Doing Credibility; The Construction of Credibility in Swiss Asylum Procedures

In deciding whether asylum seekers are granted asylum or not, immigration officers and judges in Switzerland as elsewhere must not only decide whether an asylum seeker fits the definition of a refugee. They must also assess the credibility of the asylum seeker’s statements. And it precisely this assessment and decision-making process Johanna Fuchs, Laura Affolter and Raphaël Rey analyse in this project. The researchers focus on four of the main actors involved in asylum procedures: asylum seekers, legal advisors, officers working for the Federal Office of Migration as well as judges and clerks in the Federal Administrative Tribunal. By looking at these different actors the project examines how credibility and the lack of credibility are defined, what meanings are ascribed to these concepts, and how credibility is practically constructed and used. Apart from studying these actors' perceptions of and dealings with credibility, the project also intends to analyse the “struggles over credibility” between them when striving to enhance their institution’s credibility. Thus, they pose the following research questions:

What criteria is used by the different actors in the asylum proceedings to determine the credibility of asylum stories?
How is evidence constructed during the asylum procedures and in what ways is evidence connected to the construction of “credible asylum” cases?
How do the actors of our study mutually judge the other party or institution’s credibility?

The approach of this research project is new to the debates on credibility assessment in asylum procedures in that it focuses on asylum seekers as well as asylum “makers” in the construction of credibility. Thus, all actors in this study are considered as participants with social agency, who contribute (even though unequally) to the generation and transformation of credibility criteria. Through this, state- and non-state actors, as well as bureaucrats and non-bureaucrats are brought together in the production of state categories regarding credibility assessment. The project relies on a multi-sited ethnographic approach. Fieldwork methods employed are interviews, participant observation and the collection of written documents.

Link to the SNF-Project