Ireland: Pathways to Protection of Refugees
On the edge of Europe, Ireland has been largely unaffected by the record number of people fleeing war, conflict and persecution around the world. While millions have fled to countries such as Turkey, Lebanon and Uganda, Ireland received just 2,244 asylum applicants in 2016 – a decrease of 32 per cent on the figure for 2015. Nonetheless, domestic debate on the issues of asylum and migration has intensified, and significant developments have emerged as a result.
The entry into force on 31 December 2016 of the International Protection Act 2015 (hereafter the 2015 Act) was the single biggest reform of Ireland’s international protection process in the past twenty years. Its principal reform was the establishment of a single procedure for the examination of applications for international protection, which has belatedly brought Ireland into line with the rest of Europe: Ireland now considers asylum and subsidiary protection claims together, instead of sequentially. The 2015 Act includes a number of procedural safeguards that reflect obligations set out in the Procedures Directive (2005/85/CE) and general good practice.
However, the Act also introduced more restrictive policies on family reunification by narrowing eligibility, effectively removing exceptional discretion for extended family members: something the prior legislative scheme under the Refugee Act 1996 had permitted. These changes have raised concerns, as they affect the ability of people in need of protection to access safe legal pathways to reach Ireland; for example, children of refugees settled in Ireland are ineligible for family reunion if over 18, irrespective of whether they may be in pressing humanitarian need.
The Irish Refugee Protection Programme…….
UNHCR and NGOs have repeatedly proposed the enhancement of safe legal channels of access to Ireland for those in need of protection. Support for this proposal has grown amongst civil society and members of the Seanad, and recently a Bill to allow refugees to bring their siblings, grandparents, cousins, nephews and nieces to Ireland has moved closer to becoming law, in spite of initial Government opposition.
The Irish Refugee Protection Programme (IRPP) was announced in September 2015 as a response to growing publicity surrounding the refugee crisis at the frontier of Europe, following a spike in humanitarian concerns voiced by the Irish public. A pledge to admit 4,000 refugees by the end of 2017 was made just eight days after the well-publicised death of three-year old Aylan Kurdi on a Turkish beach. While Ireland is not bound to participate in the EU’s emergency response, it decided to voluntarily opt into the two EU Council decisions on Relocation. The commitment of 4,000 places was to include both resettlement and relocation channels, through cooperation with countries of origin and transit. According to figures from the OPMI and the European Commission, Ireland received 266 refugees on resettlement in 2017, 519 in 2016 and 661 in total on relocation and is therefore likely to fail to meet its target by the end of this year by some margin. This is due to under-allocation of relocation of people from Greece, and no successful relocations from Italy.
On 14 November 2017 the Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan, announced the introduction of the new Family Reunification Humanitarian Programme (FRHAP). The new scheme, operated under Ministerial discretionary powers, aims to welcome up to 530 family members of refugees. Details on the applicability of the FRHAP remain to be seen. The scheme is an attempt to meet the Government’s original commitment to take in 4,000 people under the IRPP.
…..and recent developments
Advocacy groups have repeatedly asked for a commitment beyond the original 4,000 pledged, alongside the introduction of complementary pathways and/or safe legal channels of access for those seeking protection. In September 2017, the Government announced the planned development of a Community Sponsorship Programme for Refugees, details of which are not yet available. A previous scheme, the Syrian Humanitarian Admission Programme, issued 119 visas to family members of Syrians already living in Ireland in 2014.
More recently, in November 2017, Minister Flanagan announced an increase in Ireland’s UNHCR resettlement scheme quota to 600 persons in 2018 and 2019. This is the largest increase since 2000, when Ireland commenced its involvement in UNHCR’s resettlement scheme. Similarly, the Irish Parliament passed a motion to admit 200 unaccompanied children from the beleaguered informal camp at Calais into the country; however, by May 2017 only 10 per cent (21 children) had been brought to the country.
The Irish commitment of 4,000 places was to include both resettlement and relocation channels, but the country is likely to fail to meet that target.
Challenges in cooperation with countries of origin and transit are outstanding. For instance, Ireland has no specific initiative on legal economic migration as part of a broader migration agreement with third countries of origin. The domestic immigration legislative framework is in need of further reform. Civil society groups emphasise the significant and still growing number of people living in Ireland who are undocumented and calls continue to grow for the abolition of the Direct Provision scheme which accommodates persons seeking protection in Ireland (and increasingly, those with status who are unable to find affordable housing, a problem affecting Irish citizenry alike).
It remains to be seen whether domestic concerns will take priority over the establishment of external migration agreements. Moreover, challenges of cooperation remain in terms of communication and resources. Additional funding would be required to enhance cooperation with third countries in the field of returns and readmission. The EU Trust Fund for Africa, which Ireland has pledged to contribute to, has attracted criticism due to a lack of clarity as to whether its aim is development aid or to fulfill the EU security agenda.
Other relevant recent developments in Ireland include a Supreme Court ruling which will mean that the Government must change its long-term position of a blanket ban on all asylum seekers entering the labour force and the adoption of the second tranche of the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF).
Ireland played a leading role in the adoption of the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, as the Chair of the UN High Level Summit at which the Declaration was adopted in September 2016. Ireland will no doubt wish to ensure that the commitments adopted in the Declaration are adhered to. Recent national efforts to widen access to Ireland represent a positive trend as regards genuine political will to provide protection to those in need.
Shauna Gillan is barrister and part-time member of the International Protection Appeals Tribunal of Ireland. She is a specialist in refugee, immigration and human rights law, working as a lecturer, legal consultant and trainer in Ireland and the UK.
 Ireland opted out of the re-cast Procedures Directive (2013/32/EU).
 The Senate, the upper house of the bi-cameral Parliament in Ireland.
 The International Protection (Family Reunification) (Amendment) Bill, available here: https://beta.oireachtas.ie/en/bills/bill/2017/101/.
 Ireland and the United Kingdom availed of an opt-out of Title V, Part 3 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
 A state body, the Office for the Promotion of Migrant Integration: http://www.integration.ie/website/omi/omiwebv6.nsf/page/resettlement-overviewresettlementprogrammes2010onward-en