Should discrepant accounts given by asylum seekers be taken as proof of deceit?

Background: In order to recognise a refugee in a
receiving state, decision makers have to make a
judgment based on background information and
the account given by the individual asylum seeker.
Whilst recognising that this is a very difficult decision,
we examine one of the assumptions made in
this process: that an account which is inconsistent
is probably fabricated for the purposes of deceitfully
gaining asylum status.
We review some of the psychological processes
at work when a person applies for asylum, and
report a study offering empirical evidence of some
of the reasons why accounts of traumatic experiences
may be inconsistent.
Methods: In the study reported, 39 Kosovan
and Bosnian (UNHCR) program refugees in the
UK were interviewed on two occasions about a
traumatic and a non-traumatic event in their past.
They were asked specific questions about the
events on each occasion.
Findings: All participants changed some responses
between the first and second interview.
There were more changes between interviews in
peripheral detail than in the central gist of the
account. Changes in peripheral detail were especially
likely for memories of traumatic events.
Participants with higher levels of Post Traumatic
Stress Disorder (PTSD) were also more inconsistent
when there was a longer delay between
Interpretations: We consider this and similar
studies in the light of asylum decision making,
proposing that these decisions, often a matter of
life and death to the applicant, must be based not
on lay assumptions, but on established empirical

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