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Independent Documentation Centre

Volume 410: debated on Monday 18 August 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department (1) what the outcome was of the consultation in 1998 on the establishment of an independent documentation centre to provide country of origin information in assessing the cases of asylum seekers; [129767](2) if he will make it his policy to establish an independent documentation centre. [129768]

The Consultative Group on Country Information reported in December 1998. It recommended, inter alia, that an independent documentation centre should be established to provide country of origin information for use in the asylum process.Home Office Ministers considered this recommendation, but at that time IND's priority was to support the recovery of asylum decision output through the expansion and improvement of advice to caseworkers, including implementing other Consultative Group recommendations about the format and content of country of origin information material produced by the Home Office's Country Information and Policy Unit (CIPU).In 2001, the Home Office commissioned research into the production and use of its country of origin information material. By this time, the CIPU had established a track record for accurate research, with its reports being widely used as source documents by other countries and for material produced by non governmental organisations. It was therefore decided to await the outcome of the research before proceeding with a feasibility study on the Independent Documentation Centre proposal.The research, which was published on 1 September 2003 in a report entitled "Country of Origin Information: a user and content evaluation", noted the on-going debate about whether an independent documentation would be the best way to assure the objectivity of the country of origin material used in the asylum process. The report suggested that if it was decided not to proceed with the independent documentation centre, measures should be taken to ensure country of origin information produced by CIPU was impartial and objective. The full text of the research is available at http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs2/r211.pdfRather than establishing an independent documentation centre, it was decided to build upon CIPU's existing structures and strengths, and introduce measures to ensure the quality and accuracy of the country information products used in the asylum process. The Nationality Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 provided for an independent Advisory Panel on Country Information to be established to provide recommendations on the content of Home Office country information and help to ensure that it is as objective as possible. The Advisory Panel will also meet the report's recommendations that an expert panel of topic and country specialists should be set up to review CIPU's material and that steps should be taken to improve consultation with external stakeholders.The Advisory Panel is chaired by Professor Stephen Castles, Director of the Refugee Studies Centre at the University of Oxford and held its first meeting on 2 September 2003. The minutes of the panel's meetings will be published in due course.