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Difficult for children to make their voices heard in asylum interviews

Young asylum seekers find it hard to make themselves heard and freely talk about their grounds for asylum during the asylum interviews.

“It is extremely difficult to investigate the reasons for asylum whilst also taking into account the best interests of these children”, says Olga Keselman , a newly appointed PhD in Disability Studies at Linköping University.

She has analysed the asylum interviews with Russian-speaking young people who applied for asylum in Sweden between 2001 and 2005. According to both Swedish law and the United Nations children's convention unaccompanied children should be involved in the asylum process and have the right to express their views.

The child’s own account provides an important basis for the decision whether to grant a residence permit or not, but their vulnerability makes it difficult for them to be involved. They did not have the language abilities needed or an understanding of the terms of an asylum interview and found it difficult to orient themselves. Yet they attempted to approach the interview as strategically as possible.

Interpreters and administrators sometimes found it difficult to be neutral and to respond to minors with experiences and needs which are generally not seen in children.

“As participants,children are often perceived as less knowledgeable and are not respected in the same way as adults, but to safeguard that the law is followed it is important to listen to and take into account what they say”, said Olga Keselman.

She emphasises how complicated these interviews are, with dilemmas that are difficult to deal with for administrators and for interpreters and asylum seekers. Therefore it is important for both administrators and interpreters to have knowledge of vulnerable children's conditions, on how to question them and encourage them to tell their stories.

“Suggestive, leading questions were more common than techniques with open-ended questions that let the children talk freely, and remember their experiences. Investigators who had attended courses in questioning techniques managed these interviews much better. On the other hand, an untrained interpreter could change the questioning technique”, says Olga Keselman.

“When interviews are done through an interpreter, the administrator and the interpreter share the responsibility for the progress. They must work as a team.”

Further information can be obtained from Olga Keselman, +46 13 10 56 28 and olga.keselman@liu.se.

Therese Winder 2010-01-15

Page manager: therese.winder@liu.se
Last updated: 2010-01-15