Fahamu Refugee Legal Aid Newsletter

The Fahamu Refugee Legal Aid Newsletter is a monthly publication that focuses on the provision of refugee legal aid. It is aimed primarily to be a resource for legal aid providers in the Global South where law journals and other resources are hard to access. It complements the information portal
The newsletter follows recent developments in the interpretation of refugee law; case law precedents from different constituencies; reports and helpful resources for refugee legal aid providers; and stories of struggle and success in refugee legal aid work.

An overview of current situation for asylum-seekers in Israel

Reprinted from The Hotline for Refugees and Migrants blog.

Israel is home to about 53,000 African asylum-seekers who have entered Israel through Egypt since 2005. 67% of them hail from Eritrea, popularly known as the ‘North Korea of Africa’. Thousands flee Eritrea each month, escaping life-long servitude in the so-called ‘National Service’. 25% of asylum-seekers in Israel are from Sudan, the overwhelming majority of them from African tribes that are harshly persecuted by the Arab central government – survivors of the genocide in Darfur and ethnic cleansing in the Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile area.

The entry of asylum-seekers was almost entirely halted in 2013 due to the construction of the border fence with Egypt – in 2013, only 40 asylum-seekers entered Israel. Of these asylum-seekers, over 1,000 are detained under the Anti-Infiltration Law (2013). The rest reside in Israel’s cities, concentrated mostly in the impoverished and neglected neighborhoods of southern Tel Aviv, where they can afford to pay rent.

Asylum-seekers residing in Israel receive a ‘conditional release visa’, which they must renew every couple of months. This visa grants the asylum-seekers the right to stay in Israel until their deportation is possible, but no other rights. Asylum-seekers are unable to change this status as Israel does not examine the asylum requests of all Sudanese and Eritrean nationals who are outside of detention – over 90% of asylum-seekers in Israel. As a result, to this day, 0 Sudanese and 2 Eritrean nationals have received refugee status in Israel (0.004% of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers in Israel). By comparison, UNHCR data shows that in 2012, 90% of Eritrean asylum-seekers received refugee status or complementary protection worldwide as did 72.4% of Sudanese asylum-seekers.

According to the State of Israel, the asylum-seekers who have entered Israel are illegal work migrants and ‘infiltrators’, a term used to denote Palestinians who would enter Israel in the 1950s to carry out sabotage attacks. At the same time, Israel does not deport the ‘infiltrators’ as it does regularly with undocumented work migrants, due to danger they will face in their homelands. Deporting people to places where their liberty or life are likely to be endangered would violate the non-refoulement principle, which is part of Israeli and international law.

However, other than not deporting asylum-seekers to their homelands, Israel violates nearly all other articles of the Refugee Convention. Israel signed and ratified the 1951 Convention after being involved in drafting it, as Israel wished to ensure that the prevalent practice of deporting refugees to Nazi-controlled territories during the Holocaust is not repeated. Israel deprives asylum-seekers of basic human and social rights. Asylum-seekers who are outside of detention do not enjoy access to medical or welfare services, except in life-threatening situations, and are officially not allowed to work. They are able to find employment, often for below the minimum-wage, because the State committed before the High Court of Justice to not enforce the law and not fine the employers of asylum-seekers.

Asylum-seekers are also deprived of the right to liberty and freedom of movement in Israel. On December 10, 2013, International Human Rights Day, the Knesset passed Amendment No. 4 to the Anti-Infiltration Law (originally enacted in the 1950s). Under the new version of the law, passed in less than 90 days by the Knesset to bypass a High Court of Justice ruling that voided the 2012 amendment of the Law, asylum-seekers will be detained for a period of one year at the Saharonim or Ktziot prisons for asylum-seekers upon entering Israel. Following the one-year detention without trial, the asylum-seekers will be transferred to the a new open-air detention camp located across the road from the prisons for asylum-seekers, close to the border with Egypt, deep in the Negev desert. Asylum-seekers have to participate in three roll-calls per day and sleep at the detention camp, which is run by the Israeli Prison Services. Asylum-seekers are not allowed to work and missing any roll call or being caught working outside of the detention camp is punished by months of incarceration in the prisons for refugees, after which the asylum-seeker is returned to the ‘open’ detention camp.

The detention in the ‘open’ camp is open-ended and there is no judicial review of the detention, since Israel describes the internment camp as a ‘center for residents’. The purpose of the law is to create conditions under which asylum-seekers will be willing to endanger their lives and ‘agree’ to be deported to their homeland. On top of the ‘stick’ of open-ended detention, the Israeli government also offers a ‘carrot’ – each asylum-seeker receives $3,500 if they ‘agree’ to be deported. The UNHCR harshly criticized this practice, stating that agreeing to return to one’s homeland from detention cannot be considered ‘voluntary’.

The Anti-Infiltration Law applies not only to people who crossed the border from Egypt following the enactment of the law. For the past two weeks, asylum-seekers residing in Israel for years received summons to the ‘open’ detention camp when they went to the Ministry of Interior to renew their visas. As the detention camp does not accommodate children and women, fathers who are being summoned to open-ended detention are torn away from their children and wives. At the same time, the Ministry of Interior sharply reduced the number of visas they renew, resulting in long queues outside Ministry of Interior offices and asylum-seekers who’ve been unable to renew their visas. Following this reduction, Immigration policemen began carrying out raids in areas where asylum-seekers reside, arresting those who’ve been unable to renew their visas. The detainees are then transferred to the detention facility in the Negev.



An interview with Barbara Harrell-Bond

This interview has been reprinted from Speak out, a blog for members of Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN).

Barbara Harrell-Bond is a legal anthropologist and a leading figure in the field of refugee studies. In 1982 she co-founded the Refugee Studies Centre (RSC) at Oxford University and directed the Centre until 1996. The RSC now hosts an annual lecture series in her name. From 1997 to 2000 she conducted research in Uganda and Kenya. In 2000 she moved to  Cairo where she taught at the American University and helped begin the Centre for Migration and Refugee Studies. She has also founded or helped to found refugee legal aid organisations in several locations, including the Refugee Law Project in Uganda and AMERA (Africa and Middle East Refugee Assistance) in Egypt. She is currently the co-director of the Fahamu Refugee Programme, which promotes the legal protection of refugees by networking legal assistance providers with resources and training, and facilitating access to free legal aid for refugees around the world. In recognition of her experience and expertise in the field of refugee rights protection she serves as APRRN’s advisor.

How did you get involved in working on refugee issues?

In 1956, when the US opened its doors to Hungarians who fled following the Soviet invasion of their country, I briefly worked at the Los Angeles Church Federation for an office set up to assist Hungarians who fell through the cracks of the Lutheran and Catholic programmes for those who were resettled there.[1]  At the time I knew nothing about refugee law.

Later, when I conducted anthropological research on marriage and customary family law in Sierra Leone (1967-73), there were thousands of Fula refugees who had fled Guinea. Siaka Stevens, the president, rejected UNHCR’s offer of assistance to place them in camps. Instead, the government allowed Fula to live anywhere in the country, and when they wanted to travel, provided them with documentation. The result was that no one, including me, referred to them as refugees.[2] There was one case of refoulement and we heard that the victim, Alhaji A. M. Bah, had been shot the moment he crossed the border. However, four years later, having served his prison term,[3] Alhaji Bah reappeared in Freetown and became the ‘headman’ of the Fula population of Freetown.[4]

In 1981, I was writing about the Moroccan occupation of the Western Sahara. I was invited by OXFAM (Oxford) to write an up-date report on the Sahrawi refugees in Algeria. I was so impressed by the fact that, at the time there were no NGOs working in the camps and that the Sahrawi expressed the opinion that having ‘experts’ in their camps would remove their sense of responsibility for themselves. When I returned I asked how come the refugees OXFAM wrote about were so different. One worker replied, ‘We are so busy saving lives at the beginning of an emergency that by the time we get around to think, it is too late. We have made too many mistakes.’ I got intellectually interested in the humanitarian regime, how it works. ‘Imposing Aid’ was the result.[5]

You are originally from the US but you have spent most of your life in Africa working for the betterment of refugee communities. In Africa you have witnessed the conditions in which refugees live and you been embroiled in a number of revolutions and coups d’état. Is there a personal story you would like to share with us?

I often tell personal stories in private conversations but rarely write about them.

When you wrote ‘Imposing Aid’ you were the first academic to provide a critical analysis of humanitarian operations in response to refugee crises. What challenges did you face? What do you think are the current gaps of relief programmes and protection agencies?

When I wrote ‘Imposing Aid’, I was naïve enough to believe that if humanitarian agencies only understood what they were doing wrong they would improve. I totally underestimated the extreme defensiveness to criticism of people who assume they are doing ‘good’ or have ‘good intentions’.

The 2013 UNHCR Annual Consultations’ theme is ‘Advocating together for protection’. What do you see as the main challenges confronting refugee rights advocates?

There were so many challenges but they will appear in the various reports. What I want to comment on is the very last session Thursday afternoon. It was devoted to NGOs and UNHCR talking together on the subject, ‘Advocating together for Protection’.

In the final plenary I commented on how I had been in the unenviable position of having to lobby against UNHCR. I gave one illustration, that being our campaign against UNHCR’s ‘global’ recommendations that States invoke Article 1C(5), the ‘ceased circumstances’ clause, and strip all Rwandans of their status as refugees.[6] They were doing this at a time when there was clear evidence that Rwanda was far from a safe country to which refugees should be returned. What impressed me was the humility that Volker Turk demonstrated; actually thanking me for my intervention and saying to the effect that NGOs must also be alert to when UNHCR took questionable or wrong actions as well as governments.

What motivates and inspires you to continue your work in this challenging environment?

The inspiration I gain from the lives of people who not only endure trauma and suffering that I could never survive, but who also become better persons as a result.[7] Also, I gain satisfaction from having the opportunity to at least impact a few lives through providing legal advice through the status determination process. There is also a great deal of satisfaction in the large numbers of students who, by [having] the opportunity to learn refugee law and to provide legal assistance, are changed forever. It is reassuring to know that they will carry on this work after I am gone.

Perhaps it is appropriate to tell a story that I owe to Judge Kuldip.[8] The story goes that there were two men standing by the seashore where waves were forcing starfish onto the sand where they would die. One was throwing starfish back into the sea. The other asked him, ‘Why do you bother? They just keep coming.’ ‘That is true’, the other replied. ‘But it makes a great deal of difference to the ones I throw back’.



Harrell-Bond, Barbara, Allan Howard and David Skinner, Community Leadership and the Transformation of Freetown (1801-1976), with D. Skinner and A. Howard, Mouton, The Hague, 1977.

Harrell-Bond, B.E. Modern Marriage in Sierra Leone: A Study of the Professional Group, Mouton, The Hague, 1975.

