Statement by the Minister regarding the Real Facts about the Asylum and Deportation Systems

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Michael Mc Dowell T.D., in response to recent commentary from various sources on the issues of asylum and deportations, much of which has portrayed a grossly inaccurate picture of developments in this area, has today issued the following briefing which provides the real facts about developments in this area.

The Minister stated:

"A small but well placed minority of commentators have sought to create the impression that Ireland's treatment of asylum seekers is harsh and unfair. They have consistently concealed the real facts from the Irish people. Moreover, they have sought to create the impression that anyone who points out the true situation is engaging in political racism. They hint at international comparisons which do not exist.

They refuse to address the very large abuse of asylum protection in Ireland. They claim to believe that it is wrong to point out what is happening lest it create prejudice against genuine asylum seekers. They are engaging in a form of verbal intimidation of those who would tell the truth."

The Minister continued

"In issuing this briefing today my aim is to set out certain key facts about the  operation of our asylum and deportation systems which are based on very clear legal principles which stand up very well to comparison with those in other comparable jurisdictions such as the European Union.

Our approach to the issue of protection is based on achieving a balance between fairness and firmness - fairness in ensuring that those genuinely in need of protection receive that protection quickly; firmness in dealing rigorously  with abuses in our system which tie up resources which could be better utilised elsewhere.  Ireland's asylum strategy is based on a number of key principles;

  • Meeting our obligations under international law such as the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the status of refugees
  • Dealing fairly but efficiently with the large number of unfounded asylum claims which are being received which represent over 90% of the total asylum applications being processed annually
  • Ensuring that persons who are found, after a fair and efficient determination process, not in need of protection are returned to their countries of origin as quickly as this can be arranged
  • Ensuring that we have robust systems in place to root out and prevent abuse in our protection system by persons who are really entering the State for purposes other than seeking protection from persecution."

Recognition Rates

Ireland's recognition rate for refugee status at first instance compares favourably to other European countries as follows:

Denmark  4.9%; Ireland 6.2%; Spain  2.6%; Norway 3.6%; Germany 3.3%; UK 3%.

Nigerian Asylum Seekers

A good deal of media comment has concentrated on the cases of individual Nigerian applicants and families. 

In the case of asylum applications from Nigerian nationals, which represent the highest source country in terms of asylum applications (some 37% of applications in 2004 and 41% in 2005), comparative statistics also indicate that our recognition rate at first instance is very much in line with other European States which receive high volumes of applications from nationals of Nigeria.

Ireland received the second highest number of asylum applications in main industrialised countries from nationals of Nigeria in 2004.  The recognition rate at first instance for 2004 is as follows:

Ireland 0.6%;  Netherlands  0.6%; Austria 0.3%; Spain 0.1%

Less than 1%, therefore, of all Nigerian national asylum seekers succeed at first instance in the European Union member states that receive most Nigerian applications.

Prioritised Applications

Under the State's refugee laws, the Minister can designate particular countries and particular categories of asylum applications for prioritised treatment.

Grounds for doing so include the nationality of the applicant and the likelihood that the applications are well founded and considerations of public policy.

In the case of Nigeria which has a very high failure rate and a very high application rate, these grounds justify prioritising examination of asylum claims. Contrary to ill-informed commentary, Nigeria has not been designated a "safe country". It is a country with a proven record internationally of unjustified applications for asylum status, as is evidenced by the enormous international rejection rate.

Other countries have been designated as safe countries in accordance with the statutory criteria.

Most asylum applications (more than 90%) are found not to meet the criteria for refugee protection.

By way of illustration, since January 2005, prioritised asylum claims from nationals of Nigeria, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia and South Africa (representing 46% of all applications) have been processed in accelerated procedures by the independent determination bodies (Refugee Applications Commissioner and Refugee Appeals Tribunal). 

Detailed analysis of the accelerated process has shown that:

  • Of the 365 decisions issued so far by ORAC, some 359 have been refused.
  • Of the 136 decisions issued by the RAT, some 134 have upheld the earlier decision of the ORAC that the applicant is NOT a refugee.

Asylum applications from Nigeria, although not designated as a safe country of origin, are prioritised since December 2003 on the basis that Nigeria has for a number of years been the highest source country for asylum applications representing some 37 % of our caseload in 2004 and some 41% in 2005 to date. Giving priority to the largest part of the asylum caseload makes sense while at the same time ensuring that other cases are also processed as expeditiously as possible.

Reporting Requirements

The accelerated procedure includes the use of dedicated accommodation centres and a requirement for residents in these centres to report daily to Reception and Integration Agency staff.

