When someone flees their country and seeks the protection of another state, they usually have to describe what happened to make them afraid to return. This task requires many psychological processes, a key one being autobiographical memory. Memory for events of a specific time and place in one's personal past is the subject of a huge literature, much of it showing that recall is vulnerable to distortions and biases. We review selected areas of this literature, shedding light on some of the processes at work when someone seeks to be recognised as a refugee—in particular, the effects of emotion, including emotional disorder. We then turn to the differing types of memory styles seen in different cultures. Crucial to this area, we briefly examine the current literature on deception. Finally, we draw on the reviewed literature to present conclusions about the reliance on autobiographical memories in the asylum process. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.