Harrell-Bond, Barbara, ‘The struggle for the Western Sahara: A three-part series’, The Universities Field Staff International.

Part I: ‘The background’ No. 27, 1981.

Part II: ‘The legal/political milieu’, No. 28, 1981.

Part III: ‘The people’, No. 29, 1981.


[1] Marriages that were mixed Catholic/Protestant that the two programmes would not accommodate, people who rejected assistance from churches, and ‘problem’ cases. For example, an unmarried couple that a Presbyterian church had sponsored who ‘co-habited’! Another amusing example was the case of a family who sponsored a Hungarian youth. With no work, he sat around the house smoking. One day the woman of the house got fed up with his inactivity and asked him to wipe the dishes. He threw the towel on the floor and said in his limited English, ‘Me a Hungarian man’.

[2] See Harrell-Bond et al.

[3] He was accused by Sekou Toure of training young Fula to take over Guinea by force.

[4] ibid. See Plate 4.

[5] Harrell-Bond, B.E. ‘Imposing Aid: Emergency Assistance to Refugees’, Oxford University Press, 1986.

[6] http://frlan.tumblr.com/post/51872794825/special-feature-documenting-the-rwanda-countdown-our

[7] I often remind refugees that they will become better or worse characters; they will never be the same.

[8] Kuldip Phull is an immigration judge in the UK, a former child refugee herself (expelled by Idi Amin from Uganda);  she started her career as a lawyer providing legal aid for refugees.


An experience of failure: a case study of UNHCR’s recommendation to invoke the cessation clause for Rwandan refugees

Contributed by Guillaume Cliche-Rivard and Minos Mouzourakis. Guillaume holds a BA in International Law and International Relations from Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) and will join the Quebec Bar School in Autumn, 2014. Minos is Legal Research Intern at the Fahamu Refugee Programme and MSc in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies student at the University of Oxford.

‘You cannot betray Rwanda and get away with it. […] It’s a matter of time, whoever betrayed the nation cannot escape the consequences.’

Paul Kagame, Rwandan President, 14 January 2014

This frightening declaration was made by the Rwandan President Paul Kagame on 14 January 2014, when Colonel Patrick Karegeya, former General Director, External Intelligence in the Rwandan Defence forces, was found strangled in his hotel room in South Africa. When interviewed about the assassination, Rwandan Foreign Affairs Minister, Louise Mushikiwabo, insisted that Karegeya deserved to be killed because ‘he betrayed the country that created him’. Such declarations certainly sent a clear message to Rwandans in exile, confirming that President Kagame is now officially at war with his dissidents.

Karegeya’s assassination calls to mind the case of human rights activist and journalist, Charles Ingabire, who was shot dead in Kampala, allegedly by Rwandan intelligence operatives. Or the case of General Kayumba, former Rwandan ambassador in India and Rwandan government key player; in 2014, Kayumba survived his fourth assassination attempt since he sought asylum in South Africa. Moreover, in January 2014, as detailed by former Rwandan security, pressure increased again on another dissident living in exile, Joel Mutabazi, who was expelled from Uganda where he had previously sought asylum. Mutabazi was reportedly abducted overnight and then surrendered to Ugandan police authorities and was finally expelled on grounds that remain unclear. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) expressed deep concern about this particular extradition and described it as a potential violation of international law.

Meanwhile, UNHCR is recommending that states invoke the cessation clause of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (‘Convention’) in relation to Rwandan refugees remaining in exile. The cessation clause under Article 1C(5) of the Convention provides that states may cease refugee status when a person can no longer refuse to avail themselves of the protection of their country of nationality, because the circumstances in connection with which he or she was recognised as a refugee have ceased to exist.

This provision directly strips the given individual of their refugee status and therefore compels them to repatriate to their country of origin. In response to UNHCR’s recommendation, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and concerned individuals drafted a petition on 24 May 2011, arguing that the time was not right for such invocation. This strategy succeeded in postponing, but not ultimately withdrawing, the recommendation, as UNHCR has continued to recommend that states ‘commence to progressively implement throughout 2012 all aspects of cessation of refugee status (including the exemption procedures) for Rwandan refugees who had fled Rwanda as of and including 1998, so as to enable their status definitively to cease, latest by 30 June 2013’.

As dissidents abroad continue to be targeted, the human rights situation in Rwanda has now become unbearable. NGO reports, such as that of Amnesty International, raise important concerns with regard to the political stability of Rwanda and the protection of fundamental human rights under Kagame’s administration, with particular focus on violations of freedom of expression and prosecutions for vague charges under the country’s genocide ideology law. There are also numerous concerns regarding the Kagame government’s claims of free and fair elections and substantive democratic reform.

Recently, Human Rights Watch reports on Rwanda state that, while the country has made important economic and development gains, the ‘government has continued to impose tight restrictions on freedom of expression and association’. The 2012 sentencing of Ingabire Victoire, Chairperson of the United Democratic Forces of Rwanda (UDF), and the arrest of her American lawyer, Peter Erlinder in 2010, represent only two of many examples of the political oppression existing within the country.

Article 1C(5) and Rwanda’s unchanged circumstances

The legal framework of cessation

The UNHCR Handbook on Procedures and Criteria for Determining Refugee Status in the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Refugee Status clarifies that the cessation clause is ‘based on the consideration that international protection is no longer justified on account of changes in the country where persecution was feared’.

Given the wide-ranging effects of stripping a refugee of their status and the rights attached thereto, the cessation clause under Article 1C(5) of the Convention should be narrowly interpreted, according to the UNHCR Executive Committee (ExCom) Conclusion No 69 of 1992.

Determining whether a change of circumstances has occurred requires a comprehensive assessment of the conditions in the country of origin. As ExCom Conclusion No 69 of 1992 provides, change must be ‘fundamental, stable and durable’. The threshold for applying the cessation clause is therefore a high one. Illustrative examples may be drawn from the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU)’s finding in Aydin Salahadin Abdulla and Others v Bundesrepublik Deutschland that a change of circumstances only occurs when the ‘factors which formed the basis of the refugee’s fear of persecution may be regarded as having been permanently eradicated’.

‘Fundamental, stable and durable’ change implies the respect inter alia of ‘the right to life and liberty and to non-discrimination, the independence of the judiciary and fair and open trials which presume innocence, the upholding of various basic rights and fundamental freedoms such as the right to freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly, movement and access to courts’, according to the UNHCR Guidelines on the application of Article 1C(5). Whilst the onus is on the state invoking cessation to prove that ‘effective protection is in fact available from the state of origin’, scholars such as Fitzpatrick suggest that it is UNHCR’s role to assess whether the criteria are respected.

Moreover, Article 1C(5) of the Convention provides an exception to the cessation of refugee status; albeit originally confined to refugees under UNHCR’s mandate under Article 1A(1) of the Convention, this exception has been rendered applicable to all refugees in practice. Cessation is not applied where a person can invoke ‘compelling reasons arising out of previous persecution’ to maintain refugee status despite a change of circumstances. As the US ruling in Syed Shahid Ahmed-Naqvi v. Immigration and Naturalization Service suggests, the assessment of ‘compelling reasons’ is a question of fact, inviting the state to consider the level of atrocity in the acts inflicted on the individual and their impact on his or her physical and mental state.

Unchanged circumstances in Rwanda

Surprisingly, the implementation of the Comprehensive Strategy for the Rwandan Refugee Situation mentions that Rwanda has undergone ‘rapid, fundamental and crucially positive changes’ since 1994 and that the country now ‘enjoys an essential level of peace and security’. However, in light of the aforementioned assassinations and gross violations of human rights, such an assessment of fundamental and durable changes is strongly debatable. Rwanda appears to be everything but safe for those remaining in exile.

Scepticism around Rwanda’s change of circumstances is strongly shared by states such as South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In April 2013, the South African Minister of Home Affairs, Ms GNM Pandor, stated that ‘the position of UNHCR in relation to Rwanda has created anguish and uncertainty among the refugee community in South Africa’ and declared that her country is yet to be convinced of Rwanda’s fundamental changes. For its part, the DRC continues to resist UNHCR’s recommendation on the ground that it asks a ‘mechanical and ineffective cessation’.

For Rwanda, forcing repatriation of refugees is likely to create more harm than good in the region. Encouragingly, UNHCR’s Bureau for Europe has taken a similar position; from early on, Michele Cavinato stated that European countries would not consider Rwanda as a safe country of origin and hoped that the cessation recommendation will not affect ‘new’ refugees who seek asylum from persecution occurring after 1998. Moreover, on 18 February 2010, Mr George Kuchio, Senior Protection Officer of UNHCR declared that ‘UNHCR Geneva has thoroughly examined the situation in Rwanda and found conclusive evidences that it is premature to invoke the ‘Ceased Circumstances Cessation clause’ to the refugee status of Rwandan Refugees’ (Manzi Mutuyimana, Report of the Meeting between UNHCR and the Rwandan Urban Refugee Community in Kampala – 18 February 2012, on file with authors).

Whether or not it was intended as an explanation of UNCHR’s decision to postpone cessation invocation to 2013, this statement seems to confirm the position that Rwanda is not safe for return. Mr Kuchio also affirmed at the time that the ‘country is experiencing on-going persecutions on the grounds of ethnic discrimination against Hutus, of political oppression and of complete absence of freedom of expression’. He raised concerns about ‘tyrannical laws, lack of rights to life, oppressive security services and non-independent judiciary system’. He finally mentioned that ‘UNHCR would never invoke the Cessation clause, unless the RPF (Rwanda’s Patriotic Front) Regime puts an end to such kind of persecutions’. His words were, however, regrettably forgotten. Mr Kuchio’s statement was made during a meeting with the Office of the Prime Minister and refugees in Kampala on 26 June 2012 (Manzi Mutuyimana, Report of the Meeting between UNHCR and the Rwandan Urban Refugee Community in Kampala - 26 June 2012, on file with authors). His successor, Esther Kiragu, UNHCR Senior Protection Officer in Uganda, later admitted she had never visited Rwanda and was thus unable to empirically defend the ‘changed circumstances’ cessation.

This elusive answer is particularly alarming, as it connotes the absence of any comprehensive and accessible report on Rwanda upon which UNHCR could draw for its assessment of cessation. Ms Kiragu’s concession that she was not considered to be part of such assessment creates serious concerns, bearing in mind that Uganda hosts a significant number of Rwandan refugees. Given the proximity between Kampala and Kigali, and bearing in mind the political complexity of the Great Lakes Region, the input of UNHCR’s highest authority in Uganda would have been essential to any assessment of Rwanda’s situation. Throughout the present research, a number requests to access reports were made to UNHCR’s local and international offices, but permission was systematically denied. Therefore it remains very difficult to determine if the necessary assessment of the circumstances in Rwanda was ever properly conducted by UNHCR.

