Structural Testimonial Injustice in the UK Asylum Claim Process

Attendance free for members of Jesus College and the Oxford University Philosophy Society. £3 fee for all other attendees.

This paper examines the system by which the UK Home Office determines asylum claims (claims to be granted international protection as a refugee) as an epistemically unjust institution. My aims are twofold. First, I seek to demonstrate that concepts from the philosophical literature on epistemic injustice can help to illuminate some of the ways in which this system subjects those claiming asylum to injustice. Second, I aim to show that by devoting attention to the systems by which states determine asylum claims, philosophers can learn various things about testimonial injustice in its structural mode – a form that has been relatively underexplored in the philosophical literature.

In more detail, I will argue that in many cases in which individuals have their UK asylum claims refused on the grounds that they lack credibility, we have reason to suspect that they have been subjected to a distinctly epistemic form of injustice – alongside the material harm of that refusal. In some cases, this is because asylum applicants experience testimonial injustices that are interpersonal in nature; perpetrated by the individual caseworkers that assess their claims. Such cases seem to fit Fricker’s (2007) framework of testimonial injustice. However, in other cases individuals claiming asylum appear to experience testimonial injustices that are significantly, or even wholly, structural in nature. Such injustices are generated by features of the asylum system including workplace culture, performance targets, and institutional credibility markers. Recognising these mechanisms of structural testimonial injustice is important for both practical and theoretical reasons. First, it provides better understanding the forms of injustice that those claiming asylum are subjected to and the prospects for remedying them. Second, it casts doubt on Fricker’s (2017) insistence that the primary form of testimonial injustice is interpersonal and that structural testimonial injustice can only be pre-emptive in nature.

About the Speaker
Megan Blomfield is a Lecturer in Political Philosophy at the University of Sheffield. Her research concerns global justice and the environment, focusing on the normative dimensions of climate change. Her book on this topic, Global Justice, Natural Resources, and Climate Change, was published by Oxford University Press in May 2019. In the book, she asks what the world would look like if natural resources were shared fairly and then explain how this can help us to better understand the kind of problem that climate change presents and what a just response to it would look like. In related work, she investigates the connections between climate change and injustices such as colonialism. Other of her research interests include human-land relationships, territorial rights, justice in migration, feminist philosophy and philosophy of race.