Contesting credibility in Australian refugee visa decision making and public discourse
thesisposted on 2022-03-28, 17:19 authored by Laura Allison Smith-Khan
Whether or not we can trust the people who come to Australia to seek protection as refugees is increasingly a topic of public debate, across politics and in the mainstream media. Such discourse justifies harsh asylum policies. Further, questioning the genuineness of those seeking asylum means that credibility assessments have become a central element of refugee visa decision making processes. However, the way credibility is conceptualized - both in these public debates and within decision making processes - inevitably impacts on refugees' and asylum seekers' ability to fairly and successfully seek protection and establish themselves in Australia. This multi-level critical discourse analysis examines these two key interconnected sites of discourse on refugee credibility. The first part examines key credibility assessment guidance aimed at Australian refugee visa merits review decision makers, and a corpus of published review decisions that discuss credibility. The second part entails a case study of a Somali refugee whose participation in a public "debate" with the Immigration Minister was heavily reported in the media. The study draws on a corpus of newspaper articles, a press release by the Minister and a handwritten statement from the refugee. The study explores how dominant discourses, in public debates and in visa decision making, present refugees and asylum seekers and the social actors who interact with them (van Leeuwen, 1996). In particular, it aims to uncover how these discourses construct language, communication and diversity, and how they present discourse creation itself. It compares these constructions with the sociolinguistic realities in these settings, exploring how communication occurs and the individual, interactional and structural influences and limitations on refugees' ability to communicate credibly and produce a credible identity. The study finds that dominant discourses in these settings problematically construct credibility as an individual attribute of the refugee. It finds that this contradicts the sociolinguistic realities: credibility is constructed discursively, and whether a refugee can communicate in the manner required to be regarded as credible relies on a number of factors beyond their individual control. These include the impact of other persons involved in their interactions, and the institutional and legal structures they must navigate. However, these factors are largely erased from the discourse. Therefore, the discourse unfairly places a burden of performing credibility on the refugee, dictating criteria for this performance that are often difficult and sometimes impossible to satisfy. Beyond its immediate impacts for the individuals in question, this construction of credibility also acts to limit their ability to challenge the dominant discourse. This conclusion has implications for the way in which credibility assessments are administered, and their broader overall validity. However, given the connections drawn between the public discourse and institutional processes, the findings suggest that meaningful improvement to institutional approaches to credibility assessment are unlikely without significant changes in the prevailing political discourse.