Ett forskningsprojekt om kommunikation i asylprocessen

The research project

Asylum Narratives is a research project examining the role that language and communication play in the Swedish asylum process.

The project:

  • Examines how the narrative about the asylum seeker is shaped and reshaped during the asylum process.
  • Focuses on the Swedish Migration Agency’s interviews with asylum seekers and on the communication between the asylum seeker and the assigned counsel.
  • Seeks to answers the following questions:
    • How is the narrative about the asylum seeker co-constructed by the asylum seeker, the caseworker, the interpreter and the assigned counsel?
    • How does the narrative change when it is converted from an oral into a written version in the Migration Agency’s draft decisions?
    • How is the asylum seeker’s identity constructed during the interviews, in the meetings with the assigned counsel and in the written documentation?
    • How do the participants experience the interaction that takes place during the asylum interview and how do they make sense of the written documentation?
  • Is led by three researchers on language and communication: Hanna Sofia Rehnberg (project leader, Södertörn University), Zoe Nikolaidou (Södertörn University) and Cecilia Wadensjö (Stockholm University).
  • Is a project funded for three years, 2018-2021.
  • Is funded by the Foundation for Baltic and East European Studies.
  • Is an independent project, not related to the Swedish Migration Agency.

Evidence in an asylum case
Evidence in an asylum case mainly takes the form of the asylum seeker’s narrative. Any documents and other forms of evidence are treated as supporting evidence. Country of origin information is also treated as supporting evidence.

If the asylum seeker produces a narrative that includes valid reasons for asylum, and if the narrative is assessed as being convincing and trustworthy by the Migration Agency, the asylum seeker may be granted asylum in Sweden (in the event the Agency does not estimate that the application should be treated in another country).

Asylum interviews
Anyone seeking asylum in Sweden is called to an interview at the Migration Agency. The interview (or the asylum investigation) is the occasion on which the asylum seeker should explain why s/he is seeking asylum. Those present at the interview are the asylum seeker, the Migration Agency case officer and usually an interpreter. In many cases, assigned counsel, whose role is to look after the asylum seeker’s interests, is also present.

The asylum seeker is first asked to speak freely about her or his reasons for asylum. Then the caseworker asks questions, the interpreter interprets and the assigned counsel can contribute comments. In other words, there are many people and factors that can influence how a narrative will be constructed, one important factor being that the asylum seeker and the caseworker have different goals with the interview. The asylum seeker’s goal is to get asylum in Sweden, while the caseworker’s goal is to find evidence that will help decide whether the asylum seeker has the right to asylum in Sweden. The asylum seeker’s narrative is constructed not just during the asylum investigation, but also during other interviews and meetings that take place during the asylum process.

Our study
The complex interaction during an asylum interview raises a number of questions: How is the narrative about the asylum seeker constructed together by everyone participating in the interview? How do the participants communicate with each other with the help of questions and answers in two languages? How do the participants understand each other? Whose narrative is being constructed? How is the narrative formed when it is converted from an oral to a written version in the Migration Agency’s draft decisions? Similar questions can be asked in relation to other interviews and meetings during the asylum process, for example the asylum seeker’s meeting(s) with the public counsel.

In the Asylum Narratives research project, we will attempt to answer these questions. We will study the asylum interview as a communicative situation. We will also examine the oral and written communication that surrounds the interview, for example the documentation produced by the caseworker and the assigned counsel. We are also interested in the way the participants in the asylum interview make sense of the communication.

Focus on language
The project’s researchers are three researchers in language and communication. There is a great deal of research on various aspects of asylum interviews, but little is known about the role that language plays. This is despite the fact that language plays a decisive role in the asylum interview and more than one language is used in the process.

In our project, we focus on asylum interviews conducted with asylum seekers speaking Russian, but we also include asylum seekers speaking other languages, but who can communicate in English. We believe that most of our results are valid and relevant with respect to other languages.

Benefits to society
The overall goal of the research project is to contribute more knowledge about the role of language and communication in the asylum process. In the future, this could lead to an improved and fairer asylum process.

Our ambition is for the knowledge produced in the project to be useful to all professional groups involved in asylum cases: interpreters, caseworkers, assigned counsel and private individuals who support asylum seekers. Above all, it is important that our research is useful to people in need of protection.

We attempt to share our research results with a broad audience by writing popular science articles and holding different kinds of talks and educational seminars. We are already in contact with many organisations that have expressed an interest in gaining access to our research results.

It is also our hope that the project participants will also benefit on a personal level from participating in the project. This may be achieved by them being given a chance to reflect on the asylum interview and share these reflections with interested, active listeners.