Can I Apply for Asylum in the U.S. If I'm From Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast)?

Types of claims for asylum most likely to succeed from the Ivory Coast.

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Cote d’Ivoire, or Ivory Coast, is a democratic republic. Historically, Cote d’Ivorie has been one of the more stable African countries, producing refugees mainly from the North, where the minority Dioula ethnic group, who are Muslim, live. That changed in 2010, with conflict arising from the presidential election. The country is still repairing itself from the violence of 2010-2011, and is rated “partly free” by UNHCR in its Freedom In the World 2014 report.

As a statistical snapshot, in June 2013, approximately 11,000 Ivoirians had fled home and sought asylum in another country. (See the UNHCR's country operations profile-Cote d’Ivoire.) This article will discuss the possibilities for obtaining asylum in the United States.

Do Many People Gain Asylum From Cote d’Ivoire?

Although the situation in Cote d’Ivoire is improving, the country is still unstable. Those who have suffered past persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion can win asylum in the United States.

What Type of Asylum Claims Are Typical From Cote d’Ivoire?

The most typical claim from Cote d’Ivoire comes from women who suffered or fear female genital mutilation (FGM). Although FGM is against the law there, 74% of women in the northern region and 80% of women in the northwest region have undergone FGM. FGM occurs in all types of families in Ivory Coast, especially in communities that are predominantly Muslim or animist. (See the USDOS Cote d’Ivoire: Report on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) or Female Genital Cutting (FGC).)

Domestic violence is not against the law in Cote d’Ivoire and is often not reported to the police because of fear of social stigmatization. (See the USDOS Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, Cote D’Ivoire.)

Homosexuals from Cote d'Ivoire also seek asylum in the United States. Gay men are harassed and attacked there. Rather than protect homosexuals, the police often beat and detain them. In January 2014, after several anti-gay protests, the headquarters of a gay rights organization was reportedly vandalized in Abidjan, the capital. (See “Ivory Coast: Mob Attacks Gay Rights Group Office”, by Robbie Corey-Boulet, January 27, 2014, AP.)

What Are Common Reasons for Denial of Asylum from Cote d’Ivoire?

A U.S. immigration judge or asylum officer might deny asylum if an applicant who has undergone FGM does not detail the extreme and ongoing harm she experienced. The judge or officer might argue that an applicant cannot undergo FGM in the future and may point to reports listing the supports available to women who have undergone FGM in Ivory Coast.

Claims made by homosexuals might also be denied, because there is no law outlawing homosexuality in Cote d’Ivoire. Additionally, there are several gay rights organizations operating in the country, which could arguably provide safety and support to homosexuals.

Asylum applicants claiming persecution on account of domestic violence might be denied because the applicant did not adequately describe the "particular social group" in which he or she claims membership. (The group needs to be narrowly defined, yet fulfill the requirements of having an immutable characteristic and of being perceived as unique.)

What Can Ivoirians Do to Increase Their Chances of a Successful Asylum Claim?

Applicants claiming FGM should detail the ongoing harm they experienced because of it. Applicants should also detail the physical and emotional components of the experience itself so that the past persecution is considered so severe a judge or officer will grant asylum even if he or she believes the persecution was a one-time occurrence.

Asylum applicants claiming harm or fearing harm because they are LGBT should submit country-conditions information corroborating that government support is not reaching the masses, which discriminate, harass and attack homosexuals, or the police, who continue to beat and detain them. (See Nolo's article, "Preparing Persuasive Documents for Your Asylum Application" for help with this part of the process.)

Women claiming asylum because they have suffered persecution at the hands of their spouse (domestic violence) must describe their membership in a clearly defined social group, and one which the judge or officer understands. It is also important to explain why your government will not or cannot protect you.

It is a good idea to consult an experienced immigration attorney for help with these types of claims.

by: , J.D., LL.M.

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