The Independent Advisory Group on Country Information invites tenders to evaluate the UK Home Office Country Information and Guidance on Kuwait and Somalia

1. The Independent Advisory Group on Country Information (IAGCI) is part of the Office of the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration. Its main purpose is to review the content of all Country of Origin Information (COI) produced by the UK Home Office to help ensure that it is as accurate, balanced, impartial and up to date as possible. COI is information used in procedures that assess claims of individuals to refugee status or other forms of international and humanitarian protection. It is also used in policy formulation. The full Terms of Reference for the IAGCI and minutes of earlier meetings are available on its website.

 2. The IAGCI reviews country of origin information products of the UK Home Office. The structure of these products have recently been revised, moving from separate COI Reports and Operational Guidance Notes (OGNs) to a single Country Information and Guidance (CIG) report. The format of these products is still being finalized, but will eventually be produced on an ongoing basis for the top 20 asylum intake countries. The CIG reports provide information about the issues most commonly raised in asylum claims made in the United Kingdom. They are compiled from material produced by a range of recognised external information sources (news sources, academic literature, country guidance decisions, independent research reports, fact finding reports from UK government or from other governments, etc.). These documents also contain Home Office policy on the recommended position to be taken with respect to various types of claims, based on the available and accepted country information.

 3. IAGCI commissions country experts or experienced researchers to evaluate and report upon the country of origin information contained in its information products. At its next meeting, the IAGCI will consider two pilot CIG documents on the Kuwaiti Bidoon and Somalia, and wishes to commission researchers to review these reports. The draft report for Kuwait is available here and the report for Somalia is available here.

 4. Country Information and Guidance Reports aim to provide an accurate, balanced and up to date summary of the key available source documents regarding the human rights situation, with respect to the issues selected for coverage, in the country covered. The purpose and scope of the reports are clearly set out in an introductory section of the document. Reviews should evaluate the reports in this context and seek to identify any areas where they can be improved. Specifically the review should entail:

 (i) Assessing the extent to which information from source documents has been appropriately and accurately reflected in the CIG Report.

 (ii) Identifying additional sources detailing the current human rights situation in the country with respect to main grounds for asylum claims (which are noted in each CIG Report).

 (iii) Noting and correcting any specific errors or omissions of fact.

 (iv) Making recommendations for general improvements regarding, for example, the structure of the report, its coverage or its overall approach.

5. While there is room for individual discretion in the way the researcher approaches the task and prepares a review, it would be helpful for the IAGCI if some specific guidelines were followed:

 (i) The Country Information and Guidance Report should be reviewed in the context of its purpose as set out in paragraph 4 above, and the stated ‘cut off’ date for inclusion of information.

 (ii) The review should focus exclusively on the country of origin information contained within the document, and not pass judgment on the policy guidance provided.

 (iii) When suggesting amendments, rather than ‘tracking changes’ on the original CIG report, a list of suggested changes should be provided as part of a stand-alone review paper.

(iv) Any suggestions for additional information (or corrections to information in the document) must be referenced to a source document for the Home Office to be able to use it. The Home Office may use foreign language source documents, but only if the information is considered essential and is not available in English language source.

 6. Previous reviews of COI products can be viewed here. However, reviewers should keep in mind that the current structure of COI products has changed significantly with the Kuwait and Somalia reports and therefore some adaptations in the form of the reviews may be needed.

 7. Where possible reviewers are requested to attend the IAGCI meeting at which their review will be considered. The UK Home Office will also be represented at the meeting to provide responses to comments and recommendations made in the review.

 8. Reviews commissioned by IAGCI may be used as source documents for future CIG reports or other information products.

 9. In some cases CIG products reviewed by IAGCI are for countries being examined by the Home Office for possible designation (or partial designation) for the Non-Suspensive Appeals (NSA) provisions. NSA is a process whereby asylum and human rights applications from a designated country may be fast-tracked, without an in-country right of appeal. IAGCI examines the COI material for any countries proposed for the NSA process before designation.

 10. Researchers interested in completing either of these reviews should submit:

• a one page letter demonstrating their expertise in human rights and/or asylum issues pertaining to the particular country

• their c.v.

• a budget for the proposed work estimating their anticipated costs (number of days, charge per day)

Expressions of interest should be submitted to the IAGCI Chair, Dr Laura Hammond, at laura.hammond@soas.ac.uk by 25 April, 2014. Reviews will be commissioned by 28 April 2014. Final reviews will be required to be submitted by 30 May 2014. The reviews will be discussed at a meeting of the IAGCI in mid-June.

Border Force Unattended Bag Searches Proportionate & Successful but National Assurance Procedures Lacking

Border Force’s use of the legislative power to examine a passenger’s bags without their knowledge was being exercised necessarily and proportionately, and the overall success rate was high. However, there was no national assurance procedure in place for this power and guidance on how to conduct the search was inconsistent across ports. These were the findings in the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration’s report on the use of Border Force customs examination powers to search baggage in the absence of passengers.

