MIGRANTS AND REFUGEES
A Migrant is a person who is living and/or working in a State of which s/he is not a national. Some migrants, for example EU citizens have the right to come to live or work in Ireland. Most non-EU migrants require Visas or Work-permits before they can enter Ireland. Asylum seekers are also migrants who have under the Geneva Convetionn the right to seek protection in a country other than their own.
A Refugee is a person who "owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of their nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail him/herself of the protection of that country" (The 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees).
An Asylum Seeker is a person is a person who seeks to be granted refugee status as defined above. When asylum seekers arrive in a country they must formally ask for asylum and enter into a process of application as defined by that country. In Ireland a person may declare that they are seeking asylum at their port of entry or at any Garda Station. They are then required to fill in a lengthy application form which which is the first step in the asylum process (see below). While their application is being processed asylum seekers are, by law, required to live in a Direct Provision Accommodation Centre and may not work. Under current legislation Asylum Seekers are legally present in Ireland until such time as they leave voluntarily or are deported.
Ireland and Migrants: At present roughly 12% of Irelands population is made up of migrants. There were a total of 544,357 non-Irish nationals living in Ireland in April 2011 (when the last census was taken), representing 199 different nations. The growth in the number of non-Irish nationals has continued since 2006, albeit at a slower pace than earlier years. Total numbers increased by 124,624 over the five years to April 2011 which represents a rise of 30 per cent. Polish nationals increased by 93.7 per cent since 2006 from 63,276 to 122,585 in 2011 marking them the largest group ahead of UK nationals with 112,259. The third lagest group are Lithuanians with 36,693. There are also many non-EU nationals from countries such as Brazil, the Phillipines, USA, India and other countries who have work permits in Ireland. The breakdown of the immigrant population by nationality was not available at the time of writing this article - some generic figures were, for example a total of 41,642 Africans, 65,579 Asians and 66,957 Europeans (from countries other than Poland, Lithuania and UK) were resident in Ireland at the time of the census. The number of asylum seekers entering Ireland has been decreasing since 2002 when 11,634 applications were made. By 2007 the number of people who entered the asylum process dropped to 3,985 and by 2011 to 1,290. Of these only sixty-one Asylum Seekers were granted refugee status by the Irish Government on the basis of their original application.
The Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner (ORAC) deals with new applications for asylum in Ireland. The Commission is required to investigate each asylum application lodged within the state and to make recommendations to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The Commission is also responsible for investigating applications by refugees for family reunification i.e.permission to allow family members to enter and reside in the State and for providing a report to the Minister on such applications. In the Republic, anyone recognised as a refugee is entitled to apply to the Department of Justice to have direct family members join them here. This includes the spouse, unmarried children under 18 and, if the refugee is a minor, his or her parents. The Minister may, at his discretion, permit reunion of refugees with "dependent" family members - possibly a grandparent, parent, sibling, child or grandchild.
ORAC provides statistics on its web site giving information on the number and nationality of asylum seekers since 2001. It also give information about i.e. those granted refugee status by the Irish Government as a result of their intial application. Note: Statisitcs provide on the ORAC website do not include those granted refugee status following appeals. Click here for ORAC Statistics
Over 95% of asylum applications are refused as they are judged as not meeting the citeria for granting refugee status, (see definition at the beginning of this scetion) making Ireland one of the most difficult European countries for granting refugee status. Applicants can appeal this decision by applying to the Refugee Appeals Tribunal . If the appeal fails the asylum seekers can apply to the Minister for Justice for Leave to remain or for Subsidiary Protection. In the past year the number of people being granted Leave to Remain has increased. Very few people have been granted Subsidiary Protection. If both of these are refused then the asylum seeker is issued with a deportation order. Many of the deportation orders issued by the Minister for Justice have not been put into effect, i.e. the people concerned have not actually been sent out of Ireland. At present asylum seekers are legally present in Ireland until such time as they are actually deported.
The Asylum Process in Ireland: For further information on the current process that asylum seekers have to follow to apply for refugee status and on their rights and entitlements in Ireland click here.
Note: Ireland has been in the process of introducing and new Immigrants and Residency Bill for the past few years. We are now in the third attempt to do so and the Bill has been redrafted as many times. Current and more pressing events have repeatedly prevented the passage of the Bill through the Dail. Existing drafts indicte a significant change in the current slow two teir system where asylum seekers first apply for Refugee Status and if this fails then apply for Leave to Remain. The new system will be based on one application. This should in theory streamline the asylim process and make it faster. However, since the new bill contains little or no detail other than broad principles it remains to be seen whether or not the supporting legislation needed to implement it will result in a quicker and fairer system. Already concerns have been expressed by NGO's and legal groups regarding both the lack of transparencey and the high level of ministerial descretionary powersthat the draft bill contains.