Risk and Credibility

Read more in the report "Well-founded Fear - credibility and risk assessment in Danish asylum cases"

The outcomes of most asylum cases are determined by assessing the asylum seeker’s own information as it is rarely possible to obtain any concrete evidence that the person is in danger. The asylum seeker has the duty to provide as much documentation as possible, though this often is not possible. Relevant documents can be personal IDs such as a passport, a driver’s license, a birth certificate, a marriage license, a student ID, educational transcripts or certificates. It can also be documents that prove the asylum seeker has lived in a particular area, worked in a particular organization or been a member of a particular group. Finally, the documentation can include documents that show the existence of an imminent threat: a summons for military service, a threatening letter, the appearance of one’s name in a newspaper article, a picture from Facebook, etc. Yet, a number of documents are rejected because they are impossible to verify or because they are perceived to be fabricated for the asylum application (as such forms of evidence can be obtained through bribery in many countries).   

In a number of cases, the Danish authorities must start by determining the asylum seeker’s identity. Does the asylum seeker originate from the country she/he claims? If there are doubts about the country or origin, a language test is carried out and the asylum seeker will be asked questions about his/her country origin’s geography and traditions. 

Mostly, the credibility depends on what the asylum seeker tells about herself/himself. Not everyone tells the truth, often because they have been told that there is a better chance of asylum if they modify their story. Therefore, the authorities often meet the asylum seeker with a sense of distrust. The asylum seeker has to recount certain episodes several times during the asylum process and the authorities search for discrepancies between these multiple descriptions. Further, the authorities try to assess whether the asylum seeker’s story seems to be authentic (based on levels of detail and an assessment of whether the described events seem likely). Pieces of information, such as names of places or important persons, can be examined and verified. The asylum seeker’s behavior also has some importance, but the authorities should take into consideration the asylum seeker’s background, such as level of education, age, and potential experiences of traumatic events.          

There are many uncertain aspects in the authorities’ assessment of a given asylum case. First, some asylum seekers are more convincing storytellers than others, second, an asylum seeker might remember some details after the interview that she/he had forgotten about, third, the different interpreters, who are used by the authorities, might misunderstand some information or translate the same information differently, fourth, unlikely occurrences might in fact occur, and fifth, cultural differences can affect how the individual asylum applicant is perceived. Errors in the authorities’ assessment of an asylum seeker’s credibility are inevitable. Therefore, it is not always the ‘right’ people who are granted asylum. 

The risk assessment is based more on facts, but can also be difficult. For example, there is a great variation in terms of which types of asylum seekers are granted asylum among different European countries (see Numbers and statistics). This suggests that the different countries assess risks differently.

The authorities will arrive at a decision as to whether the asylum case meets the definition of UN Refugee convention and if so will be granted asylum according to § 7,1 in the Danish Immigration Law (convention status). Or if the applicant is at risk of death penalty, torture, or other kind of inhuman treatment (as described in the European Convention of Human Rights and the UN Convention against Torture) and therefore will be granted asylum according to § 7,2 or 7,3 (protection status). Denmark has requirements about the nature of risks to individuals, which is not a part of the UN Refugee Convention. On the other hand, an asylum seeker can be granted convention status due to sexual persecution, which is not mentioned in the UN Refugee Convention. 

Finally, the authorities will come to a decision as to whether an asylum seeker can be safe in another part of her/his country of origin, or in another country. This is known as internal flight alternative and safe third country. 

The authorities have a number of reports to support their overall assessment. These reports describe the current situation in the country concerned and the situation for the different types of asylum seekers. For example, how dangerous is it to be homosexual in Nigeria or how common is torture in Sri Lanka’s prisons? Country reports and topical reports are published continuously. They are written by agencies like the UNHCR, international NGOs such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, national NGOs such as the Danish Refugee Council and the Norwegian Landinfo, and national authorities such as The Danish Immigration Service and UK Home Office. All these reports are available through The Refugee Appeals Board’s website