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Research Graduate School of Philosophy PhD ceremonies

Disbelief at the threshold

epistemic injustices in asylum-seeking
PhD ceremony:Ms S. (Sanjana) Govindarajan
When:September 13, 2022
Supervisor:prof. dr. B.P. (Boudewijn) de Bruin
Co-supervisor:U.T.R. (Titus) Stahl, Dr
Where:Academy building RUG
Disbelief at the threshold

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that roughly 82.4 million people are forcibly displaced worldwide due to persecution, violent conflicts and human rights infringements. Many of these individuals have left their home countries and traversed tens of thousands of miles to seek refuge elsewhere. To be granted asylum, a person must be able to establish that they reasonably fear being persecuted in their homeland. The evaluation of such a claim constitutes one of the most contentious and complex forms of legal decision-making to exist.  In my dissertation, I ask two broad questions: First, do asylum institutions render refugees vulnerable to epistemic forms of discrimination? Second, what forms of disbelief are refugees subject to as they attempt to make their claims for protection? 

I use the philosophical lens of epistemic injustice to investigate the various forms of disbelief that refugees can be subject to when they submit claims for protection. Moreover, I argue for an expansion of the theoretical toolkit of epistemic injustice to account for novel forms of disbelief that can arise within asylum institutions. Some of these forms of silencing originate in the use of insufficiently intersectional conceptions of social identity, while others are rooted in tendencies of self-preservation exhibited by immigration officers who are repeatedly exposed to trauma testimony. Finally, I discuss some of the risks involved in the deployment of artificial intelligence technologies for asylum determinations and argue that in spite of widespread optimism associated with their use, they might in fact end up compounding the vulnerability of refugees to epistemic injustices.