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to be a "good refugee"

The asylum seeker must express his life story through his bodily and emotional expression.


In the queue, Conrad is overcome with a feeling of excitement. 

A French friend accompanies her as part of a radio report. She records his words before he walks through the door of OFPRA. Conrad is confident: “Today is a big day for me. It's the end of a long journey and the beginning of a new life. »

An hour later, he emerges disconcerted from his interview. The OP asked him why he was smiling so much.

Six months later, he receives the refusal of his request for asylum.

A lag

Anthropologist Mark Graham has shown that in Sweden "the probability of obtaining status decreases if the candidate appears too cheerful or playful: he is expected to be passive, depressed and to show gratitude towards the agent who receives it*. »


In Conrad's case, there was a gap between his behavior and what the OP expected of him. Conrad's overconfidence has played a bad trick on him.

If he must adopt an attitude of deference, the asylum seeker must not however appear withdrawn. 

*Mark Graham, Emotional bureaucracies: emotions, civil servants, and immigrants in the Swedish welfare state, Ethos, Journal of the Society for Psychological Anthropology, vol. 30, No. 3, September 2002.

Sébastien Thibault, who has studied the expectations of French CNDA judges, explains that: “Showing too much resignation can in turn discredit their request. Be too passive, too inert, risk of altering 

the judgment of magistrates* (…)”. The asylum seeker must have the attitude of the “courageous and determined martyr who, after having fought for his life, must now fight openly for his story. »

 Thibault, Sébastien, Asylum on merit, Full right, vol. 92, No. 1, 2012, p. 32-35. 

story of a lawyer

A lawyer in immigration law tells me the following anecdote:  

– During a hearing at the National Court of Asylum, the judge insists with my client:  

– Do you maintain that you are a BNP supporter?  

– Yes, I am a political activist. 

The judge spent more than two hours questioning him, before getting the answer he was waiting for. 

- I'm gay, finally admits my client.

Of course he was, he was wearing a pink t-shirt and tight pants. All his gestures betrayed him! The judge had perceived the bodily signals my client was sending despite


Represent the expected stereotype

The asylum seeker therefore obtained refugee status because he corresponded to the representation of the homosexual,

as the CNDA judge imagined. 


The American sociologist and linguist Goffman asserts

that “to be 'really' a certain type of person is not only to possess the required attributes, it is also to adopt the standards of behavior and appearance that the social group associates with them*”.

*Goffman, Erving, The staging of daily life 1, The presentation of oneself, editions of Minuit, 1996.

Mr T.

Mr. T. was a noted student in his country.

He hands me his student card. He founded a university journal. He describes to me the long evenings of political debates.

His memories remind me of mine.

I immediately felt immense sympathy for him.


The resemblance to the other

Sébastien Thibault explains that the asylum seeker has a better chance of obtaining the status “if he has personally paid to defend the same values as those who listen to him. »


This is exactly what happened during the interview with Mr. T. 

Defending the freedom of the press, he corresponds perfectly to the figure of the hero as fantasized in our Western society. Its values echo ours. Mr. T. obtains refugee status without difficulty.

A colleague

My colleague comments on her morning interview: “All her children died and she didn't even cry. »

The next day, she complains about another asylum seeker: “He was crying so much. It never ended! Real crocodile tears…”

Make feel the "right" emotion

This anecdote shows how difficult it is for the asylum seeker to make the OP feel the right emotion. If the absence of crying can be seen as suspicious, the opposite can also appear doubtful because it would reflect a staging intended to arouse the compassion of the OP.


The perception of asylum seekers' emotions therefore varies according to the FOs, and their interpretation is based on their intimate conviction.

Anthropologist Carolina Kobelinsky says: “Asylum seekers are expected to (…) perform (…) their 'truth' (…). Suspicion would arise when the attitudes (…) of asylum seekers move away from this image of suffering constructed as being legitimate*. »


The body language of the perfect asylum seeker supports the credibility of his words. His attitude and emotional expressions correspond to the behavior expected by the OP.

Carolina Kobelinsky, The daily judgment of asylum seekers, Collection Alexandries, Collection Sketches, 2007.


The "good refugee" in OFPRA doctrine


What is Doctrine?


If the Geneva Convention gives a definition of the status of refugee, the signatory countries are free to fix the procedure and the rules which lead to the recognition of this status. Thus, there is not a right of asylum but rights of asylum, each state being sovereign in establishing its own criteria.

The OFPRA doctrine is therefore the set of procedures and rules which allow the recognition of a “good refugee” by France.


A unique and secret document


The doctrine is the reference document for all POs. It can only be consulted on the internal computer network. OPs make a lifetime commitment not to disclose it. 


The doxa


By establishing the criteria for recognizing the “good refugee”, the OFPRA doctrine disseminates a doxa. This is reinforced by the presence of a harmonization committee which ensures that the doctrine is applied uniformly regardless of the OP instructor.


Clearly, recognizing a refugee is based on the mode of obviousness for all. 

The doctrine of the OFPRA thus forms the unconscious of professional training: an office of imaginary refugees.

Mr. m.

Mr. M. states that he fled the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict.

He claims to have no political commitment. at the end of the interview, I ask him if he has anything to add.

He looks out the window. Colleagues smoke and stump out their cigarettes on the floor.

Mr. M. stares intensely at the cigarette butts and the last curls that escape. 

I'm about to go through the usual paperwork when he says, “A soldier raped me. »

One afternoon, after high school, he makes a detour to buy cigarettes. He had taken up smoking to quell the boredom of the interminable curfews. His path crosses that of a Sinhalese soldier. With a cigarette in his mouth, the soldier offers to secretly sell him a packet of tobacco. He pulls her away. In the ruins of a house, he rapes him.

To be or not to be a “good refugee”

When I propose an agreement to refugee status for Mr. M., my boss replies that rape is a common news item. By declaring that he has no political commitment, Mr. M. has deviated from the profile of the “good refugee”.  

It takes me weeks of negotiation and the intervention of a colleague for my boss to recognize that in wartime rape is a weapon. 

After six months, I draw a graph with some data to show that, depending on their country of origin, asylum seekers do not have the same chances of obtaining refugee status. My boss contemplates it in silence, without contradicting me, without reassuring me. I realize then that I am right.

The doctrine ranks asylum seekers. Their word does not have the same value. I have to resolve it.

The perfect asylum seeker corresponds to the figure of the “good refugee”
as imagined by OPs and described by OFPRA doctrine.
Any destiny deviating from the standard profile is less likely to be recognized as legitimate. 

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