Country of Origin Information (COI) refers to information relating to the political, social, cultural, economic and human rights situations in the asylum seekers’ countries of origin and/or countries of transit. These are used as evidence to help support your client’s case. This page explains the importance of COI in supporting a refugee claim, provides tips on how to conduct COI research, and outlines a list of useful resources that you may find useful when conducting your COI research.
Why is COI important?
COI is helpful when assessing the veracity of a claim for refugee status. It is important for a number of reasons, such as:
- To help ascertain whether the subjective element of fear is well-founded, by permitting comparisons between the asylum seeker’s version of events and documented patterns of human rights abuses and repressive behavior by state or non-state actors.
- To provide more general insights into the cultural, social and economic situation in a country in order to contextualize an applicant’s testimony.
- To serve a more specific purpose, e.g. by confirming whether certain events or conditions described by an applicant took place or are likely to be true.
Conducting COI research
COI should be accurate and objective. It normally takes the form of third party research, but may also include other expert evidence such as medical, anthropological or language and document verification analysis reports. It can also include newspaper articles covering a specific event, the country of origin’s national laws (especially when wanting to show that the laws are discriminatory in nature), as well as publications from social media and blogs (to use with caution).
COI used in legal arguments should primarily come from well-respected, authoritative sources. This can include reports from human rights NGOs such as Human Rights Watch, Global Witness, Amnesty International, and International Crisis Group. They should also be recent or up-to-date. Academics and other experts can also be called on to provide tailored statements to clarify specific aspects of COI. Using biased or unreliable information could harm the refugee’s claim and the credibility of your practice. Yet, when only biased information is available, it needs not be discarded. In these circumstances, it is important to explain the context of the source and establish why the COI can still be used, although with caution.
When conducting COI research, it is important to look at all available information, and not ignore COI that would weaken your argument (whilst keeping one’s legal obligation to support the client’s claim in mind). Analyzing “detrimental” COI allows a more profound understanding of the claim. There might also be an explanation as to why the detrimental COI exists which would in fact reinforce the refugee claim.
Lack of COI cannot be invoked when deeming a refugee claim as non-credible. The factors that can explain why there would be no report on a certain human right situation might include:
- Repressive governments with a lack of press freedom or information restriction
- COI might not be accessible to all, either because it is published in a language that is not known to the researcher or it is not widely available (e.g. it is only available in a newspaper in the country of origin, and not available electronically)
- An event might have occurred in a remote area and not have had media coverage
- A situation might take place in private and have no public attention, e.g. cases of domestic violence
- Some groups may not be included in public reports that are otherwise publicly available, e.g. children, the elderly, LGBTI persons, ethnic minorities.
Finally, although gathering COI can support a refugee’s claim, one should also be aware of the potential security threats involved. For example, gathering COI might alert the country of origin’s authorities, and pose a risk to the family members/colleagues that have remained in the country of origin. In these circumstances, it is crucial to mention the risks involved to the refugee, and consider whether that COI should be used.
Note that it is always the adjudicator’s burden to consult accurate and reliable COI, and not the applicant’s responsibility to present this information. A lack of objective assessment of a refugee’s fear of persecution may constitute a violation of due process in RSD.
Although COI can be used to aid credibility assessments, it is not a lie detector. It cannot prove whether the applicant is truthful, nor can it definitively decide whether the claim is well-founded. Therefore, the role of COI is to corroborate, question or put into context the applicant’s statements and other evidences. Thorough research of up-to-date COI may help reduce the margin of error in decision-making.
You may find the list of resources below when conducting your COI research. In particular, the International Refugee Rights Initiative has a database of COI experts per country which can be consulted often on a pro-bono basis. For detailed information on how to research COI, the Training Manual below focuses on the quality standards, knowledge and assessment of sources, developing research questions, research strategies and methods, social media, and presentation in COI.
- Country of Origin Information Experts Directory (International Refugee Rights Initiative)
- Researching Country of Origin Information: Training Manual (Austrian Red Cross and ACCORD, 2013)
- Amnesty International (human rights report search by country and topic)
- Human Rights Watch (human rights report search by country and topic)
- Transparency International
- Transparency International Corruptions Perception Index (expert assessments and opinion surveys by country and year)
- Global Legal Information Network (public database of official texts of laws, regulations, judicial decisions, and other complementary legal sources contributed by governmental agencies and international organizations)
- Lexadin World Law Guide (comprehensive site with links to country constitutions, and other domestic laws by topic)
- Southern Africa Legal Information Institute
- All Africa (news reports search by country and topic)
Where internet access is an issue, one can also consult local offices of human rights organizations and monitors for hard copies of their reports.