Well-Founded Fear

2000, 119 minutes
Directors/Producers: Shari Robertson and Michael Camerini
Distributed by The Epidavros Project Inc.

Asylum Officer Gerald. Photo: Michael Camerini

Well-Founded Fear: The Right of Asylum

by Andrea Holley, Manager of Outreach and Public Education, Human Rights Watch

Well-Founded Fear provides us with a rare glimpse inside the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) of the United States. By following the stories of several individuals seeking asylum, we learn that this fundamental human rights issue belongs to a complex and confusing domain.

Refugees and asylum seekers are afforded certain protections under international human rights law and through documents such as the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. Under U.S. domestic law, the phrase "a well-founded fear of persecution" connotes the condition under which a person will be granted asylum. Establishing this well-founded fear is the film's focus.

Among both applicants and INS officers, we see a range of personalities – some sympathetic, some not. Certain stories are more believable than others. Viewers may find themselves wanting certain individuals to receive asylum status for a variety of reasons – none of which may be this well-founded fear of persecution. And in some cases, the well-founded fear is so apparent that words are not necessary to express it.

Given that so many U.S. citizens came to this country as asylum-seekers or immigrants, it is easy to find one person or another to whom one can relate. The officers articulate this sentiment when they remark how a particular story touches them, or that they have a certain weakness for applicants from a particular country. People's lives depend on their decisions – how can it not become personal at some point?


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