DOI: 10.1093/ijrl/eead022 ISSN:

Risk and the Reasonable Refugee: Exploring a Key Credibility Inference in Canadian Refugee Status Rejections

Hilary Evans Cameron
  • Law
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law
  • Demography


This mixed-methods study analyses a sample of 303 rejections of refugee claims by Canadian refugee status adjudicators. It explores the role that inferences about the claimant’s risk response play in supporting the adjudicators’ conclusions that the claimant is lying. In justifying their negative credibility conclusions, the adjudicators in almost two out of three decisions (63%) cited the claimant’s risk response. They often measured the claimant against a general idealized standard: in the face of an alleged danger, the claimant did not act like a ‘person at risk’. This approach brings to refugee law the confusion that characterizes the common law’s most famous fiction. Like the ‘reasonable man’, the ‘person at risk’ blurs the lines between descriptive analyses aimed at understanding how a person would have acted and normative analyses aimed at establishing how a person should have acted. Moreover, in deciding how a ‘person at risk’ would act, the adjudicators did not consider social scientific sources. For many decades, researchers have investigated how human beings respond to potentially deadly threats such as natural hazards, lethal illnesses, attacks, and assaults. The adjudicators’ reasoning, resting on common sense alone, often ran counter to key insights that emerge from this body of research. This study’s findings suggest that refugee systems must guard against the use of normative standards in drawing credibility inferences from a claimant’s risk response, and that they must do more to ensure that social scientific evidence informs these judgments. Evidence about human risk response should be on the record in every refugee hearing.

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