Health and hostile hospitality: Understanding asylum applicants’ narratives of life and health in the UK

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This paper explores how middle aged and older asylum applicants in the UK speak about health in relation to migratory experiences. It proposes biocredibility as a novel theoretical concept, through which the narratives of those migrating to the UK to seek asylum can be analysed. The UK government's hostile environments policies, which aim to make life uncomfortable for irregular migrants in the UK in order to drive down migration, have been criticised on legal, material and moral grounds. This paper adds to this critique. Narrative analysis of semi-structured interviews shows that the majority of the asylum applicants interviewed felt their health was poor and told of the difficulties of life in the UK. Stories of homelessness, poverty and exclusion dominated, underpinned by the erosion of their perceived trustworthiness and credibility through encounters with the Home Office. Particular personal experiences of social, political and economic strife in exile were narrated closely against stories of illness.

The concept of biocredibility refers to, and provides a way of understanding, participants' propensity for creating narrative enclaves for pathographies as a discursive mechanism to add credibility to narratives of lived experience. In this way, visceral descriptions of biological suffering can function as a narrative resource. It does this firstly by providing material and social context for adverse health, thus allowing participants to attribute a socio-political cause for their illness. Secondly it interjects experiences of illness into life narratives, thus effectively communicating the significance of such experiences. Finally, it provides narrative evidence of individuals’ autobiographical testimony. For discredited and marginalised asylum applicants, biocredibility can be understood to represent a strategy used to re-negotiate credibility and urges a critical consideration of the hostile and austere socio-political context in which it is observed.
Original languageUndefined
JournalSocial Science & Medicine
Publication statusPublished - 10 Nov 2020

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