Intimacy and distrust in the Dutch asylum procedure

Promotion: Maja Hertoghs
The Dutch asylum procedure, many have heard about it, but few people know what it really is like. What exactly is this procedure? Who is welcome and who is not? And how is this decided? On Friday 20 September Anthropologist Maja Hertoghs will defend her research 'Intensities of the State: An ethnography of intimacy and suspicion in Dutch asylum procedures' at Erasmus University Rotterdam.

In the media we regularly read about asylum seekers, where they come from, the numbers of them coming to the Netherlands, about the law, and about asylum policy. However, there is little knowledge about how this policy is subsequently implemented. Anthropologist Maja Hertoghs was granted access to the asylum procedure and did more than four years of research on which she wrote her thesis 'Intensities of the state'. Hertoghs focused her attention on the people who carried out this procedure. She joined in, watched and became part of the meetings between the IND and the applicant and between the lawyer and the applicant. She interviewed them about their work and read along with decisions.

Hertoghs takes the reader into the daily tensions and details of the procedure by means of an ethnography. These tensions are strongly linked to a closed procedure that takes place out of the sight of the public. With her dissertation she breaks open this closedness.

Distrust as guiding principle
IND officials, lawyers and refugee workers all struggle in their own way with the question: Who 'deserves' to stay in the Netherlands and who doesn't? Whereas IND officials have the task of taking a critical approach to asylum applicants and making decisions, the staff of the Refugee Council and asylum lawyers have to support the asylum applicants in this process. Hertoghs observes that the feelings of all these professionals for the asylum applicants and for the procedure itself are crucial to the course and outcome of an application.

The tension between 'one person deserves it and another does not' leads to a strict and extensive test in which distrust is the guiding principle. This appeals to the intuition and feelings of the IND officials. IND officials learn to work with the belief that asylum applicants often 'lie' to enter the Netherlands. In her research, Hertoghs shows that mistrust is used as a tactic to understand and evaluate the stories of asylum seekers.

Hertoghs research shows the complex dynamics of mistrust and how this leads to an intimate and hard practice. This practice is based on the principle of 'guilty until innocence is proven'. A reversal of the rule in criminal law where innocence is assumed until proven guilty.

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