Nigerian girl wins legal battle on refugee status

A girl with “significant” special needs born in Ireland after her Nigerian mother claimed she fled here due to fears her unborn child might suffer female genital mutilation or human sacrifice has overturned the rejection of her refugee status.

The 10-year-old girl’s application must be reconsidered by a different member of the Refugee Appeals Tribunal (RAT) in light of the court’s findings, Ms Justice Mary Faherty directed.

The RAT’s finding that the mother’s claim about female genital mutilation (FGM) ran “counter to generally known facts” did not meet the legal test of rationality or cogency set out in a 2011 High Court decision concerning FGM which was, “regrettably, a fact of life” for 19% of females in Nigeria, the High Court judge held.

The girl’s developmental difficulties, and the alleged difficulties she would face if relocated in Nigeria, were a “real” issue not considered by the RAT in accordance with the 2006 EC (Eligibility for Protection) Regulations, Ms Justice Faherty also found.

It was “incumbent” on the RAT to analyse and consider whether medical reports disclosed developmental delays or disabilities at such a level it would impede the girl’s relocation within Nigeria, said Ms Justice Faherty.

She ruled the child’s circumstances merited careful enquiry before a decision was made that she could be internally relocated and the failure to do so rendered unlawful the manner in which internal relocation was considered.

The girl’s mother came here in March 2005, days before her daughter was born, and was refused refugee status. In 2007, she sought asylum for the girl on grounds including the fear that the child might be subject to FGM and possible kidnapping and trafficking.

The mother said she also feared people might try to sacrifice her daughter to appease the ghost of the child’s paternal grandfather, a pagan chief priest whose death was deemed by an “oracle” to have been caused by his son’s refusal to take on the role of chief priest.

Ms Justice Faherty said the RAT refused refugee status for the child on grounds of failure to establish a well-founded fear of persecution for a reason set out in the Refugee Convention. Any fear of persecution could be addressed by internal relocation within Nigeria, the RAT found.

The “succinct” RAT decision was not sufficiently “clear and reasoned”, as it was open to question whether it was a credibility decision, a decision on internal relocation, or a mixture of both, the judge said.

The judge was “not convinced” that an alleged inconsistency in the mother’s claims — that she feared persecution on grounds of FGM or ritual human sacrifice of her child — was a sufficient basis to dismiss the fear of FGM.

Earlier, the judge noted that the girl’s mother had said she is from Anambra state in Nigeria, while the girl’s father was a Christian from Imo state whose father was a pagan chief priest.

After the girl’s grandfather died suddenly, the mother claimed his family consulted an “oracle”, which decreed the death arose from the girl’s father’s refusal to take on the role of chief priest, and demanded the sacrifice of the woman’s unborn child to the land to appease the “curse”.

The mother claimed this led to her running away to save her child’s life, the judge said. The RAT previously found these claims did not amount to a well- founded fear of persecution by her in-laws entitling the woman to refugee status.

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