Establishing Identity for International Protection: Challenges and Practices (2012)
Only 5-10 percent of asylum seekers present valid travel documents upon application for asylum. Norwegian policy makers and officials in the immigration authorities agree that the lack of credible identity documents represent a challenge to the regulation of immigration to Norway. However, the experience is that while less than 10 percent of the asylum seekers present credible identity documents when applying for asylum, during the asylum process many do provide some documents can serve to support their stated identity.
Norwegian authorities acknowledge and accept the fact that many asylum seekers are unable to present credible documentation confirming their identities. Many asylum seekers originate from countries where identity documentation is scarce and lacking in credibility, have never been in possession of a passport, and cannot be required to contact their home country even when a system for identity documentation exists, because of safety issues. As a consequence, a fair number of applications for international protection have to be settled based on an overall assessment of the credibility of other information about identity provided by the asylum seeker.
The two main bodies that work with establishing identities are the National Police Immigration Service (NPIS) and the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (UDI). NPIS is responsible for registering all asylum applications, and establishing the identities of the asylum seekers. Furthermore, NPIS is responsible for coordinating all forced returns from Norway. UDI is the decision-making authority in asylum cases, and will also investigate identity information.
NPIS and UDI face similar challenges when establishing identities. However, while UDI can make a decision in a case regarding international protection based on an unverified identity which is substantiated beyond a reasonable doubt, NPIS cannot forcefully return a person without his identity having been verified and/or documented. This results in different challenges for NPIS and UDI.
In the absence of credible identity documentation, Norwegian authorities have various methods available in their work to establish identities. These include standard procedure methods like manual photograph comparisons, biometric fingerprint comparisons, age assessments, interviews and language analysis. The methods used do not guarantee that an identity will be established, and in some cases the identity remains unclear.
In order to strengthen the immigration authorities’ work with establishing identities, the National Identity and Documentation Centre (NID) was opened on the 15. November 2010. The centre is an independent administrative body, and its main tasks are to collect and process relevant information, share experience, and to coordinate the development of methods related to establishing identity and verify documents. The centre will also assist and advise the immigration authorities on general issues and in individual cases.
A synthesis of the national reports from 25 EMN Member States is also available.
This report shows that most EMN Members face challenges with regard to establising the identity of persons seeking international protection. These challenges can be particularly acute with regard to return of rejected asylum seekers, where documentary criteria are more stringent than in the asylum process proper. Norway is one of only a few countries (along with Finland and the Czech Republic) to have developed a central competence center with regard to the establishment of identity.