NzN v Minister for Justice and Equality

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Respondent/Defendant:Minister for Justice and Equality
Court/s:High Court
Citation/s:[2014] IEHC 31
Nature of Proceedings:Appeal
Judgment Date/s:27 Jan 2014
Judge:Clark J.
Category:Refugee Law
Keywords:Country of Nationality, Country of Origin, Nationality, Refugee, Refugee Status
Country of Origin:Nigeria
URL:https://www.courts.ie/acc/alfresco/a5972f99-df90-47f5-966e-cbd41f55a144/2014_IEHC_31_1.pdf/pdf#view=fitH
Geographic Focus:Ireland

Facts:

The appellant (Nz.N) sought to overturn a decision by the Minister for Justice to revoke her declaration of refugee status by way of statutory appeal to the High Court pursuant to the provisions of the Refugee Act 1996.

She sought asylum in December, 2005 and had been declared a refugee in February, 2006. Her infant son, whom she claimed had been born in Niger, also benefitted from that status. In June, 2012 the Minister revoked her declaration pursuant to s. 21(1)(h) of the Refugee Act 1996 on the basis that she had provided false and misleading information to the Refugee Applications Commissioner regarding her nationality and identity.

Her claim for refugee status had been based on the claim to have suffered persecution at the hands of her husband in Niger. She asserted that she had never travelled outside Niger prior to the 2 December, 2005, and that she had never been issued with a passport. A document purporting to be her son D.C.N.’s birth certificate was provided to the Commissioner. The father was named as Bala N. She had previously named her husband as Musa N. and her father as Bala Ali. The document was stated to have issued on the 31st July, 2006. Her account was found mainly credible by the Commissioner in that her claim was supported by independent sources in relation to the treatment of women in Niger society.

Eight months after receiving her declaration, the appellant married A.S.O, a national of Nigeria born in January, 1985 and an asylum seeker whom she said she had met in Ireland. She submitted their marriage certificate, which named her mother as Fatima Bello and her father as Bala N. and she also submitted her husband’s Nigerian passport and his Irish driving licence. In February, 2007 she applied for family reunification with her husband. Two years later in February, 2009 the application was granted. The applicant gave birth to two further children in 2007 and 2009.

In early 2009, the Gardaí received confidential information that Nz.N. and A.S.O. were using false identities and were Nigerian. Subsequent Garda National Immigration Bureau (“GNIB”) enquiries established that Nz.N., who was living with her husband and family in the Dundalk area and receiving considerable sums of unemployment benefit and rent allowance, was at the same time employed as a full time staff nurse in a nursing home in Armagh, under the name B.Nz.I. B.Nz.I.’s identity and qualifications lodged with the recruitment agency for the position in the nursing home included a copy of B.Nz.I.’s passport and marriage certificate. This showed that B.Nz.I. was born in Nigeria on the 12 November, 1976, that she was a registered nurse with the Nursing and Midwifery Council of the United Kingdom, and that she married S.N. in Nigeria in December, 2003.

It was then established by documents supplied by the United Kingdom Border Agency (“UKBA”) that B.Nz.I. had legally entered the United Kingdom on foot of a multiple entry work permit issued by the British High Commission in Abuja on the 16 September, 2004 for a period of three years which expired on the 16 September, 2007, and that Nz.N.’s fingerprints taken by the Irish asylum authorities matched those of B.Nz.I. Her visa was extended for a further three years but was revoked later in 2008 when it was established that she had applied for and been granted asylum in Ireland using a different identity.

The fact that Nz.N. was working full time in Armagh while receiving unemployment benefits in Dundalk led to a criminal prosecution in the State in March, 2009. She repaid the sums over the next three years and a six month suspended sentence was imposed upon her.

When her husband A.S.O. was granted residency as spouse of a refugee, he was required to register as a lawful resident with the GNIB. However, in February, 2009, the GNIB established that the Nigerian passport provided to the Irish authorities on the occasion of his marriage contained an inserted page with fraudulent bio–data. It was later also discovered that A.S.O.’s Irish driver’s licence was also a fraudulent document.

