The Hidden Part of Asylum Seekers’Interviews in Geneva, Switzerland: Some Observations about the Socio-political Construction of Interviews between Gatekeepers and the Powerless

Author(s) : Michel-Acatl Monnier

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In Switzerland, asylum seekers are interviewed by a Government official, assisted by an interpreter. A representative of a refugee welfare organization is present The asylum seekers take an oath before being questioned about their past, their political activities and the reasons they left their country. The interviewer selects the answers to be recorded. On the basis of this record, the authorities decide whether to grant the asylum seeker refugee status.After a detailed description of the interviews, this article shows that in spite of these procedures, the decisions of the authorities are arbitrary. The interview record cannot be considered as ‘absolute truth’ even if answers were obtained under oath. Several cultural and psychological blocks affect asylum seekers, like anyone else, when they have to explain themselves to strangers. The interviews of asylum seekers are not methodical and rigorous. They are rituals which legitimate official banishment. This banishment is considered legal as the authorities respect the procedure, the law and the international conventions. It is considered ‘moral’ as the refugee welfare organizations are present during the procedure.