Refugee status determination, narrative and the oral hearing in Australia and Canada


University of British Columbia

Date Issued


Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy - PhD




In processes of refugee status determination, the applicant’s first person testimony plays a critical role. The applicant’s own testimony is often the only evidence available to support the claim being made. This thesis examines the presentation and assessment of refugee applicants’ oral testimony before the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) and the Australian Refugee Review Tribunal (RRT). In addressing the conduct of the oral hearing, a central event within refugee status determination processes, it focuses on the critical role played by the form of refugee applicants’ oral testimony. Its central question is how does the form of refugee testimony shape assessments of refugee applicants’ evidence as credible and thus, influence who may access protection and on what terms. These questions are explored through the close reading of 14 refugee applicants’ oral hearings, which took place in Australia and Canada between 2012 and 2014. In analysing the hearings, this thesis argues that the law’s requirement for evidence that is plausible and credible within refugee status determination involves an expectation that applicants present evidence in a compelling narrative form. Using the frameworks of ‘law and literature’ and narrative theory, with attention to questions of temporality, causation and plot, this thesis demonstrates that a demand for narrative structured the oral hearings. The demand encompassed expectations that applicants present evidence marked by linearity; direct and explicable causal connections; and some sense of both ‘plot’ and closure. The hearings woven through this thesis trace how decision-makers articulated such demands and explore the extent to which the demand for narrative represents the State’s requirement that refugees to narrate themselves as particular kinds of subjects, whose complex histories and experiences of fear or harm resolve in the decision to seek refugee status.

Date Available



Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International




Law, Peter A. Allard School of