Telling the story: A psychological review on assessing adolescents’ asylum claims

Given-Wilson, Z., Herlihy, J., Hodes, M (2016). Canadian Psychology/Psychologie canadienne, Vol 57(4), Nov 2016, 265-273

Unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC) are separated from caregivers, have often been exposed to significant additional past and ongoing adversities, and seek protection from war, organised violence or persecution in a new country. Obtaining a more secure legal position by achieving recognition of the asylum claim and legal rights may involve arduous interviews with officials who appear disbelieving. Assessing a minor's claim to asylum is an important and difficult task. UASC often arrive with little "proof" or documentation to justify their claims and can only provide their account in making their claim. Without such 'proof' decision-makers turn to the subjective judgement of the applicant's credibility. This review appraises the literature on UASC asylum claims from a psychological perspective. Searches were made of the main databases for relevant studies. The review focuses on key findings: developmental processes, mental health, autobiographical memory, cultural influences, and decision-makers own thinking processes and subjective states. Key findings specific to the UASC predicament are their ability to tell their story - an aspect of autobiographical memory, which is affected by developmental stage, presence of mental illness and culture. The review shows that the decision-makers' own beliefs, past experiences and emotional state also affects their decision making processes. An adequate assessment requires evaluation of a multitude of factors and careful decision-making. The findings are pertinent for understanding the UASC, interviewing style and appraising the information. The implications for policy and practice are summarised.

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