Knowing Asylum Seekers: The Chain of Country of Origin Information

  • Jasper Van Der Kist

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis examines the politics of country of origin information (COI). This form of knowledge production is of crucial importance to all those involved in refugee status determination procedures, especially asylum seekers. But while the recent expansion, professionalisation and standardisation of COI in Europe is striking, so far, its effects on asylum regimes has received insufficient attention. The aims of this thesis are both empirical and theoretical. On the one hand, it provides detailed analyses of the ways in which country of origin information is produced and used. On the other hand, these accounts serve to advance the debate on the politics of knowledge in migration management. The investigation begins with a public knowledge controversy over two COI reports in the UK, revealing the various practices and arrangements involved in stabilising asylum-relevant knowledge. This is followed by an ethnographic analysis of knowledge practices at the COI unit in Austria. Using the concept of “tinkering” from science and technology studies, the ad hoc character of COI research is described and specified in relation to decision-makers. Next, the thesis examines the role of COI in realising the Common European Asylum System (CEAS). It demonstrates that the harmonisation of country research between Member States and experimental engagements with civil society enact different imaginaries of European order. The thesis then addresses the appropriation of COI in the Dutch immigration courts. Drawing on Foucault, it highlights the way in which COI both underpins decision and, at the same time, is contested in court. Finally, the way in which citizen researchers produce COI is further explored with Asylos. It shows that the efforts of citizen researchers address the lack of care in current asylum systems. The findings of this thesis contribute to the literature (at the intersection) of migration studies and science and technology studies. They indicate that COI is a powerful object for migration government that risks objectification of asylum seekers and bypassing legal procedures. But the results also underline that COI is an uncertain, fragile and agonistic object that gathers a whole range of publics and their struggles. The thesis therefore also has implications for practitioners, as it provides an opportunity to rethink knowledge practices and arrangements so that they better address the concerns of those seeking protection.
Date of Award31 Dec 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorMartin Coward (Supervisor) & Aoileann Ní Mhurchú (Supervisor)


  • Actor-network theory
  • Science and Technology Studies
  • Social movement studies
  • Socio-legal studies
  • Governmentality
  • Common European Asylum System
  • Country of Origin Information
  • Migration Studies
  • Refugee status determination
  • Socio-technical practices and arrangements
  • Refugee
  • knowledge and expertise
  • Technocracy
  • Asylum
  • Knowledge Politics
  • European Asylum Support Office
  • Hospitality
  • Tinkering
  • Political subjectivity
  • Politics of protection
  • Participation
  • Objectification

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