Some 33% of asylum seekers are not complying with this daily reporting requirement. Broken down by nationality this represents 31% of Nigerian nationals; 58% of Romania nationals; 25% of Croatian nationals and 33% of nationals from South Africa.

The accelerated procedure also requires failed asylum applicants to report regularly to the Garda National Immigration Bureau.

46% of those who have failed the asylum process and who are seeking leave to remain in the State have not complied with their daily signing requirement which is broken down as follows: Nigerians 40%; Romanians 91%; Croatians  75%;  South Africans 50%.

An analysis of claims from those seeking protection who have been processed under the accelerated procedure and who have been found not to be in need of protection illustrate a significant number of common grounds such as:

  • Many cite fears of persecution from a secret cult as the basis of their claims.  Other reasons for seeking asylum which were cited include:
  • Fear of local tribal customs as the first born son of a royal family;
  • Fear of village elders arising from requirement to replace grandmother as head of the village;
  • Successor to be king after father's death;
  • Heir to father's throne;
  • Treated as a domestic servant by his mother's friends;
  • Sacrifice of first born child;
  • Fears persecution as he lost money which belonged to his boss
  • Fear that a former employer may kill her and place body parts around his house;
  • Fear of persecution for failing to bring home the bodies of deceased family members killed in a fire;
  • Male members of tribe carry out ritual sacrifices of children.

Destruction and Concealment of Identity and Travel Documents

Section 11B of the Refugee Act 1996 requires the RAC and the RAT, as the case may be to have regard to a broad range of criteria in assessing the credibility of an application. These include:

  • accounts of identity documents including loss and destruction,
  • travel history to the State,
  • failure to seek protection in the first safe country

For instance, some 88% of the 1174 Nigerian nationals without documents stated to ORAC that they travelled by air at some stage in their journey. Large numbers of other nationals are also arriving without travel documents but indicate to ORAC that they travelled by air: Romania 40%; DR Congo 100%; Ukraine 42%; Moldova  33%.

It is almost impossible, for instance, for Nigerians to travel to Europe by air without such documents. There are no direct scheduled air flights between Ireland and Nigeria. The inescapable conclusion is that destruction and concealment of travel documents is a central feature of a well developed trafficking strategy.

A series of joint operations between the GNIB and the UK authorities have thrown up cases of flagrant and often simultaneous abuse of national immigration law. These include individuals intercepted at airports in Belfast and Dublin carrying forged passports/travel documents and persons found to have multiple identities. Several non-nationals were also discovered to have current and previous asylum applications in the United Kingdom and Ireland again in some cases using multiple identities to pursue multiple asylum claims.

Asylum applications are processed in accordance with the Refugee Act, 1996 which fully meets the States obligations under the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the status of refugees including the safeguards on refoulement which are dealt with at leave to remain stage.

Two independent agencies are in place namely the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner and the Refugee Appeals Tribunal in order to process asylum applications.

The staff of our asylum agencies are trained by the UNHCR on an ongoing basis and their determination procedures are fully in compliance with UNHCR standards.

Comprehensive legal advice and assistance is provided by the Refugee Legal Service (RLS) at all stages in the asylum process, with over Euro9m allocated to the RLS in 2005.

Comprehensive translation and interpretation services are available to asylum applicants in some 26 languages on an ongoing basis and in many more languages/dialects as required.

Processing Backlog

The processing backlog has essentially been eliminated with some 3000 cases awaiting a decision as compared to some 5,542 cases at the end of April 2004 and some 10,000 cases in 2000.

Of these 3,000 cases only 760 are over six months old as compared with some 2864 in April 2004 and some 6,500 such cases in September 2001.

Prioritised asylum applications (mainly from Nigeria, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia and South Africa) have current average processing times of 15 working days at first instance and 14 working days at appeals stage. These timescales are being achieved under a new accelerated process introduced in January 2005 and which cover some 46% of all asylum applications.

Due Process

The State's deportation process is based on comprehensive statutory safeguards. It is not simply the case that the GNIB arrive at a deportee's home or schools out of the blue and whisk them away to their country of origin without them first being given the opportunity to have their protection and any humanitarian need s assessed.

A comprehensive set of protections is in place, all based on statute, which the State must comply with before a person is deported. In every case, the procedures guarantee that the applicant is fully notified of the state of play and has been given every opportunity to state his or her case and to voluntarily repatriate without compulsion and with assistance where necessary.

These safeguards are fully set out in the accompanying briefing documents.

7 June 2005