The taste of failure: a ‘dead letter’ cessation

Following over four years of imbroglio and confusion, the build-up to UNHCR’s recommended deadline for stripping Rwandans of their refugee status and forcing them to return to their country came to a dramatic standstill on 30 June 2013. Thus far, there has been no indication that a single refugee has been forced back to Rwanda. To date, almost a year after UNHCR’s recommendation was to take effect, over 100,000 Rwandan refugees in Africa remain in exile.

Recently, however, there have been indications of UNHCR’s intention to implement the cessation clause in Cameroon, notwithstanding the fact that responsibility for withdrawing refugee status lies with the host state under international law. Since December 2012, UNHCR Cameroon has engaged in a blanket application of the cessation clause to all Rwandan refugees, including those fleeing after 1998, whose right to asylum should remain intact.

UNHCR has rejected the requests of all Rwandan refugees to be exempted from cessation without due consideration of their individual circumstances. A UNHCR rejection decision only replicates a summary justification: ‘the information you have presented in support of your application does not permit to conclude on the existence of a well-founded fear of persecution upon return to your country of origin’. Moreover, UNHCR rejects the existence of ‘compelling reasons arising out of previous persecution’ under Article 1C(5) of the Convention as a ground to exempt Rwandan refugees from cessation, including refugees who had witnessed the 1990 and 1994 massacres before fleeing to Cameroon (UNHCR, Exemption cases decisions transferred to the Fahamu Refugee Programme, Unofficial, 2014).

In light of these practices, can one assume that it is Cameroon’s intention to implement the cessation clause, or are the government’s hands tied due to UNHCR’s lead in this context? On that point, international refugee law experts have raised legal objections to UNHCR’s recommendation to invoke cessation by recalling the institutional contours of its supervisory role under Article 35 of the Convention. As Hathaway explains, a drastic step such as stripping Rwandan refugees of their status should be taken on the basis of states’ independent decisions, which UNHCR may supervise but certainly not lead.

According to Alice Edwards, Senior Protection Officer at UNHCR Geneva, the refugee agency bases its authority to make such decision on the High Commissioner’s mandate (Interview with Alice Edwards, 2012, unofficial, on file with authors). According to Cwik, however, the duty lies with states wishing to invoke cessation on the Rwandan population to conduct their own assessment of the situation in Rwanda and present their findings to UNHCR. Had this been done, UNHCR could verify governments’ assessments with reference to available evidence on Rwanda from NGO reports, for instance. Such a procedure would have respected and reaffirmed the organisation’s supervisory rather than leading role, according to Abbott and Snidal. Accordingly, UNHCR’s assumption of such a leading role in the invocation of the cessation clause could amount to a violation of its mandate under Article 35 of the Convention.

As seen above, in Cameroon, UNHCR itself has issued the decisions to Rwandan refugees’ requests for exemption from cessation. Such exemption was to be granted to refugees who could prove an ongoing well-founded fear of persecution in Rwanda and to refugees able to prove compelling reasons not to return arising out of past persecution. The aforementioned rejection decisions were issued unsigned by UNHCR’s office and did not give any reasons for rejecting exemption.

Only two check boxes figured on the decision document: one stating that the exemption on grounds of ongoing well-founded fear persecution was denied, and another stating that the exemption on grounds of compelling reasons was denied. This goes some way to suggest that the form was specifically designed solely for rejection decisions. In all cases transmitted to Fahamu Refugee Programme, both check boxes were marked with an ‘X’. The decisions explained that the individuals and their family members would be stripped of their refugee status 30 days following notification.

Finally, the document allowed refugees to appeal against the rejection decision within 30 days. However, the absence of reasons for rejection renders any effective appeal virtually impossible. The decision also pointed out that refugees needed to file their appeal between 8:30 and 12:00 on Fridays but failed to mention where the appeal should be registered. In all the cases to our knowledge, rejection decisions were upheld on appeal and only then were the final decisions dated and signed by Catherine Hamon Sharpe, UNHCR’s representative in Cameroon (Documents forwarded to the Fahamu Refugee Programme, 2014, on file with authors).

While Cameroon currently seems the only country where cessation has been effectively invoked, a number of other states are currently in early stages of its implementation. Again, however, the governments are very timidly, if ever, involved in the cessation process were. In Kenya, UNHCR has started interviews in order to profile the Rwandan refugee population living in the country and has requested these individuals to declare if they would rather face repatriation, local integration or the exemption procedure in the light of the upcoming cessation. Nevertheless, to date, no formal declaration has been made by the Kenyan government on whether it intends or not to invoke the cessation clause.

UNHCR’s action in Kenya is thus premature and exercises objectionable influence on a state which has not yet taken an independent decision on the matter. After years of meeting with Rwanda and more than four years of intensive meetings with UNHCR, NGOs question whether any decision will ever be made (International Council of Voluntary Agencies, UNHCR Informal Meeting On Invocation of Cessation for Rwandan Refugees, 2011, unofficial, on file with authors).

Moreover, in Uganda, the government has delayed the application of the cessation clause in order to comply with UNHCR’s aforementioned Comprehensive Strategy phases; a plan that UNHCR itself seems to have forgotten. To date, the exemption process has not yet started in Uganda. However, the government already seems determined that the vast majority of exemption claims will be rejected, before even examining individual applications. During interviews with refugee leaders in Nakivale, camp authorities under UNHCR’s authority allegedly declared that it would be ‘easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for them to qualify for an exemption’ (Interview with Rwandan Refugee Leaders in Nakivale Settlement - Uganda, 2012, unofficial, on file with authors). Such a statement could hint serious shortcomings in the compliance of cessation procedures with due process under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Considering that the authorities have not even had the opportunity to acquaint themselves with the concerned refugees’ claims, it seems highly questionable for them to determine a priori that their exemption claims will be rejected.

Further, as regards the prospects of local integration, no offers have been made to Rwandan refugees by the government of Uganda. According to Ugandan law, individuals can acquire citizenship by birth, registration or naturalisation. Yet refugees are directly barred from acquiring citizenship by birth according to Article 10 of the Ugandan Constitution. The remaining paths for acquisition of citizenship require applicants to satisfy different onerous requirements.

Accordingly, the sole real ‘choice’ available to Rwandan refugees in Uganda is forced repatriation. Nevertheless, Uganda seems to have ignored UNHCR’s timeframe and has instead decided to postpone the invocation of cessation until a moment where it will be in a position to offer alternatives.

Burundi is following a similar line, as 37 Rwandans were recently offered local integration in the country and there has been no indication of refugees forced to repatriate. Whilst such measure is certainly welcomed, it is important to recall that approximately 300 Rwandans are still living in exile in Burundi. To date, almost a year after cessation should have kicked in, the necessary political will to either offer a comprehensive local integration solution or to invoke the cessation clause on Rwandans seems absent.

South Africa, for its part, is currently fighting against the clause, while its relations with Rwanda are actively deteriorating following recent Rwandan refugees’ assassination in the country. Finally, the DRC, which offers asylum to about 60,000 Rwandans, is currently refusing cessation.

UNHCR’s assessment, leadership and credibility are therefore underpinned by a taste of failure, given that the cessation recommendation has so far remained ‘dead letter’ in the majority of African countries hosting Rwandan refugees.

Concluding remarks: repeating past mistakes?

What is UNHCR’s aim in recommending the cessation of refugee status? Should the agency’s role not be to defend refugees’ rights rather than advocating for the withdrawal of their international protection? The organisation’s role should not be to promote Rwanda’s agenda to repatriate and prosecute Rwandans living in exile, but rather to robustly defend the right to asylum. In that light, should UNHCR instead be strongly advocating against cessation?

The motivations behind UNHCR’s decision to recommend the invocation of the cessation clause remain a complex and unanswered question. Far from resolving a protracted refugee situation, the forced return of individuals unwilling to return to their country instead runs the risk of creating situations further endangering their lives. The forceful repatriation of Rwandan refugees residing in Tanzania in December 1996, with support from UNHCR, perfectly demonstrates the risks at hand. At that time, hundreds of Rwandan refugees in Tanzania sought asylum in Uganda in order to escape forced repatriation to Rwanda. Reports demonstrate that many refugees died trying to reach Uganda at that time. Moreover, a significant number of the refugees who were forcefully repatriated to Rwanda in 1996 faced persecution upon return and fled Rwanda again.

Insofar as it pushes a premature repatriation of Rwandan refugees to a country where circumstances have not yet changed, UNHCR runs serious risks of having history repeat itself. Should they be expelled from Cameroon following UNHCR’s rejection decisions, for example, these refugees could likely act in similar ways as 1996 by fleeing Rwanda again and seeking refuge in unsafe countries such as DRC. Cessation would thus re-create past problems rather than bring an effective solution to the protracted exile of Rwandans.


FGM and asylum: AF vs Secretary of State 31 January 2014 

Ceridwen Lewis is a programme development intern with Fahamu Refugee Programme and graduate in anthropology and development studies from the University of Sussex.

On 31 January 2014, after a long, agonising and unnecessarily expensive legal battle, Ms AF and her dependants were granted refugee status in the UK for facing persecution on the grounds of belonging to a particular social group, and falling under the 1954 European Human Rights Convention (ECHR) Article 3 (the prohibition of torture) and Article 8 (the right to family life).

Born in 1987, Ms AF, a Sierra Leonean, was abducted by the the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) at nine years old. She was released in 2000, only to find herself stigmatised for having been sexually abused by the rebels. Recognisable by the scars of her ordeal, she fled to Gambia in 2007 where she met and was convinced to marry a British man in his 70’s. Only 19 at the time, he persuaded her to change the date of birth on her passport from 1987 to 1981, so she would appear ‘older’.

On arrival in the UK, she found his wife from a previous marriage living in his house. For the following four years AF endured a seriously abusive relationship. Mr S intimidated her into remaining with him by threatening to report the false information on her passport. In 2010, following more physical abuse, AF finally called the police, and was taken to a women’s refuge. At this point, AF was advised by her trade union – she had been working as a cleaner at the time – to apply for ‘indefinite leave to remain’. This refusal was appealed to the Upper Tribunal and denied. Miss AF’s divorce to Mr S went through in 2012.

In 2012, AF applied for asylum. By this time she had become involved in a relationship with a Sierra Leonean who had come to the UK to study. Their relationship began in 2010 when he had seen her weeping on a London street and befriended her. She was heavily pregnant with their first child at the time of her UK Border Agency (UKBA) screening interview on 9 May 2012.

