Man who claimed to be leader in Ivorian Popular Front wins appeal over asylum refusal

By Ann O’Loughlin

A man who claimed he was forced to flee his native Ivory Coast after an outbreak of extensive civil conflict there has won his appeal over being refused asylum here.

His application will now be reheard by the International Protection Appeals Tribunal (IPAT) in line with the Court of Appeal’s findings.

The three judge Appeal Court judgment centred on the extent of the obligations of asylum decision makers when addressing country of origin information (COI).

Giving that judgment, Mr Justice Gerard Hogan said the obligation of the IPAT’s predecessor - the Refugee Appeals Tribunal (RAT) was to make an "overall" assessment of the man’s credibility based on evaluating "all" potentially relevant information supplied by him and not just some of it.

The man came here in May 2011 and immediately claimed asylum on the basis he was a local leader of the Ivorian Popular Front (Front Populaire Ivoirien - FPI), forced to flee his country after an outbreak of extensive civil conflict.

The judge noted, after a disputed outcome of the Ivorian presidential election in late 2010, the sitting president Laurent Gbagbo, leader of the FPI, was ousted from power in April 2011 and replaced by president Alassane Ouattara. After Gbagbo’s arrest and indictment before the International Criminal Court, the FPI announced a boycott of parliamentary elections due in November 2011.

According to COI, Gbagbo supporters were targetted by Ouattara supporters after the latter came to power and killings, torture and torching of buildings were all reported by human rights observers, including by Amnesty International, in the weeks following Gbagbo’s arrest on April 11th 2011.

In this case, the man argued he went to work on the morning of April 11th in Abobo, a suburb of the capital Abidjan, was later arrested as an FPI supporter but was released because Ouattara supporters feared army units loyal to Gbagbo might return. He claimed he went into hiding, was later smuggled out of the country and arrived here in May 2011.

The Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner (ORAC) found he was from Abobo but rejected his principal claims due to credibility issues based on findings including he could not name any of the militas active during this period.

According to an Amnesty report, the organisations had a "myriad" of names, Mr Justice Hogan observed.

The man appealed to the RAT which concluded his account contained such inconsistencies his general credibility was undermined.

He then went to the High Court which refused judicial review but certified an appeal to the COA to focus on the extent of obligations of decision makers when addressing COI.

Mr Justice Hogan said Article 5.1.a of the European Communities (Eligibility for Protection) Regulations 2006 obliges asylum decision makers to consult COI when such information was relevant to the circumstances of the particular case. The extent of any obligation to consult COI must depend "on all the relevant circumstances".

In this case, the RAT was obliged to consider the COI relevant to any credibility assessment of the man’s claims which involved specific details concerning alleged events in April and May 2011 not generally known to those who did not live in Ivory Coast.

The RAT’s failure to do so breached Article 5.1.a and rendered the RAT’s decision invalid, he ruled.

While entitled in principle to draw adverse credibility findings from inconsistencies in the man’s testimony, the RAT erred in failing to consider "key" documents relied upon by the man which, if authentic, would place his claims about his political involvement in "an entirely new light".


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