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Sarah Louise Madsen

This research project sets out to ethnographically explore encounters between asylum seekers and the Danish Health Care system, aiming at understanding how these encounters contribute to the construction and/or deconstruction of an asylum-seeking person’s “refugeehood” – both as a legal status in the eye of the State, and as an identity / sense of self and one’s place in the world.
The process of bureaucratically evolving from “asylum seeker” into a proper, recognised “refugee” in the eye of the State, is a path that requires the individual to embody victimhood, suffering, and need for protection. If, for instance, an asylum seeker cannot present written documentation of persecution, the receiving State may look for other corroboration of the asylum seeker’s narrative of victimhood, such as scars on the body. Medical screenings for signs of torture, trauma and PTSD – manifestations of persecution in the refugee’s body and mind – can be crucial to the outcome of an asylum application. Becoming a refugee, in a sense, is thus intimately linked to also being a patient, being “diagnosed” as a victim.
This has a number of implications that are worth exploring. While medical screenings of the asylum seeker’s body and mind may serve as important documentation of the validity of their claims, the results may also be invoked by the State as evidence against them. What happens when no physical evidence of torture is to be found on the asylum seeker’s body? Or if the asylum seeker appears too “young and healthy” to “truly” warrant protection? Or when the examination of a young asylum seeker’s body’s development is used not only to determine their likely age, but also their overall credibility?
Medical practices in relation to asylum seekers thus take on a two-fold purpose: on the one hand, to provide health care and treatment; on the other hand, to determine the applicant’s credibility. How does this shape asylum seekers’ use of and interaction with the health care system?

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