Thursday, March 03, 2005

Bogus or Genuine? How Can We Tell?

Young Irelander has posted a couple of times on asylum seeking in the last few days. I took him up on some of his sentiments in the comments thread to his latest, more substantial, post on the matter. We rowed about facts of the matter there, but there are other things that fascinate me about the asylum system, given the general acknowledgement that even people who are anti-asylum seekers make, which is that people in rich countries like Ireland have duties towards people from troubled backgrounds (though we might differ as to what sort of background constitutes a 'troubled' one). In other words, people don't tend to have a problem with asylum systems per se. Rather, they have a problem with people who are not genuine in their claims to asylum. Which leaves us with the thorny question: how does one distinguish between genuine and non-genuine or 'bogus' claims?

Asylum systems are rooted in the assumption that the state can verify the status of each individual asylum seeker. Separating the wheat from the chaff is the modus operandi of the system: genuine asylum seekers, who are presumed to merit our moral attention, are given leave to remain and 'bogus' ones, aka economic migrants, who are not meritorious, are booted out.

It is this effort that leads to asylum systems being slow and inefficient: the state's agents have to interview each individual in order to classify them as genuine or bogus.

My suspicion is that this system relies on an assumed knowledge-gaining capacity that the state just cannot have. We just don't know for sure who's genuine and who's not: people can lie, or people who are trying to tell the truth can be scared into not presenting their case properly. Interviews are pretty blunt instruments for getting at the truth. Apart from their expense and inefficiency, they are riven with moral hazards, placing enormous power in the hands of immigration officials.

Since motives for migrating are only known to the individual concerned (and others who are not accessible to the state's knowledge-building systems), the state cannot build an accurate (by which I mean 'beyond reasonable doubt) picture of what's going on. So, we are left with the employment of proxies, such as the British state's 'designated states' system, whereby people from some source countries have their asylum claims rejected automatically. Which doesn't seem like a particularly good way to go about streamlining a system, no more than assuming that everyone from a warzone has arrived because they're from a warzone.

So I suppose this raises some questions. First, how many times individuals can be subject to incorrect decisions (genuine asylum seekers booted out and bogus ones allowed leave to remain) before we conclude that the system is illegitimate. Second, if we conclude that, how are we to fulfil our generally acknowledged duties towards refugees?

I haven't come up with answers, even though I'm supposed to be writing this up as an article.

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