Section 159 of the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 allows Border Force staff to examine passengers’ bags when the passenger is not in attendance. Use of this power protects the UK border, and requires authorisation from a member of staff in a management grade. This inspection examined the efficiency and quality of Border Force’s authorisation and record-keeping process.

The Chief Inspector was pleased to find:

• the overall success rate in the file sample (i.e. those occasions when prohibited or restricted goods were found during S.159 examinations) was high (33%);

• the use of the s.159 power was being exercised necessarily and proportionately;

staff were enthusiastic, capable, and committed to protecting the UK border;

• we found occasions where the quality and accuracy of notebook entries, was exceptional.

However, he was concerned that:

national assurance procedures did not include S.159 examinations. This was despite Border Force accepting a recommendation on record-keeping within our recent inspection of Birmingham Airport;

• Luton airport had been operating these baggage examinations without any authorisation procedures or assurance from managers. This error was not recognised, despite the Home Office re-issuing guidance in March 2013;

• the guidance available regarding the use of S.159 powers was not located in a single location, was inconsistently worded and was not comprehensive. Available guidance also made no mention of the steps that operational staff should consider when undertaking joint operations;

• Border Force staff employed to deliver national standards through training had differing opinions on some subjects and had delivered inconsistent messages to staff;

• the Code of Practice governing these powers needed to be re-worded to provide more clarity on how these powers were exercised.

The Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, John Vine CBE QPM, said:

“The power to examine passenger’s bags without their knowledge requires authorisation and justification. It is an intrusive power, but one that is necessary to protect UK border security.

I found it reassuring to see a high success level in an activity that, while intrusive, is clearly used proportionately to protect the UK border.

Staff were enthusiastic, capable, and committed to protecting the UK border, and I found occasions where the quality and accuracy of notebook entries, was exceptional.

However, I found that there needs to be more activity in the customs area, particularly in relation to activities that are not visible to the public.

The Home Office also needs to ensure that its staff are operating to consistent national standards: standards that are fully supported by current, easily-accessible and detailed guidance.”

The Chief Inspector made four recommendations for improvement. These included that the Home Office guidance on s159 searches is updated and communicated quickly and consistently, and managers follow nationally agreed standards when instructing staff on the performance of their duties.

Progress Made in Complaints & MP Correspondence and Abu Dhabi & Islamabad Visa Sections

The Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, John Vine CBE QPM, published his second Spot Check report today. He said:

“For my second spot-check report, I looked at the Home Office’s handling of complaints and MP correspondence and its entry clearance operations in Abu Dhabi and Islamabad.

Both business areas had made significant progress against previous recommendations, and were well supported by professional and dedicated staff.”

COMPLAINTS AND MP CORRESPONDENCE

“An effective and efficient complaints procedure is essential if people are to have confidence that an organisation listens to concerns and takes appropriate action.

Staff in the Customer Service Improvement (CSI) team – who are responsible for dealing with complaints and MP correspondence – were genuinely committed to, and serious about, good customer service. They are now supported by organisational structures and resources which allow them to do their jobs more effectively.

Not only had my recommendations been acted upon, but it was apparent that considerable thought had gone into how to continue to improve the process beyond the findings of my report.

However, I am concerned at the difference in the complaints handling process being operated by Border Force in comparison to the other immigration directorates of the Home Office. I believe it would be sensible for the Home Office to consider whether it ought to be brought into line with the rest of the Department.”

ABU DHABI & ISLAMABAD

“In 2010 I conducted a full inspection of the visa issuing posts in Abu Dhabi and Islamabad. In light of the seriousness of my findings, I carried out a full re-inspection of these posts in 2011-12 to review progress against my recommendations.

My spot-check follow-up visit, further examined progress on the recommendations from both reports.

At both Abu Dhabi and Islamabad, I saw considerable evidence that process management in both posts had developed, staff engagement and management techniques had improved and management oversight was better.

I was pleased to note that the customer-service focus being promoted by the current head of UK Visas and Immigration has been adopted enthusiastically by staff at these two posts.

It was reassuring to see in these spot-check visits how much progress had been made since my inspections.

I am, however, concerned about the implications that the Javed ruling will have on the posts, particularly Islamabad. A significant number of cases have already been ‘paused’ until the outcome of the case and at the time of my visit, there were already 500 such cases in Islamabad.

There was also some concern in Islamabad about the limit placed on the number of cases they could send for ‘verification +’ checks with HMRC. The value of these checks is unquestionable and UKVI would benefit from negotiating a bigger allowance with HMRC.

In both posts, some staff mentioned problems that were still being encountered using certain IT programmes. The availability of a fully functioning and task-appropriate IT system will help these staff to do their jobs more effectively.”