Telling Stories from Start to Finish: Exploring the Demand for Narrative in Refugee Testimony
(2013) 22(1) Griffith Law Review 63
24 Pages Posted: 30 Sep 2013 Last revised: 19 Feb 2014
Date Written: 2013
When people seeking refugee status come before departmental officers or administrative bodies, the applicant’s first person testimony plays a crucial role since there is often little or no other evidence – such as documents or witnesses – to support the claim being made. The distinctly narrative form of refugee applicants’ evidence and its central place in the status determination process make such testimony an ideal site from which to explore the law’s relationship with narrative. In this article I use one Refugee Review Tribunal decision to exemplify how demands for narrativity, in relation to both the content and form of evidence, influence determinations about the plausibility of refugee testimony. I argue that part of the law’s requirement for ‘plausible’ evidence involves an expectation that refugee applicants tell a good story – that is, one that predominantly conforms to the conventions of model narrative forms. When the law responds to the events and accidents within refugee testimony, narrative expectations are at play – and the precise terms of these standards and the content of ‘good’, orderly narratives are implicit, shifting and inconsistent.
Keywords: Refugee status determination, Narrative, Testimony, Refugee Review Tribunal, Credibility assessment, Gender
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