AF gave birth to a daughter on 17 May 2012, thus, in her ‘substantive interview’ she submitted:

‘… I am concerned about my daughter… I was subjected to female circumcision when I was about 8 years old. I am worried that my daughter may have to go through the same procedure in Sierra Leone – the elders in my family would do this without my consent. And the female members of my family have been circumcised when young.’

Miss AF’s asylum claim was denied by the UKBA and the First Tier Tribunal as not credible. AF was determined non-credible due partly to the judgement of her earlier claim to unlimited leave and the incorrect information on her passport.

During the Upper Tribunal hearing, Judge Rimmington called for the case to focus only on the matter of persecution to Miss AF’s daughter through Female Genital Mutilation. Following the Upper Tribunal hearing on the 6 December 2013, Judge Rimmington determined that granting AF Asylum would follow the UNHCR guidelines on FGM and internal relocation; concluding that the parents would be unable to protect their children from FGM if they returned to Sierra Leone.

For more information on the case, see final decision letter and Dr Harrell-Bond’s witness statement. The Fahamu Refugee Programme is in the process of creating a special issues page on FGM which will be published on the website shortly.


Psychology & refugee status determination: Psychological evidence to help inform refugee status determination

Jane Herlihy is the Executive Director of the Centre for the Study of Emotion and Law (CSEL). She is a Chartered Consultant Clinical Psychologist and has been writing and conducting research into the decision-making process in refugee status claims since 2000.

Lily Parrott works for the British Red Cross in Kent & Sussex and is a former intern at CSEL and the Fahamu Refugee Programme. She is also an editor of the Fahamu Refugee Legal Aid Newsletter. 

The following article introduces a new resource page that will be made available through the Fahamu Refugee Programme as part of its on-going commitment to supporting providers of legal aid to refugees worldwide.


Refugee status determination (RSD), has been called ‘the single most complex adjudication function in contemporary Western societies’ (Hunter et al., 2010:10). It involves potentially life-threatening legal decisions and recognition of the obligation of a state not to refoule asylum seekers, or to send them back to places where their lives may be threatened without first considering their refugee status claim. At the same time, the asylum system is required to play an important role in the maintenance of national borders (Thomas 2006). The RSD process typically involves reliance on incomplete and uncertain evidence (such as identity documents left behind during flight). As a result, the decision whether to grant refugee status often rests almost entirely upon the perceived credibility of the asylum seeker.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) states that asylum seekers should be given the benefit of the doubt if they ‘satisfy general credibility’ (believability) requirements. However, credibility is notoriously difficult to determine. Even professionals trained in lie detection (i.e. detectives, judges) are only slightly better than chance at recognising whether someone is being intentionally deceptive (for a review see Hartwig, Granhag & Strömwall 2007).

In a paper presented to a joint conference of the International Association of Refugee Law Judges  and  the UK Immigration Law Practitioners Association, Judge Barnes (2004, p. 354) stated that ‘in the case of country evidence, the expert is not the sole source of that evidence before the court. There will almost always be other evidence going into similar issues […] The expert evidence can therefore be evaluated against other material, much of which […] will have been produced by other experts in the field […] In contrast, there will be no similar breadth of evidence to assist in the evaluation of expert medical evidence, and particularly of such evidence as goes to the mental state of the claimant’.  This paper will demonstrate that there is indeed a ‘breadth of evidence’ concerning psychological factors relevant to claims for international protection.

To ignore relevant psychological factors that may influence the perceived credibility of the asylum seeker risks denying protection to genuine refugees, as well as granting asylum to those who do not meet the criteria for refugee status based on the convention definition (Herlihy & Turner 2009). Furthermore, it leaves decisions and the whole decision making process vulnerable to criticism (Noll 2005). Immigration Judges report being required to use ‘common sense and experience’ (Independent Asylum Commission 2008). However, a qualitative analysis of refugee status determinations in the UK suggested that decision-makers relied on their own assumptions about people’s behaviour, decisions, motivations and ways of recalling and presenting an account of persecution which may or may not be in line with the best available psychological science (Herlihy, Gleeson & Turner 2010).

This article will introduce some of the psychological research that can be drawn on in representing people seeking international protection and in making legal decisions about them.  We first consider memory, outlining the functioning of  autobiographical memory, especially memories for potentially traumatic events, and exploring common assumptions that memories must be detailed, structured and consistent to be true. We then examine the psychological processes involved in disclosure, outlining the reasons why translating a lived experience into a narrative fit for legal processes is not a straightforward process. Finally we turn to the psychology of the Interviewer, switching focus from the asylum seeker to the decision-maker and outlining factors influencing decision makers’ interpretation of testimony, including vicarious traumatisation among adjudicators.


‘Memory is a reconstructive process, which is prone to errors. Therefore, we cannot fully rely on its accuracy, completeness, and consistency.’ (van Giezen, Arensman, Spinhoven, and Wolters 2005:20)

The substantive interview of the RSD process relies almost exclusively on autobiographical memory, or the explicit memory of events that occurred at a specific time and place in one’s personal past. The asylum seeker’s testimony is judged to be credible on the basis of its apparent plausibility and consistency (UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), May 2013). Memory is often assumed to be detailed, accurate and consistent (Cohen 2002) like a video recording of the past, but is more accurately represented as a functional reconstruction, subject to distortion, decay and even false memories (Herlihy, Jobson & Turner 2012). If the way memory actually functions is not understood by decision-makers, unfair asylum decisions may be made.

The function of autobiographical memory

The primary function of autobiographical memory is not to maintain an accurate record of events. Memory researchers have concluded that autobiographical memory instead has three primary functions: in a social role, it helps develop and maintain social bonds. In a directive role, it directs thoughts, feelings and behaviour using the past as a guide and anchors personal values, opinions and attitudes. Past experiences are updated and reinterpreted by new information and experiences (Bluck 2005). Finally, it assists how a person defines and expresses a continuous self and experiences personhood. How a person conceives of and wants to portray himself, what catches his attention, and how he structures a story about himself, will all affect how he remembers. Accuracy, then, is secondary – and may even at times conflict with the primary functions of autobiographical memory (Herlihy et al. 2012).

Elements of memory frequently used in RSD

Cameron’s Refugee Status Determinations and the Limits of Memory (2010) reviews many experimental studies, showing that some information is not encoded in memory or is poorly encoded, and is therefore difficult to access.

It has been found that memory for specific dates, times, duration, frequency and sequence of events is highly variable between individuals and may be prone to errors. For example, in one study in which subjects were asked to record their health histories for three months, when asked to date a specific illness, only 50% were able to guess it to within two and a half weeks (Cohen & Java 1995). In another study by Burt, Kemp, Grady & Conway (2000) when entries of participants’ diaries were written on cards and shuffled, only 36.5% of the participants were able to put them back into the correct order. Estimates of the frequency and recency of events may be based upon an ‘availability heuristic’ – the ease with which this type of event comes to mind (Tversky & Kahneman 1974). Detailed memories are estimated to be more recent than poorly remembered ones (Brown, Shevell & Rips 1986). Further, the occurrence of an event may be confused with the act of recalling it (Cohen & Java 1995). For example, a person may estimate an event to be more recent than it was because she recently recounted a story about the event to a friend. Further evidence indicates that people are not very good at accurately reconstructing when events happened, for how long, and in which order (Burt, Kemp, Grady & Conway 2000; Burt, Kemp, Grady & Conway 2008).

Asylum seekers may also be asked about objects commonly found in their country of origin, such as money or national identity documents, in order to test their truthfulness. However, it has been found that we have ‘unexpectedly poor memory for common objects’ (Cameron 2010:479), because we do not need to know this information to effectively use these objects in everyday life. In one experiment, US participants were asked to pick out the genuine American penny from a group of fake pennies and less than half the participants were able to do so (Nickerson & Adams 1979).

These and many other experimental studies of specific memories are described and reviewed comprehensively in Refugee status determinations and the limits of memory (Cameron, 2010).

Memory for repeated events (schemata)

Researchers have studied how we remember events which have been repeated many times, concluding that we use ‘schemata’. Schemata are ‘generic knowledge structures that guide the comprehender’s interpretations, inferences, expectations and attention’ (Graess`er & Nakamura 1984:60) or generalised composites of typical events (Herlihy et al. 2012), such as going to the market or eating at a restaurant. So for repeated events people recall a composite memory based upon what usually happens, rather than specific details. Schemata also work like ‘scripts’ to fill in gaps in memory with expected details. This results in reconstructed memories with details determined by an expectation of what ‘probably happened’ (Herlihy & Turner 2009).  In the RSD system these may seem to be vague or inconsistent and hence not credible.

Research with children reporting sexual abuse over a number of years shows that they are good at giving an accurate account of what ‘usually happened’ but very poor at giving details of any particular event (Price & Connolly, 2008), which of course is what is needed for a legal determination. Understanding of this type of memory is likely to be particularly important for people who have been trafficked, or otherwise had many repeated, similar things happen to them, such as instances of detention, or of torture within detention.

Accuracy and consistency of memory

Even though consistency is not a necessary predictor of accuracy (Cameron 2010), or truthfulness, there is an assumption that a lack of consistency in a testimony indicates fabrication (Herlihy, Scragg & Turner 2002; Herlihy, Gleeson & Turner 2010).

The UK Border Agency emphasises the importance of internal consistency in its guidance notes:

It is reasonable to expect that an applicant who has experienced an event will be able to recount the central elements in a broadly consistent manner. An applicant’s inability to remain consistent throughout his written and oral accounts of past and current events may lead the decision maker not to believe the applicant’s claim. (UK Border Agency 2011:14).

UNHCR advises that ‘it may be necessary for an examiner to clarify and apparent inconsistencies and to resolve any contradictions in a further interview and an explanation for any misrepresentation or concealment of facts…’ (para. 199 of UNCHR Handbook on Criteria for the Determination of Refugee Status in Cohen 2002:294),

However, ‘there is strong evidence that the memories of trustworthy people are not necessarily correct.’ (Kaufmann, Drevland, Wessel, Overskeid & Magnussen 2003:21). For example, in a study of 500 fit, young military personnel interrogated under either ‘high or low-stress’ conditions during training for deployment, twenty-four hours later, only 66% of those under high-stress interrogations could identify their interrogator (Morgan III, Hazlett, Doran, Garrett, Hoyt, Thomas, Baranoski & Southwick 2004).

One explanation for how memories can be influenced by new (mis-)information, is that memory for the source of information fades faster than its content, so that information observed during an event and information learned about it later are difficult to distinguish. This is called a ‘source monitoring error’ (Johnson, Hashtroudi & Lindsay, 1993). For example, I may recount a new story to a friend, but have forgotten that I actually learned the story from that same friend.

