A possie in Aussie

February 10, 2009

Death, poetry and linguistics

Filed under: asylum — Nayano @ 7:55 am
Tags: , ,

“Most reports on asylum seekers using language analysis are flawed”, says a report published yesterday on ABC Science.

This is a method used by some of the world’s immigration authorities including the Australian Immigration Department to decide whether or not asylum seekers are genuine refugees.

“Dr Diana Eades says the companies often use the judgement of native speakers who don’t have linguistic training and have a narrow view of how the asylum speaker should speak.

“It’s equivalent to saying that because someone used the US term ‘elevator’ instead of ‘lift’, they are not from Australia,” she says. That’s the level that these reports are operating on.”

I have had personal and painful experience watching friends struggle with these ‘tests’. One man I knew was told that he was not from Afghanistan because he used some Pakistani words.

The article quotes the Immigration Department as saying that language analysis is only one test that they use. But the other tests gave conclusions that would be funny if they were not determining life and death.

One man was told that he could not be from Afghanistan because he spoke English too well.

Another, a poet, was told that authorities had found his poetry among his possessions, and that proved he was not from Afghanistan because Afghans did not have enough education to write poetry.

I sat in on interviews where men were ‘tested’ through their knowledge of their local area.

Men were told that because they hadn’t heard of a large town a few hundred kilometres away from their birth place they were lying – while they in fact had not travelled more than 30 kilometres from their village in tire lifetime, and there were no telephones and no mass media and no maps or books to learn of such things.

When asked ‘How long did it take to get to village ‘x’ from your village?’ the answer ‘Four hours’ was ‘proof’ of lies – but while the officer looked at the map and saw that the villages were 12 kilometres apart, the answer came from the memory of  journeys by foot over mountainous terrain.

And on and on, in grim, gallows humour.

And in the end, all the men I knew were accepted as refugees twice over, and are all now Australian citizens. But the pain, the pain.

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