The representatives of EU Member States, Eastern Partnership countries, academia and international organizations gathered in The Hague to compare their practices, experience and standards in conducting credibility assessments in asylum procedures.
The two-day expert meeting of the Eastern Partnership Panel on Migration and Asylum took place on 8-9 December 2014 and was co-hosted by the Netherlands and Georgia. It provided the participants with an opportunity to review the definition and the role of credibility assessment in refugee status determination. The combination of theoretical and practical sessions allowed for dynamic and open discussions in a friendly atmosphere.
Following the warm welcoming by the European Commission, the Dutch Director of Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Georgian Head of the Migration, Repatriation and Refugees Issues Department of Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Accommodation and Refugees highlighted the importance of credibility assessment, which represent a corner stone in asylum procedures of both the EU MS and its Eastern Partners.
The first day began with a reminder on the theoretical and legislative frameworks of credibility assessments, which were presented by UNHCR and the European Commission. The following discussion of the replies to the questionnaire allowed participants to get a first impression of different national approaches and, as highlighted by IOM and welcomed by the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), showed that the theoretical imperatives applicable when assessing the credibility in protection cases have been largely harmonized throughout all participating countries. Following the advice of the Asylum Procedure and Qualification Directives, as well as UNHCR’s recommendations, the countries confirm that credibility needs to be based on an evaluation of a variety of factors ranging from country of origin information to individual circumstances and that truth can rarely be proven beyond “reasonably leading to believe”.
After a short break, the EASO presented the newly developed training module on credibility assessments and involved the participants through two concrete case studies, highlighting the importance of clear methodology to ensure that decisions are fair and take into account the principle of the benefit of the doubt.
The Polish Halina Niec Legal Aid Center and the Armenian School of Advocates demonstrated the crucial role of non-state actors in the credibility assessment process, since they can contribute to building trust with the asylum-seeker and highlight the importance of telling the truth, ensuring that internal credibility of the claim can be easily assessed. Regarding external credibility, and as demonstrated by Georgia, COI is crucial to support quality and fair decisions on asylum cases and a dedicated unit in the asylum authority can considerably support the access to reliable information.
The second day of the meeting started with a thought-provoking presentation by the University of Amsterdam, highlighting the communication difficulties during the interviews and, thus, limitations of the credibility assessment on the one hand, and its absolute necessity in the asylum procedure on the other. The following session touched upon concrete practices and specific methods helping to establish credibility of the claim. The Netherlands showed that if the cases for the linguistic analysis are chosen correctly, the reliability of the assessment is reaching almost 100%, and can serve as a trustworthy source of information about applicant’s origin.
Ukraine then shared their approach to the age determination used for the cases of unaccompanied minor asylum seekers, underling importance of having the multidisciplinary team of experts for comprehensive age assessment. Sweden added on the methods used for processing the LGBT cases, stressing the sensitivity of this particular group of the asylum seekers and ways of getting information without violations of their rights. The approach suggests focusing more on reflections, reactions, everyday life circumstances and feelings of the applicant, rather than asking direct questions. Finland closed this session with a presentation on medical assessments in cases referring to torture, highlighting that overall medical condition of the asylum seeker might greatly influence the interview outcomes, thus, every applicant should be asked on his/her health condition at the interview beginning.
The Panel participants also learnt about asylum related projects implemented by ICMPD under the Prague Process Targeted Initiative.
As a conclusion, the Netherlands, Georgia and Moldova reminded the different steps when going from credibility assessment to status determination and that an individual approach in each case remains crucial.