Linguistic ambiguity in the refugee definition's requirement of "well-founded fear" of being persecuted has given rise to a wide range of interpretations. There is general agreement that a fear is "well-founded" only if the refugee claimant faces an actual, forward-looking risk of being persecuted in her country of origin (the "objective element"). But it is less clear whether the well-founded "fear" standard also requires a showing that the applicant is not only genuinely at risk, but also stands in trepidation of being persecuted. Beyond vague references to the subjective quality of "fear," few courts or commentators have undertaken the task of explaining what justifies recognition of a subjective element in the first place. What, in the end, does subjective fear or trepidation have to do with the goals of refugee law? Reasoned explanations are in short supply. This shortfall in critical thinking has greatly complicated efforts to formulate a coherent understanding of the subjective element, and clearly to articulate its role in the analysis of well-founded fear.
Hathaway, James C. "Is there a Subjective Element in the Refugee Convention's Requirement of 'Well-Founded Fear'?" W. S. Hicks, co-author. Mich. J. Int'l L. 26, no. 2 (2005): 505-62.