A search of the home of one V.Nw., whose name appeared as a witness on the couple’s Irish marriage certificate, resulted in B.Nz.I.’s original Nigerian passport being found, which matched the copy held in the employment file at the nursing home in Armagh. The passport included her son D.C.N. and was stamped with two United Kingdom visas for 2004 and 2008. V.Nw. identified a photograph of A.S.O. as his brother-in-law, S.N.

Mr. A.S.O. / S.N. subsequently declined to have DNA samples taken from him and Nz.N. refused to permit DNA samples to be taken from her son D.C.N. to establish the child’s paternity.

The information obtained on foot of the Garda investigation and the UKBA led to the conclusion that the claimed facts on which Nz.N. was recognised as a refugee from Niger could not be true if her true identity was B.Nz.I., born on the 12 November, 1976 in Kaduna, northern Nigeria, and that her claim to have been a maltreated wife in Niger had therefore been fabricated.

It was also established through GNIB files that a person with the name S.N. was granted a visa in Abuja in 2002 to come to Ireland to sit exams in the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland (“RCSI”) in Dublin. Records showed that he sat and failed one of those exams and did not turn up for the other. An affidavit filed on behalf of the Minister averred that that photographs of S.N. obtained from the RCSI bore a striking resemblance to photographs of A.S.O. held by the GNIB.

Additional information furnished to the GNIB by the UKBA in October, 2011 indicated that B.Nz.I. had been interviewed and fingerprinted by the UKBA on the 17 June, 2008, and that on the same day she was served with papers as an immigration offender having obtained leave to remain by deception, after it became known that she had applied for asylum in the Republic of Ireland in another identity. She claimed that she was not B.Nz.I. but had adopted this identity and had paid the real person monies to allow her to take her place in the United Kingdom. She accepted that she was known in Ireland as Nz.N. and that she had been living in Ireland when she applied for leave to remain in the United Kingdom. She was removed the same day from the United Kingdom and returned to Ireland. Her visa application form and photograph were attached. At the same time, the Gardai were investigating the use of false identities by A.S.O. and his wife Nz.N. The subsequent prosecutions for social welfare fraud proceeded on the basis that Nz.N. had stolen supplementary welfare benefits.

The Minister then proposed to revoke her refugee status. Having received submissions on foot thereof, he determined that the overwhelming evidence was that she was in fact B.Nz.I., a Nigerian national, and not Nz.N., a national of Niger, and that she had given false or misleading information to the Commissioner and failed to provide credible, verifiable evidence of her claimed Niger identity. He also found that it was unlikely she could have been employed as a staff nurse without being fully qualified to take that position and the only credible, verifiable evidence indicated that she was B.Nz.I., a national of Nigeria.

The applicant appealed, maintaining that she was not B.Nz.I., that B.Nz.I. was a different and separate person, and that she did not provide any false or misleading information to the Minister or to the asylum authorities. She claimed that her son and B.Nz.I.’s son were two different people, as were her husband A.S.O. and B.Nz.I.’s husband S.N.  She declined to take up a suggestion from the court that she allow her son and her husband to undergo DNA testing.

Reasoning:

The court dismissed the appellant’s appeal against the Minister’s decision.

In doing so, it began by having regard to s. 21(1)(h) of the Refugee Act 1996 and reg. 11(2)(b) of the EC (Eligibility for Protection) Regulations 2006. In the light of this, it stated that the powers of the court on an appeal against a revocation of refugee status are to determine whether the decision to revoke the declaration was correctly made and should be confirmed, or whether it was wrong and should be withdrawn. The court could consider all the evidence which was before the Minister and hear oral evidence from the appellant and any witnesses called by either party in determining the appeal. The court could come to its own view as to whether the decision to revoke was appropriate or should be withdrawn. It noted that it was not empowered to ask the Minister to re-consider the decision and it had to come to its own decision confirming the Minister’s original decision to revoke the appellant’s refugee status or restoring the appellant’s status by directing the Minister to withdraw the revocation of the declaration. The court did this on the evidence which was before the Minister and any additional evidence presented on the appeal.