Further, if a person is repeatedly asked about a memory of an event, she is likely to recall new information because ‘once a person has initiated a search in memory, the search continues.’ (Herlihy et al. 2002 :327) This is called hypermnesia. In one study, witnesses were interviewed twice about a crime, and in the second interview up to 60% of the information disclosed was new (Yuille & Cutshall 1986). Along with factors affecting disclosure, this is one reason why it is common for new information to be introduced in later accounts.

Consistency of memory for traumatic experiences

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders  (DSM V; APA, 2013) defines a traumatic event as exposure to death, threatened death, actual or threatened serious injury, or actual or threatened sexual violence, either oneself or as a witness’.  Large scale studies have shown high rates of PTSD in refugees, which entails exposure to at least one ‘traumatic event’ (e.g. Fazel, Wheeler & Danesh, 2005; Turner, Bowie, Dunn, Shapo & Yule, 2003)

One prominent theory of memory suggests that ‘trauma memories’ are quite unlike normal autobiographical memories, and are stored in a different structure of the brain.  Whereas normal autobiographical memories have a narrative structure (a beginning, a middle and an end), are recalled as located in the past, are updateable in the light of new information and are voluntary,  ‘traumatic memories’ are distinguished by being encoded as a series of sensory ‘snapshots’. vividly re-experienced in the present, fixed, and triggered by external or internal cues.  External cues might be seeing someone in a uniform, or hearing screams; internal cues include feelings of shame or guilt (Brewin, 2001, 2011).

A study by Southwick, Morgan, Nicolaou, & Charney (1997) supports the conclusion that memory for traumatic experiences is ‘malleable and subject to significant distortion and alteration’ (Southwick et al. 1997:173). In this study, 59 National Guard reservists were asked to fill out a checklist of combat experiences 1 month and then 2 years after they returned from the Gulf War. They found that 88% of respondents changed at least one of their answers. Further, it was found that the more severe the PTSD being experienced by a respondent after 2 years, the greater the number of responses switched from ‘no’ (have not experienced) to ‘yes’ (have experienced) on the checklist of combat experiences.

In a study of Bosnian refugees by Mollica, Caridad & Massagli (2007), when reporting traumatic memories, all but four of the 376 refugees interviewed changed what they reported 3 years earlier. While across all refugees, many of whom had co-morbid PTSD and depression, the number of events reported decreased between interviews, for people with only PTSD the number of events reported increased.

Consistency may also be affected by changes in how depressed the person is. A study by Schraedley, Turner & Gotlib (2002) examined the effects of depression on how traumatic events were reported over a year and found that a decrease in symptoms of depression was linked to a decrease in the number of trauma-related events reported in the second interview. These findings again question the assumption that discrepancies produced during RSD relating to traumatic events indicate fabrication. They may be more linked to the person’s mental health over the period of questioning.

Central vs. peripheral details

A large body of research has shown a distinction between two different types of detail in autobiographical memories: central details capture the central ‘gist’ or more emotionally important details of what happened; peripheral details are the less important ‘minor details’.. What is emotionally central to a person’s memory is subjective and only known by the person reporting it.

Under conditions of stress, people tend to focus more on central details associated with the experience at the expense of peripheral ones (see Herlihy et al. 2012 for a review), and this will determine what they can remember when they come to recall the event. Yet, during RSD, credibility determination often relies upon questions concerning peripheral details (Herlihy, Gleeson & Turner 2010). When a memory is of a violent event, specifically one involving a weapon, a ‘weapon effect’ has been noted, whereby attention is so focused on the threatening weapon that people are less able to recall other details from the environment (Loftus, Loftus & Messo 1987). However, this is not widely understood outside of psychology research: in one study comparing psychologists and lay people, 90% of psychologists agreed that the presence of a gun would interfere with memory of the perpetrator’s face, while more lay people believed that victims must have accurate memory for the face and the gun.

In a study which tied this body of research to people seeking asylum, refugees with prima facie recognition of status in the UK were interviewed twice and each time asked to describe the same memories, one traumatic and one normal. Participants rated whether details of the memories were central or peripheral. It was found that approximately 30% of the details given differed between the interviews and the highest rate of discrepancies was found for peripheral details of traumatic events (Herlihy, Scragg & Turner 2002). These peripheral details, however, are often those most scrutinised in the RSD process, implying that those reporting traumatic events may appear less credible and so be put at a disadvantage.

A further finding of this study was that, for the participants with high levels of PTSD, discrepancies were more common where there was a longer interval between interviews.

Overgeneral memory

Both depression and PTSD have been associated with over-general, vague memories, and difficulty recalling specific incidents even when prompted. For example when asked to describe a specific happy memory, an over-general response would be  ‘I’m happy when  I’m with friends’; a specific response might ‘I was happy when I went to X movie with my friend’ (Williams et al., 2007). One explanation for over general memories is that they avoid the distress associated with specific events. For example, if one time while with friends something terrible happened, reporting general memories may be a means of avoiding thinking of details associated with  that event (see Kagan, Herlihy, Turner, Hardi & Udvarhelyi 2013). This avoidance then becomes a habit, and can affect even areas of life where there was no particular distress. Over general memory may affect perceptions of credibility, because it is commonly assumed that real memories are rich in detail (Herlihy et al. 2010). For example, the UKBA guidance states that:

The level of detail with which an applicant sets out his claims about the past and present is a factor which may influence a decision maker when assessing internal credibility. (UK Border Agency 2011)


Dissociation is defined in DSM IV as the ‘disruption of the usually integrated functions of consciousness, memory and identity, or a perception of the environment’ (American Psychiatric Association, 2000). Dissociation cuts people off from present awareness and may appear as indifference or day-dreaming. It can happen at the time of a traumatic event, where it serves as a protective strategy.  However it can also happen later, when reminded of a traumatic event, or even just in moderately stressful situations.  In one study of 27 asylum seekers, it was found that 24 of the participants reported clinically significant dissociation at the time of their immigration interview with the UK Home Office (Bogner, Herlihy & Brewin 2007).

Memory and culture

The culture we are brought up in is intertwined with the way in which we learn to remember and report events in our lives.  This is illustrated in a study by Wang, Leichtman & Davies (2010) who, when examining parental reminiscing, found that mothers from individualistic cultures encouraged their children to contribute to discussion, engaged more often in memory talk, and focused on the child’s role and desires. Mothers from collectivistic cultures more often prompted children to confirm information already presented, discouraged children from making their own contributions to discussion, and focused more on social interactions. This suggests that people from collectivistic cultures report memories in a different way, focusing on different details and disclosing emotions differently from people from individualistic cultures.

In a study examining these cultural differences in the reporting of memories in the light of the asylum system, Jobson (2009) asked people of different background cultures to describe in writing an everyday memory and a traumatic memory, which independent raters then rated as ‘specific’ or ‘general’. Significantly more people from Western countries gave specific accounts than people from Asia, Africa and Latin America. This suggests that people from collectivistic cultures may appear less credible to RSD assessors from individualistic cultures, given that ‘sufficiency of detail’ is one of the cornerstones of credibility assessment (UNHCR 2013).

Although decision-makers may not be able to express or even understand all of their own knowledge, culture, and their influence on decision-making, it is imperative that they recognise that their culture is different from others in ways that they do not, and do not necessarily need to, understand (Jarvis 2003).


Disclosure, or what people tell and how they tell it in their testimonies, is important in RSD as this is often the largest part of how the asylum seeker can describe the basis of their fear of future persecution. Testimonies are the means of conveying the ‘reality’ of the experiences and emotions of the asylum seeker (Bruner 1991). The late or non-disclosure of information may lead to inconsistencies within a testimony, is assumed to indicate fabrication and reflects poorly on the apparent credibility of the testimony (Cohen 2002).

In the same way that memories are reconstructions of past events, articulated testimonies result from the process of constructing a narrative from those lived events. Constructing a testimony is not simple, as it involves translating an individual experience and understanding of an event into a narrative story that articulates the experience in a given context for a particular audience (Bruner 1991). So an experience is never directly represented, but edited at different stages of the process from life to text (Eastmond 2007).

Thus how an interviewer acts, the relation between the interviewer and interviewee, and the setting of the interview will affect an asylum seeker’s disclosure (Bogner et al. 2009).

Researchers have studied ‘interrogative suggestibility’, or the extent to which a person will change his responses to questions after leading questions or negative feedback. For example, in a study by Burt & Poppel (1996) when asked about an observed event, people reported shorter estimates of duration when the verb ‘run’ was used rather than ‘walk’. Even asking a question multiple times may imply the initial answer given was wrong, and so increase the interviewee’s uncertainty and suggestibility (Baxter, Boon & Marley 2006). The more powerful the interviewer is perceived to be, the more likely it is the asylum seeker will give the expected answer (Gudjonsson 1997). Further, it has been found that higher suggestibility, or the extent to which a person will change his response due to leading questions or negative feedback, is associated with low-mood (MacFarland & Morris 1998), low self-esteem (Baxter et al. 2006) and possibly suicidal thoughts (Gudjonsson, Sigurdsson & Sigfusdottir, 2009)

One of the symptoms of PTSD is an inability to recall important aspects of the traumatic event. This can pose a problem during RSD, especially because adjudicators may expect a person to remember certain details – such as the date – associated with a stressful event.

Violence, traumatic experiences & disclosure

‘It was the first time in my life that I had to talk about what happened to me. I only told the interviewer about 10%, I could not talk, it was too difficult. I felt so traumatised and ashamed.’ (P2 in Bogner et al. 2007:78)

It is often assumed that asylum seekers will be able to reveal all personal information relevant to their asylum claim (Herlihy et al. 2010), but asylum seekers often initially under-report sexual violence (Bogner et a. 2009). In acknowledgement of this, UNCHR advises:

‘…concealment of parts of the story does not necessarily detract from the credibility of the applicant. A genuine refugee may not be willing to tell his or her full story for fear of endangering relatives or friends, or for fear of sharing this information with persons in position of authority’ (UNHCR 1995: 34 in Bogner et al. 2009:2).

Sexual violence may be  harder again to disclose for several reasons: avoidance may be  stronger when there has been sexual trauma than other traumas (van Velsen et al. 1996), sex is often a taboo topic, women and men may fear a stigma due to abuse, concepts such as confidentiality and privacy do not exist in the same way in different cultures, and presence of an opposite gender interpreter may make the person anxious (see Bogner et al. 2009 for a review; Burnett & Peel 2001).

In a study designed to investigate these barriers to disclosure, 27 people were asked about their interviews at the UK Home Office. They filled in standard questionnaires measuring their symptoms of PTSD, levels of shame, dissociation (at the time of the interview) and how difficult they had found it to disclose at interview what had happened to them.  Those who had a history of sexual violence had significantly more difficulty disclosing and had higher levels, compared to the non-sexual violence group, of PTSD symptoms, PTSD avoidance symptoms in particular, shame and dissociation (Bogner, Herlihy & Brewin, 2007).

