Toronto Metropolitan University
Refugee Status Determinations and the Limits of Memory.pdf (1.2 MB)

Refugee Status Determinations and the Limits of Memory

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posted on 2023-03-28, 15:34 authored by Hilary Evans CameronHilary Evans Cameron

Refugee status decision makers typically have unreasonable expectations of what and how people remember. Many assume that our minds record all aspects of the events that we experience, and that these memories are stored in our brains and remain unchanged over time. Decades of psychological research has demonstrated, however, that our memories are neither so complete nor so stable, even setting aside the effects on memory of trauma and stress. Whole categories of information are difficult to recall accurately, if at all: temporal information, such as dates, frequency, duration and sequence; the appearance of common objects; discrete instances of repeated events; peripheral information; proper names; and the verbatim wording of verbal exchanges. In addition, our autobiographical memories change over time, and may change significantly. As a result, while gaps or inconsistencies in a claimant's testimony may in some cases properly lead to a negative credibility finding, such aspects are often misleading and should never be used mechanically, and the bar must be set much lower. Many decision makers must fundamentally readjust their thinking about claimants’ memories if they are to avoid making findings that are as unsound as they are unjust.