The court found that the appellant was a singularly unimpressive witness who became irretrievably tangled in a web of deception and lies. It asked rhetorically why B.Nz.I., a qualified nurse with permission to work in the United Kingdom, would choose to apply for asylum in Ireland posing as a citizen of Niger, noting that that was a question which had never been resolved. It held that it was not its function to determine whether or not the appellant is a refugee, but rather whether or not the Minister had correctly revoked her refugee status because she provided false and misleading information to the Commissioner which was instrumental in her recognition as a refugee. The court held that the evidence that she provided such false and misleading information was overwhelming, and that it was clear that B.Nz.I. and Nz.N. were one and the same person, that she was from Nigeria, that from 2004 to 2005 she lived and worked in the United Kingdom where she gave birth to D.C.N., and that she was not from Niger and had never suffered persecution there.

It held that there was strong evidence of studied deception at every stage of her stay in Ireland, and noted that when B.Nz.I had been discovered by the UKBA to have the same fingerprints as a woman who claimed asylum in Ireland, she had admitted to the interviewing member of the UKBA that she had a different name in Ireland which was Nz.N. The court held that, despite what the appellant had alleged, it was extremely unlikely that, when this had been investigated by the UKBA, it had to obtain fingerprints for the first time from the person who was calling herself B.Nz.I. in Armagh. The court noted that the UKBA would have had her fingerprints on file when she applied for her working visa in 2004 and been able to check them against her visa when she arrived in the United Kingdom at the port of entry. Even if was incorrect in that, it considered that it was far-fetched to suggest that the fingerprints held by the UKBA matched those held by the GNIB only because Nz.N. was masquerading as B.Nz.I. when they allegedly took her fingerprints.

As to her identity as Nz.N. in Ireland, both documents produced by the appellant in support of her identity as a woman from Niger with a son born in Niger are highly suspect on the face of the documents and the timing of their delivery. These documents purport to be evidence of the birth of mother and child in Niger. They were issued on the same date by the same judicial authority and they bear consecutive serial numbers, with the son’s number preceding the mother’s. They were both issued after mother and child had come to Ireland and after they were recognised as refugees. The child’s purported birth certificate names his father as Bala N. while that name appears as the mother’s father (the child’s grandfather) on her Irish marriage certificate (the legality of which is now suspect). On her asylum questionnaire the appellant named her former husband and D.C.N.’s father as Musa N.

The court held that the appellant had never provided any proof of her asserted Niger identity. Moreover, it concluded that every document produced by her husband in Ireland was also false or suspect. It found her willingness to engage in further dishonesty before it to be discomfiting, her refusal to agree to present her son for DNA testing telling and her reasons unacceptable.

In conclusion, it held that there was no reason to fault the Minister’s decision. The evidence of a false and fraudulent claim was strong and the number of similarities in the names of the husbands, the sons and the family names was so compelling as to indicate that all three were the same persons and to exclude coincidence. It therefore dismissed the appeal and confirmed the decision of the Minister.

Decision:

Accordingly, the court dismissed the applicant’s appeal against the revocation of her refugee status.

Principles:

Under s. 21(1)(h) of the Refugee Act 1996 and reg. 11(2)(b) of the EC (Eligibility for Protection) Regulations 2006, the powers of the court on an appeal against a revocation of refugee status entail determining whether the decision to revoke the declaration was correctly made and should be confirmed, or whether it was wrong and should be withdrawn. The court can consider all the evidence which was before the Minister and hear oral evidence from the appellant and any witnesses called by either party in determining the appeal. The court can come to its own view as to whether the decision to revoke was appropriate or should be withdrawn. The court does this on the evidence which was before the Minister and any additional evidence presented on the appeal.

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