However, in the qualitative findings from the same study, Bogner et al. (2009) found that interviewer empathy, patience, acceptance and non-judgmental listening facilitated a trusting relationship between interviewer and interviewee, laying the ground for fuller disclosure.

The psychology of the interviewer/decision maker

‘Realizing that there are at least three different ways to relate to the facts of this case…is to define and acknowledge your role as…trier of fact; is to acknowledge your own participation in the creation of reality.’ (Williams 1991:107-108)

‘… we need to pay careful attention to what judges know about the world, how they know the things they do, and how the things they know translate into their activities as judges … Judicial notice may resemble a window that judges try to look through but that has reflective glass in it: so it is really a mirror.’ (Graycar 1991:262)

Even though legal decisions are supposed to be ‘point-of-viewless’ (Bruner 1991), the outcome of RSD is also affected by the internalised mindset, assumptions, schemata and emotions of the decision-maker (Herlihy, Gleeson & Turner 2010).


Plausibility refers to the believability and apparent likelihood of a person’s testimony. There are a number of assumptions made by decision-makers relating to plausibility (Herlihy et al. 2010). Sometimes they assume to understand how another’s ideas, emotions, motivations and experiences influence that person’s decision-making and what people do in potentially traumatic situations.  Rather than rely on personal (first and second hand) experience, psychological and psycho-legal research can be drawn on for answers to these questions.

One model of how people make decisions is the ‘cognitive story model’ (Hastie 1993), in which mental structures work together to build a plausible story from a selective summary of events referred to in a testimony (see Herlihy & Turner 2009). A study by Palys & Divorski (1984) supports this model. In the study several judges heard fictitious crimes and explained their thinking while recommending sentences for the offenders. The severity of the sentence was in line with the ‘stories’ judges had been told about the offender, such as ‘poor background, struggling to keep out of trouble’ or ‘regular bad behaviour, shows little remorse’. In the Global North, Summerfield (2002) has argued that there are two primary constructions of asylum seekers: as ‘wily, determined and tough’ ‘bogus’ asylum seekers or innocent, vulnerable and suffering victims of circumstance. Those perceived as helpless are then more likely to receive a positive decision, in line with a cognitive story of the latter type of asylum seeker.

Psychologists and economists used to think that decisions were rational analyses of facts, like cost-benefit analyses (Kahneman & Tversky 1974).  However, a large body of psychology research now shows that decisions are far more emotionally led, based upon heuristics, or rules of thumb, that serve as guides to decision-making  (Kahneman 2013). For example, ‘availability’ heuristics use a person’s remembered experiences to form a model for how to interpret the present. For example, the memory of an experience of being pick-pocketed may inform how a person interprets the unsolicited approach of a stranger. This is of course subject to the shortcomings of our memory. Representativeness heuristics liken complex, new situations to simpler, known situations e.g. a teenager learning how to drive a car may be informed by the memory of playing a car-racing video game (Tversky & Kahneman 1974). An understanding of the use of heuristics can reveal how decisions are based on estimates of the probability of events from decision-makers’ partial knowledge of the world, rather than using more structured, evidence-based methodology.

Demeanour and credibility assessment

Demeanour, or an asylum seeker’s manner and non-verbal behaviour (Coffey 2003), influences the perceived truthfulness of her testimony (Herlihy & Turner 2009) even though ‘examining demeanour for clues to credibility presupposes that we know what truth looks like and that it looks the same on everybody’ (Macklin 1998:138). Typically, frankness, spontaneity, richness in detail, and emotional congruence are taken as indicators of a truthful demeanour (Hunter et al. 2010). However, it has been suggested that decision-makers overestimate their own ability to discern truthfulness in cross-cultural settings (Millbank 2009). In a review of approximately 40 studies, Vrij, Edward, Roberts & Bull (2000) found that people were able to correctly identify truth only 67% of the time and lies 44% of the time.

Testimonies are judged to be more credible when the emotions displayed while giving a testimony are congruent with its emotional content. In one experiment by Kaufmann et al. (2003), people were shown a video of the testimony of a ‘rape victim’. The nonverbal behaviour of the ‘victim’ was congruent, neutral or incongruent with the content of the testimony, for example in the congruent condition she was tearful and distressed. They found that the victim was found increasingly credible the more congruent her nonverbal behaviour was with the content of her testimony. This suggests that it is more difficult for people not reacting in the manner expected by decision-makers to be perceived as being truthful, such as those experiencing emotional numbing (a common feature of post-traumatic stress disorder) or of different cultures. Indeed, both expression and perception vary by gender, culture, class, level of education, presence of trauma, anxiety, and on an individual basis (Gergen & Gergen 1988; Sampson 1989; Triandis 1989).

PTSD and credibility

Many of the ways in which people present when they have PTSD overlap with perceived cues to deception.  For example, people who fidget are more likely to be perceived as lying (Vrij, 2008), and people with PTSD experiencing flashbacks show an increase in limb movements (Hellawell & Brewin, 2002 ). In a study investigating the impact of this in RSD, the same testimony was presented in four separate video clips to mock adjudicators (Rogers, Fox & Herlihy, in press).  The actor in the video was instructed to show 1) behavioural signs of PTSD (increased movement, jumpiness, 2) cues of lying (what people actually do when they’re lying, e.g. increased movement, higher pitched voice), 3) both 1 and 2, and 4) a neutral condition. Participants then rated each account on its apparent credibility. The PTSD account was rated to be the most credible, and participants indicated that this was because the testifier ‘seemed understandably traumatised’, indicating that emotional congruence between the account and demeanour of the testifier was seen as an indicator of credibility.  This is in line with previous research showing that people in court are more likely believed where they show ‘appropriate’ distress (e.g. (Kaufmann, Drevland, Wessel, Overskeid & Magnussen, 2003).  However, this also raises the possibility that a person experiencing emotional numbing might be considered less credible, as this presentation of PTSD is less well known (Wilson-Shaw, Pistrang & Herlihy, 2012).  The other important finding of this study of the overlap between signs of PTSD and signs of lying is that the account that was rated the least credible was the PTSD+lying account.  This suggests that people seeking asylum who both have PTSD and are telling lies in their account (e.g. people who have been threatened by traffickers) are most likely to be seen as not credible.

Vicarious traumatisation

Vicarious traumatisation (VT) is a state brought about through continued exposure to other people’s accounts of atrocities. It may disrupt beliefs that the world is benign, the world is meaningful, the self is worthy, and people are trustworthy (McCann & Pearlman 1990). It can also be expressed through symptoms similar to PTSD.  The person may attempt psychological self-protection through cynicism, burnout, avoidance, diminished empathy, anger, and trivialisation of accounts and, whilst this has not yet been systematically studied in the asylum process, it may affect asylum decisions (Rousseau et al. 2002, Bogner et al. 2009).

In one study by Jaffe (2003), evidence of VT was found in 63% of a sample of 105 judges in a Family Court. Avoidance caused by VT may lead decision-makers to tell asylum seekers to ‘keep it short’ (as seen in Bogner et al’s (2007) study) or restrict themselves to yes/no answers, limiting the extent of their disclosure and thereby their credibility (Herlihy & Turner 2009). Indirect avoidance may lead them to ignore traumatic events in favour of neutral ones, later allowing decision-makers to deny the existence of the asylum seeker’s suffering or dismiss its importance. The impact of VT on asylum decision-making is an important issue that needs further research.


In this article we have outlined some of the areas of psychological science which can bring crucial evidence to bear on different processes in the asylum system.  Individuals seeking protection have to draw on their memories of events – both of ordinary knowledge of their alleged home country and of the most extraordinary, sometimes traumatic experiences. A significant body of literature has demonstrated that neither of these is straightforward. Further, disclosing what can be recalled has its own difficulties. These have also been studied under controlled conditions and by being aware of these findings, the process of determining refugee status can only become better informed and potentially more reliable. We have also looked at what psychological science has to offer in understanding the process of interviewing and coming to a decision about the credibility of a claim for protection.This necessarily involves understanding the interactions between the people involved at any point, and the psychology of the interviewers and decision makers themselves.

With this article we have shown some examples of the breadth of evidence that can be drawn upon in order to not only evaluate the medical evidence but to have a better understanding of the many complexities of refugee status determination.


American Psychiatric Association. (2000). DSM-IV-TR: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders

Barnes, J. (2004). Expert Evidence - The Judicial Perception in Asylum and Human Rights Appeals.  Paper prepared for the joint ILPA/IARLJ Conference. International Journal of Refugee Law, 16(3), 349-357.

Bogner, D., Herlihy, J. & Brewin, C. (2007). Impact of sexual violence on disclosure during Home Office interviews. British Journal of Psychiatry, 191, 75-81.

Brewin, C. (2001). Memory processes in post-traumatic stress disorder. International Review of Psychiatry, 13(3), 159-163.

Brewin, C. (2011). The Nature and Significance of Memory Disturbance in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 7, 203-227.

Cameron, H. E. (2010). Refugee status determinations and the limits of memory. International Journal of Refugee Law, 22(4), 469-511.

Fazel, M., Wheeler, J. & Danesh, J. (2005). Prevalence of serious mental disorder in 7000 refugees resettled in western countries: a systematic review. Lancet, 365, 1309-1314.

Gudjonsson, G. H., Sigurdsson, J. F. & Sigfusdottir, I. D. (2009). Interrogation and false confessions among adolescents in seven European countries. What background and psychological variables best discriminate between false confessors and non-false confessors? Psychology, Crime & Law, 15(8), 711-728.

Hartwig, M., Granhag, P. A. & Strömwall, L. A. (2007). Guilty and innocent suspects’ strategies during police interrogations. Psychology, Crime & Law, 13(2).

Herlihy, J., Gleeson, K. & Turner, S. (2010). What assumptions about human behaviour underlie asylum judgments? International Journal of Refugee Law, 22(3), 351-366.

Herlihy, J., Jobson, L. & Turner, S. (2012). Just tell us what happened to you : autobiographical memory and seeking asylum. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 26, 661-676.

Herlihy, J., Scragg, P. & Turner, S. (2002). Discrepancies in Autobiographical Memories: Implications for the Assessment of Asylum Seekers: repeated interviews study. British Medical Journal, 324, 324-327.

Herlihy, J. & Turner, S. (2007). Editorial : Asylum Claims: Are we sharing our knowledge?. British Journal of Psychiatry 191 3-4.

Herlihy, J. & Turner, S. W. (2009). The Psychology of Seeking Protection International Journal of Refugee Law, 21(2), 171-192.

Hellawell, S. J. & Brewin, C. R. (2002 ). A comparison of flashbacks and ordinary autobiographical memories of trauma: cognitive resources and behavioural observations  Behaviour Research and Therapy, 40(10), 1143-1156.

