Raising the Bar: Enhancing Statelessness-Focused Country of Origin Information

Emily Wilbourn, Programme Manager, Asylos
/ 4 mins read

In February 2024, the UK Home Office released many reports covering inspections carried out by the former Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI), among them, a much-anticipated review of the treatment of statelessness within country of origin information (COI). This blog considers the importance of raising standards in relation to statelessness-focused COI and discusses several of the review’s recommendations.


Contextualising the review

In reflecting on this topic, it is important to start by recognising the symbolic importance of the ICIBI’s review, which was the first of its kind to focus solely on statelessness-related COI. The scrutiny afforded by the review represents a positive step forward in light of the growing recognition amongst actors working in the fields of international protection, human rights, and statelessness in the UK and beyond, that COI on statelessness does not meet the needs of those who may seek to use it.

Indeed, in recent years, several reports have remarked both on the information gaps that exist relating to statelessness, as well as inadequacies in existing stateless-related COI. A 2020 UNHCR audit on the statelessness determination procedure in the UK noted the “limited availability of country information on statelessness”, whilst also emphasising the importance of such information in determining statelessness claims. The audit led UNHCR to recommend that sections on “nationality and citizenship” be included in relevant COI reports. In its 2021 thematic review of U.S. Department of State Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, the Asylum Research Centre Foundation found that whilst most reports included a section entitled “Stateless Persons”, the reports lacked a consistent approach with regards to how issues relating to statelessness were included. A 2023 research report by Thomas McGee also recognised the shortcomings of the treatment of statelessness within COI. In reference to UK Home Office COI on Syria, the report highlights that:

“the lack of mention of statelessness within the most up-to-date Country of Origin Information report for Syria may be a contributing factor to the lack of engagement with statelessness for Syrian Kurds among key stakeholders during the asylum process”

A step in the right direction

The ICIBI review considered the treatment of statelessness across UK Home Office COI outputs and provided a detailed assessment of country information covering Kuwait, Syria, Myanmar and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. It makes a series of general recommendations aimed at improving the coverage and quality of Home Office COI on statelessness, as well as providing specific comments on the areas that could be strengthened with regards to the aforementioned countries and territories.

A number of the general recommendations focus on encouraging a more systematic approach to identifying potentially relevant statelessness related issues by, for example, using standard initial terms of reference, or standardised areas of enquiry. Similar to the recommendation made by the UNHCR’s 2020 audit, the ICIBI review recommends wider coverage of nationality laws in Country Policy and Information Notes (CPINs), where possible.

It is encouraging to see the review underscore the importance of mainstreaming the understanding of statelessness-related concepts, by recommending the inclusion of a brief list of definitions and relevant implications. In a similar vein, Asylos’ 2023 publication Principles for Conducting Country of Origin Information Research on Statelessness, encourages COI researchers to:

  • Develop an understanding of relevant terminology, including the word(s) used to describe statelessness in the country of habitual residence, the designations of different stateless groups in relevant languages along with the meanings that these terms carry
  • Set out these terms clearly in reports (read more about Asylos’ six Principles here)

We also welcome the review’s recommendation of a structured liaison between the Home Office Country Policy and Information team and organisations such as the European Network on Statelessness and Institute on Statelessness Inclusion in order to benefit from their expertise. This recommendation holds particular value given the challenges that practitioners in the field of international protection may experience in identifying where statelessness is a relevant issue and in navigating the complexities of different situations (see also ENS’ Country Position Papers on Statelessness). Taking this point a step further, Asylos’ Principles for Conducting Country of Origin Information Research on Statelessness also encourages COI researchers to prioritise the inclusion of the voices of people with lived experience of statelessness within research, as they hold important information and unique perspectives on their own situation of statelessness.

Whilst there are reasons to celebrate the ICIBI thematic review of the coverage of statelessness within UK Home Office COI, the context in which it was published cannot be ignored. The absence of an Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration in recent months, following David Neal’s dismissal earlier this year, has hampered the smooth conduct of inspections. The appointment of David Bolt as interim ICIBI from 3 June 2024 is a welcome development, given the key oversight role that the inspectorate plays.

Moving forward, it is important to recognise that critical reflection and willingness to evolve is a vital first step to raising standards in relation to statelessness-focused COI. It is encouraging to note that the Home Office Country Policy and Information team have engaged with the recommendations of the review, accepting, or partially accepting, all of them. This review should serve as an inspiration to other actors in the field of COI – whether working within governments, intergovernmental institutions, NGOs or as individuals – to reflect on their own coverage of statelessness-focused COI and how it can be strengthened in service of people experiencing statelessness across the world.

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