by Nanneke Wisman and Sophie Kloos

At Asylos we believe that those seeking asylum and their counsel should have access to information to  support their claim to asylum or other forms of international protection. Decisions on individual claims should be fair and based on thoroughly researched information rather than preconceptions. 

Our international network of volunteers produce case-specific research reports to support immigration lawyers providing assistance to those seeking asylum with their respective claims. As such, we are often confronted with lawyers submitting research questions which might not be easily answered solely through conducting open source research. 

Our 11 years of experience in researching information for asylum claims and our work on thematic research reports (jointly with ARC Foundation) has led to the development of best practices which we integrate across our research reports (both case-specific and thematic). Interviews can lead to a goldmine of information which is not accessible through open source research, and a lot of beneficiaries we have worked with have highlighted that uncovering this information through interviews is one of the key added values of Asylos and its wider network. In this blog post, we are keen to share some of our best practices with you and invite you to share your comments with us. 

Conduct Interviews When You Cannot Find Information Through Open Source Research 

As interviews take time and resources to conduct, we recommend conducting them only if you are dealing with:

  • A fast-changing situation on the ground (that is not yet sufficiently reported on); 
  • A chronically under-reported topic; 
  • An “information- and data poor environment”; 
  • Ambiguous, dubious or biased information found through open source research.

There Are Resources Out There to Help You Identify Interviewees

Many potential interviewees can be found online. We recommend taking a look at some of the following places when searching for potential interviewees:

Please note that these experts have not been vetted by us and each database/source will have its own vetting process. 

  • EIN Experts Directory -  The Electronic Immigration Network Directory of Experts gives access to detailed information from a wide variety of experts in a fully searchable database. 
  • Rights in Exile Programme’s “Country of Origin Information Experts database”.
  • The Centre for Gender and Refugee Studies’ Expert Witness database [requires registration].
  • Country experts cited in relevant UK country guidance determinations.
  • Interlocutors cited in EASO COI products.
  • Interlocutors cited in fact-finding mission (FFM) reports. These are published by a range of country of asylum/receiving country’s governments. You can find them through a Google search or on
  • Academics and/or (I)NGOs who are cited in Asylos’ and other COI reports.
  • Ask an expert who you have worked with in the past to suggest other relevant individuals who may be in a position to comment.
  • Global Experts -  Global Experts is a UN database of academics, analysts, former officials, faith leaders, civil society activists, private sector/business and media experts around the world. You can search for experts by area of expertise as well as by geographical area.
  • Expertise Finder - Expertise Finder is a directory of experts in a variety of subjects. Search by keywords, for instance country, to find experts and their contact details.
  • SheSource - Same concept as the two sources above, except that this website only lists female experts.
  • CGRS -  The Center for Gender and Refugee Studies – California features a webpage with a list of experts providing practice advisories and declarations for US Courts hearings regarding vulnerable groups (LGBTI, Women, Children etc.).
  • Google Scholar / Microsoft Academic – Google Scholar and Microsoft Academic are search engines for academic publications, although you will find media articles on there as well. On Google Scholar, clicking on an author’s name will typically take you to his / her profile page.  Contact details are not provided, but affiliation is; you can then search on his / her institution’s website.

You can prioritise individuals who have extensive professional experience, have recently published credible research on the topic, and/or have recently been in the country of research. It is important to understand who your source is, what information they provide, why the source is providing this information, how the information is generated, when the information was gathered and provided, and lastly, what specific knowledge or prior experience makes them have expertise on the topic. 

Approach Potential Interviewees with Care and Obtain Their Full Consent 

When contacting a potential interviewee, explain the circumstances of your approach, making sure the interviewee is fully aware what you are requesting an interview for and how the interview material might be used. At Asylos, this means that we discuss with interviewees who their contribution will be shared with, whether it will be published, how the interviewee wants to be cited (i.e. anonymous or not), and we explain that we do not provide financial remuneration. It is crucial to take every precaution not to disclose any personal information about the interviewee or the client without their explicit consent.

Remain Impartial, Don’t Be Afraid to Interrupt and Formulate Your Research Questions Well 

When opening the interview, our researchers introduce themselves, thank the interviewee for taking part, go over the general conditions and context again, and ask for permission to record the interview. When asking interview questions, adopt an impartial approach at all times, ask for clarification if it is unclear what information the interviewee is basing their statements on, and be mindful that certain topics might be sensitive to ask. In addition, do not be afraid to interrupt if an interviewee goes off topic!

The following tips may help you in  formulating interview questions: 

1). A good interview question should not in any way be leading or biased! If you work with a leading question, the answers you provide are likely to contain an assessment;

2). Avoid terms which are considered legal terminology as they effectively demand a legal assessment (which is not our job); 

3). A good Country of Origin Information (COI) interview question should be open enough to provide room for exploration while also being specific enough to generate answers that are useful for the case.

Obtain Signoff from Interviewees and Handle Your Information Securely

To close the interview, we always make sure to ask the interviewee whether there is anything else they’d like to share and thank the interviewee for taking part. After processing the interview recordings, we make sure to obtain signoff from interviewees for the interview materials that will be used. When dealing with information obtained through interviewing, we ask all our researchers to abide by our tips for secure human rights research (for more information, see our blog post “Four tips for secure human rights research” written by our Director Sophie Kloos). 

If you’d like to find out more about putting interview skills into practice for COI research, read the latest Asylos / ARC Foundation report on Nigeria. You can find more detailed information about our interviewing methodology, including a link to our Information Sheet for Interviewees, in Appendix A of the report.

Access Nigeria Report