Hunter, J., Steel, Z., Pearson, L., Roque, M. S., Silove, D., Frommer, N. et al. (2010). Tales of the Unexpected & Refugee Status Decision-making: Managing and Understanding Psychological Issues among Refugee Applicants. Sydney Faculty of Law and Psychiatry Research and Teaching Unit, University of New South Wales.

Independent Asylum Commission. (2008). Fit for purpose yet? The Independent Asylum Commission’s Interim Findings. London: Independent Asylum Commission.

Johnson, M. K., Hashtroudi, S. & Lindsay, D. S. (1993). Source Monitoring. . Psychological Bulletin, 114, 3-28.

Kaufmann, G., Drevland, G. C. B., Wessel, E., Overskeid, G. & Magnussen, S. (2003). The importance of being earnest: Displayed emotions and witness credibility. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 17(1), 21-34.

Noll, G. (2005). Introduction: re-mapping evidentiary assessment in asylum procedures. In G. Noll (Ed.), Proof, Evidentiary Assessment and Credibility in Asylum Procedures. Leiden/Boston: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers.

Price, H. L. & Connolly, D. A. (2008). Children’s recall of emotionally arousing, repeated events: A review and call

for further investigation. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 31, 337-346.

Thomas, R. (2006). Assessing the Credibility of Asylum Claims: EU and UK Approaches Examined. European Journal of Migration and Law, 8, 79-96.

Turner, S. W., Bowie, C., Dunn, G., Shapo, L. & Yule, W. (2003). Mental health of Kosovan Albanian refugees in the UK. [Hard copy on file + pre-bublication]. Br J Psychiatry, 182(5), 444-448.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). (May 2013). Beyond Proof, Credibility Assessment in EU Asylum Systems : Full Report Available.

Vrij, A. (2008). Detecting Lies and Deceit: Pitfalls and Opportunities (2nd ed.). Chichester: John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Williams, J. M. G., Barnhofer, T., Crane, C., Hermans, D., Raes, F., Watkins, E. et al. (2007). Autobiographical memory specificity and emotional disorder. Psychological Bulletin, 133(1), 122–148.

Wilson-Shaw, L., Pistrang, N. & Herlihy, J. (2012). Non-clinicians’ judgments about asylum seekers’ mental health: How do legal representatives of asylum seekers decide when to request medico-legal reports? European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 3.



Request for Somali community to participate in a survey

Sarah Dryden-Peterson, assistant professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, is leading a research effort promoting support systems to Somali refugees living in Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. The project is part of her broader work of promoting access to high quality education for refugees. Persons of Somali origin over the age of 18 and who have completed secondary school are invited to participate in an online survey, which will inform the project.

Syrian refugees and asylum seekers invited to participate in radio documentary

A journalism student producing a radio documentary on the experiences of Syrian refugees and asylum seekers in Britain is seeking participants. The documentary will feature a number of cases studies, particularly focused on the experiences of women refugees and asylum seekers. Participants may choose to remain anonymous throughout the project. Contact Harry Darkins for more information or to participate.

Request for information about US agreements to share immigration information

Elspeth Guild is seeking information about the United States’ agreements with other countries regarding the sharing and exchange of information it has acquired on foreigners related to visas and immigration. Email Elspeth with any information on this subject.



Center for Gender & Refugee Studies asylum case database

The Center for Gender & Refugee Studies (CGRS) at University of California, Hastings, is pleased to announce the launch of a new and improved case database with several new features that will make it easier to request assistance in asylum cases and to search CGRS’s case records. An improved intake form for asylum cases will allow CGRS to provide more tailored consultation, and improved search features that will enable it easier to search for publicly available case information. Users will also be able to update case record they create themselves on any decisions reached in their cases.

The new database operates through user accounts; you must log in to request assistance or update an outcome for a case already in the system. Please visit the website to log in or create a new account. If you encounter any problems creating an account, please contact CGRS via email.

UNHCR guidelines on asylum seeking from Ukraine and refugees in Ukraine

UNHCR has released guidance for governments and UNHCR Offices which may begin to receive asylum seekers from Ukraine. The guidance is relevant to the determination of international protection needs of people having left Ukraine following recent political unrest.

UNHCR report on arrivals of refugees from South Sudan to Sudan

UNHCR has released a report documenting numbers of South Sudanese refugees entering Sudan between 15 December 2013 and 5 March 2014.

CREDO project provides tools for assessing credibility in the EU asylum system

UNHCR and the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, have partnered to develop tools (such as checklists and flowcharts) to aid with assessing the credibility of asylum seekers.  UNHCR has analysed the application of these tools in this report.  Additionally, a training manual on credibility assessment has been prepared as part of the CREDO project.

Forced Migration Current Awareness Blog

The Forced Migration Current Awareness Blog by Elisa Mason has recently published its 3000th post. The objective of the blog is to provide information to researchers and practitioners in the field of forced migration.



‘Countries […] that have traditionally been considered countries of emigration are now becoming countries of immigration too’ - Final Destination Maghreb: The Transformation of Transit Countries. Myriam Cherti. COMPAS Blog. 2014.

‘A girl or woman seeking asylum because she has been forced to undergo, or is likely to be subjected to, FGM can qualify for refugee status under the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.’ - Too Much Pain - Female Genital Mutilation & Asylum in the European Union: A Statistical Update. UNHCR. 2014.

‘This article explores this disconnect between the treatment of marriage in U.S. constitutional law, international law, and U.S. asylum law and argues that courts considering asylum claims based on forced marriage have erred in denying women much-needed protection against non-consensual marriages.’ - An ‘I Do’ I Choose: How the Fight for Marriage Access Supports a Per Se Finding of Persecution for Asylum Cases Based on Forced Marriage. ExpressO. 2014.

‘Since 2009, UNHCR has registered an increased number of asylum-seekers – both children and adults – from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala lodging claims in the Americas region.’ Children On The Run: Unaccompanied children leaving Central America and Mexico and the Need for International Protection. UNHCR. 2014.

‘UNHCR’s Asylum Trends 2013 report says 612,700 people applied for asylum in North America, Europe, East Asia and the Pacific last year - the highest total for any year since 2001.’ UNHCR Asylum Trends 2013. UNHCR. 2014.

‘Nationality laws which do not grant women equality with men in conferring nationality to their children are a cause of statelessness and a concern for UNHCR under its mandate to prevent and reduce statelessness.’ Background Note on Gender Equality, Nationality Laws and Statelessness 2014. UNHCR. 2014.

‘The South Sudanese crisis has massively impacted Kakuma with more than 20,000 new arrivals seeking asylum in Kenya since the start of violent conflict in Juba in December’ - Letter from the editor. Qaabata Boru. Kanere News Reflector. 2014.

‘With impunity reigning for those violating human rights and international humanitarian law, and with the declining international attention, eleven years on, there seems to be no end in sight for the conflict in Darfur’ – Sudan: We can’t endure anymore: The impact of inter-communal violence on civilians in central Darfur. Amnesty International Publications. 2014.

‘A joint declaration by 27 United Nations member states expressing concern about Egypt’s repeated use of excessive force against demonstrators turned the international spotlight on Egypt’s human rights abuses’ – UN Human Rights Council: Egypt rights abuses in the spotlight. Human Rights Watch. 2014.

‘The purpose of the fieldwork was to examine the treatment of refugees in [Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia] and discuss the issue of regional cooperation with respect to refugees in the Southeast Asia region’ – Refugee protection and regional cooperation in Southeast Asia: A fieldwork report. Penelope Mathew and Tristan Harley. 2014.


March 2014

a monthly forum for news and discussion on refugee legal aid

Issue 46, March 2014        

ISSN 2049-2650

Editorial Team: Themba Lewis, Lily Parrott, Britta Redwood, Fiona McKinnon, Jennie Corbett, Alice Crocker, Minna Persson and Katherine Rehberg.

Web links are in blue.

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In this issue:


News on Countries of Origin

News on Countries of Asylum

Deportation and Detention News


Conferences and Workshops

Calls for Papers


OO Algeria [2013] UKUT 00063 (IAC)

Supreme Court decides on third country returns

Court of Justice: Judgment in Case C-285/12 Diakité, 30 January 2014

Court of Justice: Judgment in Case C-84/12 Koushkaki, 19 December 2013

USA: Board of Immigration Appeals delivers two judgments defining ‘particular social group’

After a long struggle, 221 migrant families to receive legal status in Israel

Press Release: Saudi Arabia should end summary deportations of Somalis and Yeminis

Charities welcome Court of Appeal judgement on immigrant mental health policy

The Tindouf refugee camps: A Moroccan’s reflections

Team of experts to Israeli Government: End detention of migrant children

Statelessness in Ukraine

Cyprus: Detention of Syrian asylum seekers and access to an effective remedy

Call on government of Kenya to reopen the Kenya-Somali border to ease repatriation of Somali returnees

The Dublin-Strasbourg-Luxembourg triangle: Getting the European Courts’ dialogue on the suspension of Dublin Regulation transfers right

Refugee Legal Aid in Morocco: Moroccan NGO launches lawyer training program in border city of Oujda

Asylum registration in China

UNHCR guidelines on temporary protection or stay arrangements




News on Countries of Origin


Cameroon: Mauritanians fleeing CAR violence stranded in Cameroon; Almost 20,000 CAR refugees flood into eastern Cameroon this month

Central African Republic:

DRC: Thousands flee ‘scorched earth’ campaign in DRC’s Katanga province

Ethiopia: Surveillance follows Ethiopian political refugee to the UK; Britain and the US accused of complicity in human rights abuses in Ethiopia

Mali: The displaced still have nothing to return to in Mali

Nigeria: Federal government says there are no longer refugee camps in Nigeria; Nigerian government targets homosexuals

Rwanda: 10,000 Congolese refugees moved from border camp; Rwanda yet to name wanted refugees; Attacks and threats against Rwandan critics and opponents abroad


South Sudan:


The Gambia: US condemns anti-LGBT rhetoric in The Gambia



Afghanistan: New Afghanistan law could silence women who are victims of domestic violence; Kabul is no safe haven for deported Afghan refugees

India: India’s gay community scrambling after court decision recriminalises homosexuality

North Korea: HRW urges UN to act on report concerning atrocities in North Korea

Pakistan: Urban violence in Pakistan: Assaults on religious and sectarian minorities


Iraq: Iraq illegally detains thousands of women, tortures many, according to HRW

Morocco: Morocco’s new migration policy masks continued abuses

Western Sahara: A Moroccan’s reflections on the Tindouf refugee camps



News on Countries of Asylum


Chad: New refugees in Chad receive blankets but no food

Kenya: Kenya’s National Assembly majority leader pushes for new code for refugee schools

