanie Griffiths

(University of Birmingham)

Temporal Governance and UK Immigration Appeals


Dr. Jessica Hambly

(University of Exeter)

Law and Speed: Asylum Claims and the Techniques and Consequences of Legal Quickening
Dr. Ana Beduschi

(University of Exeter)

New Technologies for Asylum Determination
Dr. Lorenzo Vianelli

(University of Exeter)

The politics of time in asylum appeals in Italy. Some preliminary reflections from the field


Abstracts available on request.