Laura Affolter, Asylum Matters: On the Front Line of Administrative Decision-Making (Palgrave Macmillan, Cham 2021)
Asylum decision making is at the very heart of refugee protection, yet frequently operates as a ‘black box’ – especially if State authorities choose to assess applicants on an individual basis. Because the 1951 Refugee Convention does not specify the processes through which an applicant may be recognized as a refugee, different States recognize refugees through different procedures. If States choose to evaluate applicants individually, it becomes challenging, if not impossible, to understand from the outside how decision makers come to their decisions. This book sheds some light on that process as it operates in one jurisdiction – Switzerland. Laura Affolter’s analysis critically explores how asylum decision making is operationalized in the Swiss Secretariat for Migration (SEM) on a daily basis. It shows us clearly that, although decision makers have the independence to make their judgments, their decisions do not occur in a void. Decisions are brought to life in a particular space, or what Affolter, borrowing from Bourdieu’s concept of ‘habitus’, coins an ‘institutional habitus’ (p12).