The immigration inspector has ended 2018 as he began it, with a critical report on the Home Office’s internal “country of origin information” that guides asylum decisions. This time around, Mr Bolt effectively accuses the department of failing to take the issue seriously.
This inspection report, published on 5 December, is largely the work of independent experts with a covering note by the inspector. The experts were recruited by the Independent Advisory Group on Country Information to review country of origin documents (COIRs and CPINs, for those who know the lingo). These are used by officials making decisions on asylum applications as a guide to conditions in the would-be refugee’s native country. As such, they play a key role in whether someone gets asylum or not.
The experts checked over various country of origin documents on Iran, Turkey and the Democratic Republic of Congo and identified various ways in which they could be improved, highlighting:
- the speed with which the situation in the country is changing (DRC)
- a lack of “qualitative depth” and accuracy (Iran)
- over-reliance on US sources when that country has no diplomatic relations with the country in question (Iran)
- over-reliance on second-hand English language sources when more up-to-date and accurate native language sources are available (Turkey, DRC)
The review was carried out in May 2018 and sent to the Home Office in August 2018. The department sat on the report for four months before sending Mr Bolt what he calls “equivocal responses to my recommendations” on 4 December. Nobody’s idea of a bleeding-heart liberal — Mr Bolt is a former member of the Security Service (MI5) — the inspector is nevertheless moved to accuse the Home Office of having “little inclination to look seriously either at the resourcing of this function or at the way it currently works”. He goes on:
The members of the Independent Advisory Group on Country Information, who support me in this work, give their time freely on the understanding that the reviews they oversee make a difference. This latest response is poor reward for their hard work.
The Home Office says that translating non-English sources of information is not always possible and incurs financial costs. On this, Mr Bolt comments that while there are practical difficulties:
it is not good enough for the Home Office to leave it there. As the current round of reviews has shown, the problem of not using non-English language sources is not simply that more up-to-date and first-hand information is omitted, but also that the available English-language sources can assume more weight than they merit.
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The inspector makes three recommendations: better funding for translating non-English sources, giving reasons for not translating expert-recommended information, and paying attention to what the UN refugee agency has to say about Trump-era reports by the US State Department.
A January 2018 inspection of country of origin information had identified fundamental problems with it. Mr Bolt cast doubt in that report on “whether the current format and contents of CPINs are consistent with the UK’s obligations to refugees”.