Ireland - A.O. V Refugee Applications Commissioner, Refugee Appeals Tribunal, Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Attorney General and Ireland (Respondent) and Human Rights Commission (Notice Party) No. 2009 1194 JR

Country of Decision:
Country of Applicant:
Date of Decision:
17-04-2015
Citation:
A.O V Refugee Applications Commissioner & Ors [2015] IEHC 253
Court Name:
The High Court
National / Other Legislative Provisions:
Ireland - Refugee Act 1996
Ireland - The Immigration Act 1996 (as amended)
Ireland - The Immigration Act 1999 (as amended)
Ireland - s. 108 of the Immigration Act 2002
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Headnote: 

Discrepancies within evidence brought before the decision maker does not eschew the duty upon said decision maker to investigate the authenticity of the document. A person’s age is to be taken into account when evaluating evidential inconsistencies.

When relying on internal relocation a thorough assessment of all available evidence must be undertaken, including personal circumstances pertaining to the applicant. 

Facts: 

The applicant is a young orphaned Nigerian woman who travelled to Ireland at the age of 15 fleeing from her uncle who attempted to force her to marry a friend of his named “the Chief”. While in Nigeria the applicant was abducted and brought to ‘the Chief’ who held her without food and attempted to rape her. The applicant claimed a servant allowed her to escape and while disorientated she was involved in an accident with a motorcycle. The applicant claimed she was brought to a hospital by an unnamed woman who, on her release, brought her to her home and allowed her to recover from her injuries. The applicant claims that while there, an unsigned note was attached to the woman’s home stating that if the applicant was not returned to ‘the Chief’, both the applicant and the woman would be killed.

The applicant claims that she was asked to leave the woman’s home and while crying on the roadside, another woman, referred to only as “aunty” brought her to the African Refugee Foundation (hereinafter AREF). The applicant stayed at the AREF for 10 days confined to her room. The applicant claims that several people came to the AREF and made threats as it was known the applicant was in the foundation. After several days, the “aunty” brought the applicant to an unknown airport and she was given a refugee card and a letter from the foundation.

The letter from the foundation had a number of discrepancies namely; it claimed the applicant had been raped, contrary to the applicant’s own evidence. Furthermore, the letter claimed the applicant had been under the care of the AREF for three months, the applicant claimed she was only under AREF care for ten days. The letter claimed that the applicant left her uncle’s home in August 2006 however the applicant claimed she left her uncle’s home in November/December 2006. Finally, there were a number of spelling and acronym mistakes in the letter head and a number of contact details on the correspondence run contrary to the details contained on the AREF website. ORAC and RAT refused the applicant’s application for asylum on the basis of adverse credibility findings, in particular with regards to the content and form of the letter, and on the grounds that internal relocation was available to the applicant.

It should be noted that the examination of the applicant’s claim only took place when she turned 18 years of age. She arrived in Ireland when she was 15 years of age. 

Decision & Reasoning: 

The decision of the RAT was challenged on a number of grounds:

  1. The adverse credibility findings were arrived at by the Tribunal without proper regard to the tender age of the applicant and her life experiences;
  2. The Tribunal failed to discharge the burden of proof in circumstances where adverse findings were based on a finding that a significant document was unlikely to be authentic;
  3.  With respect to internal relocation, no reasonable regard was made by the Tribunal to the submissions made in the notice of appeal submitted by the applicant stating that it was not a viable option;
  4.  The Tribunal failed to have regard to the 2003 UNHCR Guidelines on Internal Relocation.

Barr J. found in relation to the credibility issue on the matters other than the letter from AREF that the respondents “failed to take adequate account of the fact that the applicant was a minor and an orphan at the time of the matters recounted by her” (Para 28). Furthermore, Barr J. considered it reasonable the applicant would not know the name or address of either the Chief or the lady who assisted her initially and found it understandable given her young age at the time.

Considering the authenticity of the AREF documents provided by the applicant namely, the refugee identification card and letter, the Court stated there was a duty on the respondents to make proper investigative inquiries into the authenticity of the documents. Barr J. relied upon the Australian decision in Sun Zhan Qui v Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs [1997] in which the judge found that a failure by the decision maker to obtain important information on a central issue for determination, that the decision maker knows to be readily available, may result in the decision being branded an exercise of power so unreasonable that no reasonable person could so exercise the power (Para 29) and found that the Tribunal did not carry out sufficient investigation of the letter or ID Card and therefore found it appropriate to quash the decision of the Refugee Appeals Tribunal (RAT) dated 28th September, 2009.

The Court turned to consider whether an internal relocation finding with respect to the applicant in Nigeria was appropriate. Reviewing the decision of the RAT and their reliance on country of origin information from a British-Danish Fact-Finding Mission report in Nigeria, which the Tribunal quoted extensively from,, Barr J. found that the information relied upon by the respondents gave an incomplete and misleading account of the conditions in Nigeria for relocation, namely the limited availability and duration of accommodation in shelters. Barr J stated that “..the RAT did not approach the issue of internal relocation in a proper manner.” Furthermore, it was held the RAT failed to give regard to the personal circumstances of the applicant “who was a teenager, who did not have any family left in Nigeria apart from her paternal uncle from whom she was fleeing” (Para 40). Barr J. highlighted the RAT seemingly ignored the remaining portion of the report which stated that it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for a young woman to relocate to an area without family or friends willing to support her. 

The Court determined that in failing to deal with the issues set out in the portion of the report headed “Social and Humanitarian Constraint” and by only quoting from the sections of the report favourable to the respondents, the RAT erred by failing to have due regard to the circumstances pertaining to the applicant. In particular, the Tribunal failed to give any weight to the difficulty which would be encountered by the applicant in attempting to relocate without family or friends to support her (Para 41). 

Outcome: 

The decision of the Refugee Appeals Tribunal was quashed and the case was remitted back to another Tribunal member.

Observations/Comments: 

The Court takes into account the young age of the applicant and her best interests notwithstanding that she is now an aged-out child and recalling events from her youth. 

Other sources cited: 

Report of Joint British-Danish Fact-Finding Mission to Lagos and Abuja, Nigeria 9 - 27 September 2007 and 5 - 12 January 2008; 2003 UNHCR Guidelines on Internal Relocation 

Case Law Cited: 

Sun Zhan Qui v. Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs [1997] FCA 1488

UK - O.A. (Alleged Forgery; Section 108 Procedures) Nigeria [2007] UKIAT 00096

UK - R.P. (Proof of Forgery) Nigeria [2006] UKIAT 00086

Ireland - E.I. (A Minor) v. Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform & Ors [2014] IEHC 27

Ireland - K.D. (Nigeria) v. RAT & Anor [2013] IEHC 481

Ireland - Nya v. Refugee Appeals Tribunal & Anor (Unreported, Clarke J.,5th February, 2009)

Ireland - F.P. and A.L. v. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform [2002] 1 IR 164

Ireland - I.R. v Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform [2009] IEHC 353.

Ireland - Kikumbi v Refugee Applications Commissioner [2007] IEHC 11, unreported, High Court, Herbert J., 7 February 2007