Asylum Petitions as Vantage Point on Lived Experiences

Asylum claims provide an opportunity to interrogate the apparent dis- juncture between popular perceptions about post-conflict societies and the lived experience on the ground. For many years prior to and during civil conflicts, citizens from Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea, and Cote d’Ivoire fled their domestic settings and sought asylum in Europe and North America. Asylum narratives are an important repository of anecdotal data about the sociopolitical context of the prelude to conflict and the wars as they unfolded. Post-conflict peace settlements and political reconciliation have failed to stem the tide of asylum claims. More recently, the nature, content, and basis of asylum claims has shifted to incorporate a broad spectrum of GBV and crimes pertaining to gender, sexuality, and marital practices, all of which are informed by international gender and minority rights discourse and jurisprudence.

Asylum and refugee claims are part of a larger complex legal context. Asylum claimants and their legal representatives increasingly anchor their narratives with expert testimony. Experts are routinely contracted to provide written and oral analysis of the empirical details of specific claims, ranging from the medical and psychiatric dimensions to analysis of the current state of legal protections, the capacity for government enforcement of law, and the relationship between stated goals and objectives and the reality on the ground.

In my capacity as an expert on human trafficking and gender violence in West Africa broadly, I am often asked to review asylum claims and submit written reports evaluating the specific claims of asylum-seekers. I evaluate the basis for the legal claim of persecution and the history of specific forms of persecution in the respective country. I compare the claims with objective evidence about legal remedy, real and purported, and provide a hypothesis for estimating the likelihood of future jeopardy.

The richness of asylum narratives as empirical reservoirs of data about GBV is remarkable. Whereas some may doubt the specific claims of asylum-seekers, the expert is not an adjudicator.3 I make no claim about the veracity of specific details or circumstances. UK jurisprudence has discerned that fact-finding in immigration matters is the responsibility of the First Tier Tribunal.4 Although petitions are by their very nature formulaic and ought to be treated with due caution, the urgency of the personal narrative reviewed in the context of a legal tribunal offers unparalleled insight into the relationship between individuals and agents of the state, such as police or the judiciary. While some may question the veracity of the claims in asylum narratives, it is not the role of the expert to make any determination in this regard. When drafting reports I treat all claims as plausible unless evidence establishes otherwise; asylum-seekers encounter all too many authorities questioning their credibility. Asylum claims provide a unique vantage point to explore what it means to be a gendered subject in post-conflict societies in Upper Guinea.

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