Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 24 June 2015
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality
Global Resettlement Needs and Related Matters: UNHCR
Apologies have been received from Senators Bacik and O'Donovan.
The purpose of this meeting is to receive a briefing from representatives of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, in regard to circumstances faced by people who leave their homes and seek refuge in other countries. As members will be aware, this committee also covers the defence brief. I speak for all of us in sending our congratulations and best wishes to, and in paying tribute to the life-saving work being carried out in the Mediterranean by, the Naval Service on board the LE Eithne.Perhaps it would be appropriate for the committee to write to the Minister and Chief of Staff expressing those sentiments. Is that agreed? Agreed.
This engagement is timely as last Saturday, 20 June, was international refugee day. The briefing material for our meeting has been circulated to committee members. I welcome Ms Sophie Magennis, Mr. Enda O'Neill and Mr. Jody Clarke to this meeting. I thank them for attending and for giving up their valuable time to engage with us on this important matter. The format we will follow is that I will ask the witnesses to speak for approximately five minutes and we will follow that with a question and answer session. This usually proves to be very interesting and informative.
Before we begin, I draw the attention of witnesses to the situation relating to privilege. I advise them to note that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to this committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are also directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise nor make charges against any person, persons or entity either by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
Members should also be aware that under the salient rulings of the Chair, they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
We are aware that the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade concerns itself with issues regarding events that occur overseas. The issue we are discussing today concerns what happens to refugees who end up in this country, which is a separate issue from what happens overseas, except for issues relating to the Department of Defence, as mentioned already. I ask all here to ensure their mobile phones and other devices are switched to airplane mode so that they do not interfere with the recording equipment.
I call on Ms Magennis to make her opening statement.
Ms Sophie Magennis:
I thank the committee for inviting us here today. As the Chairman said, this is a timely meeting, with world refugee day happening last weekend, on 20 June, and with the series of important meetings taking place in Europe this week in regard to decisions to be taken by European leaders on resettlement and relocation. While many of these matters lie in the foreign policy domain, it is important from a domestic viewpoint that decisions on resettlement and relocation taken at the European level may lead to greater numbers of refugees coming to Ireland. This is an important domestic issue here in the context of how they are received. Therefore, we are very grateful to have the opportunity to meet the committee today.
We have circulated a brief background note which contains some statistics and information on resettlement, on what it is, the global needs and on what Ireland has done since the 1950s and more recently in regard to resettlement. The briefing note also contains information about the European context, which is important these days. I may refer to that note as I go through my opening statement, which I will keep brief because the question and answer session is a more interactive way to exchange views.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees was established in 1950 and its role is to supervise the 1951 refugee convention. The UNHCR was set up in the aftermath of the Second World War and the agency was originally set up with a mandate for five years, to solve the problem of refugees that existed at that time in Europe. Unfortunately, given the scale of global displacement in the intervening decades, the UNHCR is still with us and now has over 9,000 staff working around the world to try to protect people who fall under its remit.
We work primarily to seek solutions for asylum seekers, refugees, internally displaced and stateless persons. We identify three solutions open to refugees with which UNHCR can help. First is voluntary repatriation, where refugees can return to their countries where it is safe to do so. Second is local integration, so that refugees can integrate in the country in which they are recognised. For example, refugees who come to Ireland as asylum seeks and are recognised can go on to integrate here. Third is the option we are talking about today, resettlement. This applies to people who fled their country of origin or habitual residence. They are in a third country, cannot integrate locally and cannot go back.
This is where resettlement comes in.
A UNHCR presence In Ireland was established in 1998 and we now have a staff of seven in the Dublin office. In 1998, the Irish Government also established its first annual resettlement programme by way of a Government decision which led to around 40 people a year being able to come in under a quota. Since 1998, as I noted in my opening text, a strong co-operation has developed between the UNHCR, the Department of Justice and Equality, and in particular its office for the promotion of migrant integration.
Overall, since the 1950s, over 5,000 people have been resettled in Ireland. If we take the marker of 1998, when the formal annual resettlement programme was established, then 2,301 refugees have been resettled in Ireland. I would like to take this opportunity to commend the Irish authorities for the important supports and integration measures that have been put in place to welcome and assist resettled refugees when they come to Ireland. Later this afternoon, President Higgins will host a garden party at Áras an Uachtaráin for refugees in Ireland and over 400 people will attend. We will be joined by resettled refugees who have come into Ireland since the 1950s, some Hungarians, plus people from Chile and Vietnam and also the most recent resettlement intake of Syrians, Iraqis and Afghanis. We will also be joined by refugees recognised in Ireland, asylum seekers and stateless persons.
I want to briefly mention the UNHCR Global Trends report. Every year we release a report that contains the core statistics for global displacement and we release it just before World Refugee Day. The figures are staggering because at the end of 2014 nearly 60 million were displaced. Those figures indicate that over 40,000 people every day were displaced in 2014. That shows we are dealing with a crisis on an incredible and staggering scale.
