Rejecting Refugees: Political Asylum in the 21st Century by Carol Bohmer and Amy Schuman

Published in New York by Routlegde Press in 2007, 288 pp., ISBN 938 0 415 77376 8


Starting with the personal motivation, Carol Bohmer and Amy Schuman raise questions regarding the nations in accepting refugees. Along with the development of the policy of refugees’ countermeasure, they find that nations’ policy became more restrictive and burdensome. Therefore, in this book the question ‘how do the applicants of asylum construe their stories of persecution into an acceptable narrative to the officials?’ and ‘how do the officials determine whether to accept or not the application?’ would be answered.

They begin with the story of St. Louis that sailed from Germany in 1939 with more than 900 Jews fleeing away from Hitler’s persecution. When the passengers were not allowed to disembark in Cuba where they have the landing permission, St. Louis sailed back to Germany. No wonder why almost three-quarter of the passengers ended up in Nazi concentration camps. This refuge phenomenon as an old anomaly should be highlighted as the driven factor in creating promising laws for anyone fleeing from a persecution on the basis of conflict among races, political opinions, or social movements.

Rejecting Refugees is about the reciprocity between the asylum seekers and their upraised cases to be judged by United States (US) and United Kingdom (UK) autorities. Bohmer and Schumer criticize the hypocrisy between the ideal of the nations welcoming the asylum seekers and the actual practice. By comparing US and UK, they try to come up with the wider analysis of how the idea is presented in different actual policy. They align themselves along with the government of US and UK as one part, yet in the same time, they also show the disagreement with those governments’ policy.

As they illustrate, the stories became the emerging interaction between the asylum seekers who are considered suspicious and immigration bureaucracies who are enforced to apply the conservative immigration law. The interactions, somehow create very strange questions to be answered about for whom, why, and how the asylum claims should be given. Both authors address an aim to reveal the injustices in the asylum systems of US and UK, in particular for those indigent asylum seekers.

In the very beginning of the book, Bohmer and Schuman present the distinction between two terms: refugees and asylum seekers. The term ‘refugee’ is commonly used to describe anyone who flees his country unwillingly. He gets a legal status that allows him to be brought into a host country’s expense and benefits certain public rights (p.24). Meanwhile, asylum seekers are people who travel to US and UK under their own steam and apply for asylum (p.25). This is an important thing that makes Rejecting Refugees easier for the readers, who are not so knowledgeable this terms, to be understood. They also emphasize the asylum seekers as the subject of the book, thus, the readers would not be lost on the track.

In practices, both US and UK pull out the strict policy that cut the number of asylum seekers that succeeded the applications. Whether it is because the fear that asylum seekers are potential terrorists or job stealers, the number is getting decreased by days. Rejecting Refugees presents several asylum seekers experiences that vary in many process and results. Some of them get the benefit of legal aid that government provides, some of them not. In returns, many of them ended up with a rejection of application due to the lack of sufficient information and incapability to understand how the system works.

As US provides the 589 form for a claim, the UK has this SEF form. Both of this form is multi-paged but US’ 589 is less complicated compared to UK’s SEF. After completing this form, the asylum seekers should attend the interview and a hearing. Bohmer and Schumer also criticize this form, that seems so simple for us to be completed, but for the asylum seekers -that are displaced people- the form is very complicated. For instance, to claim an asylum, these people should provide the permanent address in order to be kept updated about the asylum process. The applicant would be informed about hearing after the assessment of their documents, which they have no idea when the exact date. The fact is, mostly they failed to attend the hearing because they missed the information after changing their addresses because they have to move since they have no permanent one. Bohmer and Schumer see this as the governments’ effort to keep these asylum seekers ‘illegal’.

Rejecting Refugees is an avant-garde in the sense of the interview with these asylum seekers who mostly seen as criminals or terrorists entering the border without the necessary document. The authors also raise up the possibility to suggest that the fear of persecution because having an ‘illegal entry’ could encourage a refugee to claim for an asylum. Yet, many of them ended up in a decision to stay ‘illegal’ because they were afraid of being deported. As Teinzin’s story (Chapter 3) was told, there is a possibility to succeed in claiming the asylum with expired deadline and no sufficient documents.

Rejecting Refugees also reveals the inconsistencies the states show regarding the asylum seeking process. Back to Nazi era, the asylum policies were developed to cater the humanity sense for those who suffered from Nazi and fled. Yet now, the present circumstance constructs the confusion and finally hinders the asylum process. Bohmer and Schumer also put altogether how the system fails: a gap in the production of knowledge; the reliance on narrative as a primary form of evidence; credibility, cultural differences; persecution description; law and policy implementation; and incompetence and inadequate resources.

This book is very informative and thorough to at least provide the basic information about what happens in the process of claiming asylum by analyzing cases of real life accounts. By that, I personally see that Rejecting Refugees is suitable for students of political science, international relations, sociology, anthropology, and law. It shows the sight from the refugees, the obstacle they face that mostly their stories are incoherent and undocumented in which caused them in a trouble. They are likely incapable of proving themselves as what they describe because there is no legal authentic document with them. This kind of story will be read almost in the entire cases this book presents. It also shows the stories from the lawyers’ perspective. Thus, the readers can have two sides in every case. In a nutshell, it does a great job in describing the asylum claiming process and system from both perspectives: the seekers and the lawyers with its biases.

The importance of identity is also covered very well in this book with the incapability of the several people who fled with the false document or even with none. Both in US and UK, the identity is very important in claiming asylum. In 2004, the UK passed a law that it is not possible to enter the border of UK with no passport of a false passport unless this person has a ‘reasonable excuse’ (p.96). As Bohmer and Schuman analyze, this is a violation of the 1951 UN Convention that forbids the imposition or penalty for illegal entry. This just is a prevent action for letting more refugees come.

The limitation that is faced by the asylum seekers left a question that Rejecting Refugees should answer, what is the most possible asylum system in this century? Bohmer and Schumer bring up the concern for the states providing a legal advice for asylum seekers who cannot afford to manage the laws and regulations. They appoint the double standard system that states create to protect their citizens from the arrivals of these asylum seekers in terms of economy while at the same time they have to obey their legal, moral, and treaty obligation to provide a help for those asylum seekers.


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