A DECISION to refuse refugee status to an asylum seeker because he could not say what type of wood a boat was made from in his home country was overturned
by the High Court.

The bizarre question about the boat's construction was one of a series of highly detailed answers sought from the Somali asylum seeker during interview with interpreters.

Would-be refugees coming to Ireland are routinely quizzed about obscure details of their home country to determine whether they are being truthful in their applications.

The unnamed asylum seeker claimed to have been a member of the Bajuni minority in Somalia and that he had been beaten, his wife raped twice, and had his house burned down.

He said that he had been working as a fisherman on an island in his home country but that he had been forced to flee as a result of persecution.

The Refugee Appeals Tribunal believed he was lying and asked a series of ever-more probing questions to try and catch him out.

However, a final question in which they asked him what type of wood was generally used to make fishing boats on his island was deemed unfair.

As a result, the decision to refuse asylum to the man was overturned and he was allowed to make another application to become a refugee.

The man, who said he was from an island called Koyama, offshore of Somalia, was one of thousands of people claiming to be Bajuni across Europe, the Refugee Appeals Tribunal had been told.

An account of his application says that he had never visited the Somali mainland or any of the other nearby islands to his home.

It says: "He was unable to say how many people lived in his district in Koyama. He said there was no police station or city hall on Koyama.

"He initially claimed there was no police station on any of the islands. Then when asked specifically, if there was one on Kundai Island, he replied 'Maybe'."

The man was then asked who it was that had attacked his islands to which he replied that it was the Darod and Hawayie militia. He was told: "Our information on Somalia and the islands is that the Maharan clan militia attacked the islands in the 1990s... and not the Darod and the Hawayie."

The man was then asked the name of two "famous fishing boat builders" in the area which he was told should be known to "all Bajuni". He did not know the answer. He was then asked what type of wood was used to build boats and gave an incorrect answer.

Justice John Edwards found in his favour, a copy of a judgment obtained by the Sunday Tribune shows, saying it was a "clear and manifest error" to say the man had given an incorrect answer to the question about the boat's construction.

He said: "In the circumstances, and on this one discrete issue, the court considers that the applicant has demonstrated substantial grounds for arguing that the entire decision should be set aside."