‘Vile liars and truth distorters’; Truth, trust and the asylum system (Respond to this article at http://www.therai.org.uk/at/debate)


  • Melanie Griffiths

    1. DPhil candidate at Oxford University, with affiliation to the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, and the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society. Her research is on the asylum system in the UK, with a particular focus on refused asylum seekers and immigration detainees. Her doctoral thesis is on the role and negotiation of identification requirements in the asylum system and she has also written on time and uncertainty in relation to migration. Her email address is melanie.griffiths@sant.ox.ac.uk
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  • Thanks go to Joshua Smith and the anonymous expert reviewers for their helpful comments in drafting this article, and the team at Anthropology Today for their work and support.


Immigration detainees and failed asylum seekers constitute some of the most mistrusted persons in British society. There is some basis to this stereotype – many people do provide information they know to be untrue or request asylum when they have no valid claim under the Refugee Convention. One could of course challenge this picture by critiquing the definition of ‘lies’, identifying flawed bureaucratic assumptions about what information people can be expected to know, and highlighting the reductive narrowness of immigration categorisation. However, rather than examine the association of asylum seekers with lying, this paper draws on ethnographic research to explore how those within the asylum system experience, understand and explain the bureaucracy they are embedded in. It suggests that deception, uncertainty and mistrust are as much characteristics of asylum seekers' perspective of the immigration system as of the reverse. In so doing, the paper contributes to a wider discussion about the fairness and consistency of immigration systems, as recently addressed in this journal by Caroline White and Zachary Whyte (White, 2012; Whyte, 2011).”