Second-hand Emotion? Exploring the Contagion and Impact of Trauma and Distress in the Asylum Law Context



Applicants' accounts of experiences of fear, trauma, violence, and persecution are central to the process of claiming asylum. These narratives are, at a human level, primed to provoke emotional responses, not only in the narrator but also in those to whom the account is relayed. In this article, we explore the vectors of emotionality that permeate asylum decision-making in the United Kingdom, focusing particularly on the risk faced by the professionals involved of suffering vicarious trauma. More specifically, based on a series of 104 semi-structured interviews with asylum stakeholders and observation of 48 appeals to the Immigration and Asylum Chamber of the First-tier Tribunal, this article identifies the adoption by legal and quasi-legal professionals of emotional coping strategies – of detachment and denial of responsibility – that risk being deployed in maladaptive ways that jeopardize the prospects for justice.