Liberia: Ivory Coast refugees in Liberia crave more support; 16 Ivorian refugees in Liberia busted for electoral fraud

Libya: Libya refuses to cooperate with with refugee workers in EU-funded mission

South Africa:

Sudan: 'New refugees in Chad receive blankets but no food'; UN proposes its support to South Sudanese refugees in Sudan


UNHCR chief calls on Latin America to champion protection and solutions for displaced populations

Canada: Myths of the bogus refugee claimant


Australia: Australia’s immigration department data lapse reveals asylum seekers’ personal details; One killed in violence at PNG camp

Thailand: Asylum seekers’ limbo at Phuket airport to end soon


Cyprus: Cyprus immigration department appears to be accountable to no one

Italy: Italy migrant influx incessant and massive, says minister; More than 1,100 migrants rescued off Italy in one day



Israel: Ugandan government denies Israeli refugee settlement claim; Israel’s society of fences

Jordan: Jordan denied entry to thousands of Palestinian and Iraqi refugees fleeing Syria


IKEA sustainable lighting initiative seeks to brighten lives of refugees in UN camps


Deportation and Detention News

Special highlight: Returns to Somalia a violation of international law

Despite substantial evidence that returns to Somalia are not acceptable, the UK is committed to restarting the returns process

DRC: Deported ex-offenders detained upon arrival


  • Note on recent court rulings on immigrant detention in the European court on Human Rights

  • Investigation reveals serious shortcomings concerning the implementation of the EU Return Directive in Spain, Italy, and Cyprus

LIBERIA: Repatriation of 23 Ivorian refugees allegedly by state security deemed ‘forceful’ by refugee committee. The Liberian government orders an investigation.


UNITED STATES: number of detained non-citizens record high

SAUDI ARABIA: 12,000 Somalis deported without considering refugee claims

THAILAND: Thailand sends Rohingya Muslims back to Burma



Statelessness Summer Course, Tilburg University, The Netherlands, 4-8 August

The Statelessness Summer Course at Tilburg University in The Netherlands will offer a unique opportunity to learn about and reflect on the challenge that statelessness presents in the international legal system. Held 4-8 August, the Summer Course aims to enable people working in this and related fields—such as refugees, citizenship, human rights and anti-discrimination—to acquire new skills to better understand this problem. See the course announcement for more information and registration instructions.

CFMS Summer Institute, Northwestern University, USA, 1-7 June

The Center for Forced Migration Studies (CFMS) will host it’s annual Summer Institute 1-7 June at Northwestern University’s campus in Evanston, Illinois, USA. The Summer Institute is a rigorous week-long, non-degree earning certificate program that provides a forum to exchange ideas, build relationships, develop new approaches and policy recommendations and learn about new developments in the field. Past participants have included government officials, non-governmental organization personnel, university faculty and graduate students (select advanced undergraduate students may seek permission to attend). Applicants must have good to excellent English speaking and reading skills.

The 2014 Summer Institute on The Refugee Status Determination Process introduces participants to the 1951 Refugee Convention and 1967 Protocol refugee regime, the international legal basis for refugee status and the variations in how UNHCR and authorities in different countries determine whether an asylum-seeker is eligible for refugee status, with a particular focus on the United States. Register here.

RSC course on Statelessness and International Law, Oxford, UK, 17-18 May

The Refugee Studies Centre at the Department of International Development, University of Oxford, will be hosting a two-day non-residential course focusing on statelessness on 17-18 May. The issue of statelessness has risen considerably on the agenda of the UN, regional institutions, governments and civil society. There is also an increasing body of theoretical and empirical research looking at citizenship and lack thereof from various perspectives. It is within this context that the Refugee Studies Centre will offer its third short course on statelessness and international law, aiming to examine the causes, consequences and remedies for statelessness around the world. Click here for more information and to apply for the course.

Course on Health and Humanitarian Responses in Complex Emergencies, Oxford, UK, 17-18 May

Complex emergencies can result in movements of populations, widespread malnutrition, disease, mental illness, suffering and other outcomes that trigger humanitarian responses from a wide range of national and international actors. The Refugee Studies Centre at the Department of International Development, University of Oxford, will host a two-day short course on 17-18 May critically examining the normative frameworks for humanitarian responses in addressing the health and well-being of populations in complex emergencies. Alternative approaches to complex emergencies will also be presented and assessed. Click here for more information and to apply for the course.

The International Summer School in Forced Migration, Oxford, UK, 7-25 July

The International Summer School in Forced Migration fosters dialogue between academics, practitioners and policymakers working to improve the situation of refugees and forced migrants. The program offers an intensive, interdisciplinary and participative approach to the study of forced migration. It aims to enable people working with refugees and other forced migrants to reflect critically on the forces and institutions that dominate the world of the displaced. Now in its 25th year, the three-week course combines the very best of Oxford University’s academic excellence with a stimulating and participatory method of critical learning and reflection. Please click here for more information and to apply. For enquiries, please contact Heidi El-Megrisi.

Refugee Rights Leadership Training workshop, Geneva, Switzerland, 13-15 June

Asylum Access and the University of York will hold a Refugee Rights Leadership Training workshop 13-15 June in Geneva, Switzerland, prior to UNHCR’s Annual Consultations with NGOs. The workshop is an opportunity for refugee response practitioners to further the refugee rights movement by critically reflecting on the most recent developments in the field. Information about how to apply will be available soon.


Conferences and Workshops

Conference on Eritrean migration to Europe, Rome, Italy, 6 March 2014

IOM Rome and Agenzia Habeshia will convene a conference, “From Eritrea to Europe: news of an Humanitarian Emergency” on 6 March 2014 at 11:00 am at the Vatican Radio’s Press Room, Piazza Pia 3, Rome, Italy. In 2013 over 9,000 Eritreans reached Italian coasts by sea. Many have risked their lives making a difficult journey through the Libyan and Egyptian deserts. The purpose of this briefing is to describe the situation facing Eritrean migrants. For more information contact Flavio Di Giacomo, IOM Rome.

Movement Against Xenophobia Conference, London, UK, 15 March 2014

This one-day conference will examine the current immigration debate in the United Kingdom from a progressive perspective. It will focus on three major themes: family immigration, the Immigration Bill and the upcoming European and general elections. Register here.

‘Refugee Voices’ conference, Oxford, UK, 24-25 March 2014

Registration is now open for the Refugee Voices conference hosted by the Refugee Studies Centre at St Anne’s College, University Oxford from 24-25 March 2014. The conference will bring together scholars from across the social sciences and researchers in cultural studies, literature and the humanities to look beyond the nation state and international relations in order to give new attention to the voices and aspirations of refugees and other forced migrants themselves. Among the themes to be explored are historical and cultural sources and meanings of flight, exile and forced migration, as well as the significance of encampment, enclosures and forced settlement. Register online here.

Conference on statelessness, Strasbourg, France, 8 April 2014

Registration is now open for the Conference ‘Stateless but not Rightless: Improving the Protection of Stateless Persons in Europe’, jointly organised by the European Network on Statelessness and the UNHCR Representation to the European Institutions in Strasbourg on 8 April. Register here.

Australia and Refugee Law, 60 Years On, Sydney, Australia, 3 November 2014

The Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law is pleased to announce that its annual conference will be held on Monday 3 November at UNSW Law.  The theme for this year is ‘Between Principle and Pragmatism: Australia and Refugee Law, 60 Years On’. The conference keynote speaker will be Professor Guy S Goodwin-Gill, Professor of International Refugee Law and Senior Research Fellow, All Souls College, University of Oxford. 2014 marks 60 years since Australia signed the Refugee Convention.  In fact, it was Australia’s signature of the treaty in 1954 that brought the treaty into force for the world.  Since that time, Australia’s response to refugees has ranged from generosity and understanding, through to deterrence and intolerance.  The 60th anniversary provides us with an opportunity to consider how previous Australian governments have balanced Australia’s obligations under international law with long-standing anxieties about spontaneous asylum seeker arrivals, and to consider how Australia might offer principled protection into the future. A full programme and registration details will be available on the Kaldor Centre website later this year.


Calls for Papers

Workshop on refugee protection outside of the international legal framework, Northwestern University

80% of the world’s refugees seek asylum in non-democratic states, or states that have not signed the 1951 International Convention for the Protection of Refugees and 1967 Protocol, do not have implementing legislation or, if they do, do not grant refugees rights as defined by the Refugee Convention. The Center for Forced Migration Studies at Northwestern University invites submissions for a two-day workshop designed to promote cross-disciplinary discussion and engage researchers, practitioners and policy makers in the theoretical and practical issues, the lessons to be learned and the strategies for achieving protection in these states. The organisers invite submissions that address the workshop themes including, but not limited to:

Historical Legacies of Refugee Reception (papers that address how countries such as the United States received refugees prior to the passage of national legislation).

Alternative Legacies: The Experience of Partition and National Understandings of Refugees (papers that address the decision of countries at the time of the adoption of the 1951 Refugee Convention and/or 1967 Protocol not to become party to the Convention. What rationales did these decisions follow and how did these decisions relate to the experience of displaced populations at the time)

Formal Refugee Status Determination (RSD) Processes (papers that address, but are not limited to, the RSD process in transition/emerging systems such as Israel, Korea and Kenya; complementary forms of refugee protection such as temporary protected status; judicial decisions based systems in non-party states such as that in India)

Quasi-Legal Non-State Mechanisms and Informal RSD Processes (papers that address community based concepts of protection or hospitality, common law principles of non-refoulement; local instruments, agents and institutions that provide refugee protection in the absence of formal law; refugee survival strategies that become “quasi legal”)

Methods of Studying Socio-Legal Processes of Refugee Status in Local Contexts (papers that offer new methodological approaches to how we might understanding the costs and benefits of implementing an RSD process for the state and/or for the refugee seeking protection; methodological approaches to understanding the refugee experience of RSD in non-party states)

Abstracts should be submitted by email, and should include a title, contact details (name, affiliation, mailing address, email) and a description of the workshop paper (250-400 words). The deadline for abstract submission is 1 April 2014, and applicants will be notified of acceptance 15 April 2014.

Workshop on resettlement at the Nordic Migration Research Conference, Copenhagen, Denmark, 13-15 August 2014.

While refugee resettlement has been practiced and researched for a long time in countries like the USA, Canada and Australia, in the European context it remains largely under-researched. Research on refugee resettlement in a European context has been sparse until now, and has mostly concentrated on labour market integration. This workshop welcomes contributions on refugee resettlement from various theoretical and methodological angles and perspectives that will shine light on different aspects of resettlement as well as on the European context. The goal is to publish a special issue on refugee resettlement from a European perspective.The deadline for sending abstracts is 15 March. Abstracts should be submitted by email. See here for more information on the conference.