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tell an intimate story

The PO expects the asylum seeker to give him an intimate story, that is to say, to tell him his story by exposing his intimacy. This is called extimacy: "the process by which fragments of the intimate self are offered to the gaze of others in order to be validated".


1) What is making a story?

Telling a story consists of arranging facts in a specific order:the beginning, the middle and the end. It is this succession of events that constitutes the plotting of the story and that gives meaning to the story told.


The beginning of the story consists in starting with the essential event for the understanding of the story.


The middle is a succession of facts that prepare the “reversal”: the moment when history topples. The challenge is to make this “reversal” plausible. It's about documenting the trigger. When did fears of persecution emerge? What caused the persecution to start? It is truly this time of the story that we must work on.


The end designates what was to happen. In general, it is flight out of the country. Plotting therefore connects the scattered events of a life around a coherent story. 


Telling a story is also about recounting the emotions and feelings experienced. It's not just about telling what you did, but how you got there and what you felt doing it.


This leads us to ask ourselves the following question: “Is everything relatable? Aren't there events so traumatic that recounting them – remembering them – would risk jeopardizing the identity (…) of the individual*? » 

*Cécile de Ryckel and Frédéric Delvigne, The construction of identity through narrative, Psychotherapies, vol. 30, no. 4, 2010, pp. 229-240.

Mr N.

Mr. N. claims to have been persecuted because of his sexual orientation. My boss warns me: “Asylum seekers must be able to name gay meeting places and associations that distribute condoms. If you don't have enough information, ask him about the discovery of his sexuality. »

During the interview, Mr. N. answers me:

– I have always lived in the middle of the Mongolian steppes. There, there is nothing for homosexuals, neither bar nor association...

I am extremely uncomfortable.

– How did you discover your homosexuality?

He lowers his head.

– I discovered it with my uncle. In a car… I was twelve… 

I can't continue. No other question comes to mind. I tell him that I will call him again later.

Mr. N. never came back.

My question was too personal. Incomplete, his asylum application was rejected. 

Exposing your privacy

In the case of LGBT asylum seekers, it is extremely difficult to obtain objective evidence to establish their sexual orientation. 

There are no geography, history or vocabulary quizzes. It's about telling his "coming out" or, on the contrary, the techniques used to hide his sexual orientation.

For violence against women, the logic is identical. It's about delivering intimate memories to convince the OP.


Exposing your privacy is therefore a step

essential when the asylum application is based on elements the reality of which the OP cannot verify through documentary research.

Mr O.

After being dismissed by OFPRA, Mr. O. was deported to Sri Lanka.

Returning to France, he filed a new asylum application. This morning, I interviewed him. With an extremely harsh look, he stares at me and says:

“When I arrived in Colombo, the police arrested me. They blindfolded me and tied my hands. They took me to a room that smelled of mold and urine. I heard screams and the high-pitched sound of an elevator. They undressed me. They plunged me into a barrel of ice water. I was tied up and then hung up by my feet. They tore out my genitals and forced me to eat them…”

Mr. O spares me no details.

In the previous rejection letter from OFPRA, my colleague had noted: "insufficiently explicit remarks."


A lag

Driven by resentment over the rejection of his first asylum application, 

Mr. O meticulously shares his intimate experience of torture with me. His raw words are intended to place his story in a raw, unfiltered reality that he submits to my gaze.

4) The impossible story


How can the asylum seeker tell an intimate story in an environment that does not inspire him or her? Defined by the philosopher Pierre Livet as the "feeling we experience in the perspective of cooperation with actors who look like us and who have the same expectations", trust is not obvious between the FO and the asylum seeker.


Civil status, territories crossed, reasons for leaving the country: from the height of my twenty-five years and my administrative sufficiency, I questioned men and women tested by exile. When I see myself again, the scene seems incongruous to me: a young woman who has just obtained her diploma facing an asylum seeker with a worn face in her place, would I have trusted me?


Furthermore, how can an asylum seeker trust a PO when he has learned from experience to distrust the administration, which he perceives as a malevolent agent not intended to protect him, but rather intended to control it?


How can an asylum seeker trust a PO when the latter is invisible during the interview? Indeed, during a videoconference, that is to say the use of a digital camera, only the OP has an image. The asylum seeker hears a voice coming from a loudspeaker.

Voices without a body

At the start of each interview, the videoconference camera swiveled from right to left and from left to right. The device creaked in a mechanical noise. This surreal formality was intended to assure me that the asylum seeker, located hundreds of miles away from me, was alone in the room.

“Hello, I'm the protection officer in charge of your asylum application…” I said.

The interpreter was translating.

Sitting in front of an empty desk, the asylum seeker did not know where to look. For him, we were voices without a body. 

interview by videoconference

Videoconference interviews are commonly used for asylum seekers from the overseas departments, 

for those detained in administrative detention centers and those placed in waiting areas at airports.

5) The presence of a third party during the interview: the interpreter


How can asylum seekers be assured of a relationship of trust based on the confidentiality of the interview when the interpreter may be one of their compatriots?

Mrs P.

Usually, Chinese asylum seekers never come to interviews. Also, when the reception calls me to inform me of the presence of Madame P., I am extremely surprised. 

Madame P. is eight months pregnant. She explains to me that one morning she saw her name on an envelope. It was his invitation to the OFPRA interview. 

She took the mail before her employers arrived. Today, she managed to come by RER alone. 

Her hands writhe above her round belly. I feel like she wants to say to me, “Please don't send me back. » 

But her eyes don't leave the performer and her mouth opens in a whisper and says, “I'm fine. I do not have any problems. » 

A lag

Extremely suspicious of the interpreter, Madame P. failed to overcome her doubts to deliver her story. However, the unique approach that led her to OFPRA by her own means suggested that she had real problems. The trust relationship has not been established. 

Did she know the interpreter?

Or maybe I didn't trust him?

If the asylum seeker feels uncomfortable with the interpreter or has a 

the impression that the latter does not translate his statements correctly, it is important that he points this out to the OP.

If it is rare for the latter to send the interpreter away, the interview being recorded, the asylum seeker may, in the event of an appeal, request that the recording be listened to in order to prove his suspicions to the CNDA judges. .

The Perfect Asylum Seeker Gathers Scattered Events From His Life

to assemble them into a story that makes sense.

He tells a story, in the sense that he tells what he has experienced before describing the facts.

He exposes his intimacy to the OP in a process of extimacy. 


If his story is based on elements that are difficult to verify through documentary research,

he redoubles his efforts to shamelessly deliver his intimate story in the presence of the OP and the interpreter.



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