Global connections, local interpretations(2021)

Dr. Nicole Hoellerer has presented a paper at the International Conference ‘Global connections, local interpretations? Critical perspectives on scientific and media discourses in the context of refuge and asylum‘, which took place virtually (10 – 12 June), and was hosted by the Cooperative Research Training Group Neglected Topics in Refugee Research (Universität Hamburg) and the Project Group Empirical Migration Research Salzburg (PREMISA) (Paris Lodron University of Salzburg)

We had the opportunity to present the paper

Feneberg, Valentin; Gill, Nick; Hoellerer, Nicole and Scheinert, Laura (In Press) ‘It’s not what you know, it’s how you use it’: On the application of country of origin information in judicial refugee status determination decisions. International Journal of Refugee Law.

Our presentation was hosted in the panel Local themes – institutional/structural aspects chaired by Olga Kytidou (University of Hamburg).


‘It’s not what you know, it’s how you use it’: Local interpretations of the application of country of origin information in refugee status determination

Existing research has emphasised the different forms of knowledge available to refugee status determination (RSD) decision makers, as well as the differing conditions under which is it produced, but very little work has addressed how judicial decision makers interpret, represent and mobilise or side-line evidence within written verdicts, and how their approaches are localised.

This presentation (based on a paper) investigates how country of origin information (COI) is used in written judgements about RSD, taking Germany’s Higher Administrative Courts decisions between 2016 and 2018 on Syrian draft evaders as a case study. Our quantitative and qualitative analysis of court verdicts shows that local courts draw different conclusions from the same evidentiary basis and freely utilise a menu of techniques including interpretation, framing and citation styles to amplify or dampen the argumentative force of COI within their reasoning. As such legal reasoning dominates evidence, meaning that evidence in refugee status determination is discursively highly malleable and based on local interpretations, frequently incidental to legal arguments, and unable to produce legal consensus. Our findings raise concerns that local courts use COI selectively to justify the positions they have adopted locally, rather than allowing their positions to be directed by COI or centralised interpretations. We conclude by reflecting on what, if anything, can be done about these seemingly opaque and unaccountable textual and discursive forms of discretionary and localised judicial power.

Keywords: country of origin information; local interpretations; local legal practices; legal inconsistencies