Since early 2011, the war in Syria has become a huge source country for displaced persons. People from Syria now form the largest driver of the figures of displacement. In 2012, High Commissioner António Guterres addressed this committee and the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade. On that occasion he said, "We are witnessing a paradigm change, an unchecked slide into an era in which the scale of global forced displacement, as well as the response required, is now clearly dwarfing anything seen before".
In light of these figures, the UNHCR is undertaking advocacy to see if states can step up their resettlement response. In 2014, resettlement provided a durable solution to more than 73,000 refugees of which 8,579 went to 16 EU member states which represents approximately 12% of global departures. The remainder of the people we settled in that year went to the United States, Australia, Canada and other countries. In the same year around 89 people were resettled in Ireland.
Due to the scale of the needs in 2013 and 2014 we called for additional resettlement places to be made available, particularly for Syrians. We have sought 130,000 places to be made available for Syrians. Some European member states have responded to our call and have made 51,182 places available. However, of that number Germany is taking 30,000 people, which is the largest portion.
Since 2014, Ireland's resettlement programme has focused primarily on the needs that have arisen in response to the conflict in Syria. As I mentioned, 89 refugees that were displaced due to the Syrian conflict were admitted in 2014, with seven others admitted from the Democratic Republic of Congo. For 2015 and 2016, the Irish authorities increased the quota to 100, to be introduced in 2015, and 120, to be introduced in 2016. On 13 May, the Minister for Justice and Equality announced that an additional 300 persons would come in before 2016. I will simplify the figures. From the beginning of 2014 until the end of 2016, Ireland will admit 610 people who have been displaced due to the Syrian conflict which is welcome.
We also welcome the establishment by the former Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, of the Syrian Humanitarian Admission Programme, or SHAP. Under SHAP 114 people have been granted permission to enter Ireland. In short that means that 610 people, under resettlement, will come into Ireland between 2014 to 2016. In addition, some 114 people have been granted permission to enter the State under the admission programme.
I shall now discuss the global picture. We have published the global resettlement needs in our document for 2016. We have estimated that 1,153,296 persons are in need of resettlement but there are only 80,000 places available. The pledges have come from states to the UNHCR and, unfortunately, we do not have an adequate number of places to meet requirements. Therefore, the UNHCR supports the proposal made by the European Commission for an EU-wide pilot project offering 20,000 resettlement places in the European Union, in 2015 and 2016, using a distribution criteria or key that takes into account the efforts already made, on a voluntary basis, by member states. While 20,000 places is still small when we look at global need, none the less it is an interesting first step. The pilot programme has sought to put in place a figure that states would be obliged to respond to.
On the same day the Commission's proposal was announced, the Minister for Justice and Equality indicated her intention to go beyond the figure of 272 people that was allocated, in principle, for Ireland. On that day she indicated that Ireland would take 300 people and the proposal was endorsed by the Irish Cabinet in recent weeks. I wish to take this opportunity to thank the Irish authorities for their support. The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon visited here a month ago. The UNHCR hosted, together with the Minister for Justice and Equality, an event at Farmleigh for resettled refugees. The Secretary General, in his speech, welcomed Ireland's commitment to resettlement and the Syrian Humanitarian Admission Programme. He also said, at that time, that these commitments are not enough to meet the need. The UNHCR is very grateful for the commitment and hope that more might be possible in order to respond to the huge need that exists.
The Irish resettlement programme is an important contribution to providing legal alternatives for people to find a place of safety, rather than undertaking dangerous sea crossings that we have seen happen in recent years. This year we have already reached the 100,000 mark of people who have travelled across the Mediterranean and over 200,000 people travelled last year. We know that the LE Eithne, thanks to the contribution of the Irish State, has rescued over 1,500 people and brought them to a place of safety in Italy. The following questions remain. What happens to people in Europe? Can we respond better and upscale our efforts in terms of relocation and resettlement?
That concludes my opening comments. We are happy to take any questions that the committee may have.
I thank Ms Magennis for her presentation. I have looked forward to her attendance as she has always helped the committee a lot to reflect on these matters. Her presentation and paper has conveyed good news about progress, particularly on the way Ireland has responded as well as what is going on in Europe. As Ms Magennis said, such developments are to be commended and marked. Clearly there is a lot of bad news in what has been shared with us. I have been struck by the scale and magnitude of the problem, plus the huge gap between need and the responses in terms of struggling towards solutions. I wanted to mark that aspect. Ms Magennis deals with those aspects in her day-to-day work, as well the overall agency. I have been struck by the scale of the gap.
I wish to ask some questions and would like them answered one by one.
The witness noted in the presentation that there will be greater numbers coming to Ireland, potentially, subsequent to European decisions, perhaps even in addition to the ways in which we have responded just recently. I refer to the comments of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald. I note what the paper states about UN resettlement departures in 2014, as we received 96 people in the programme, and what is indicated for 2015 and 2016 would be a major jump, although it is small when compared with the scales I spoke of earlier.
In light of those negotiations, is it anticipated that we would make some additional openings in terms of numbers for resettlement. Earlier, there was some indication that the outcomes of the negotiation would impose on states an obligation to accept more refugees. The debate was ongoing as to whether the process was an imposition or voluntary. Will the witness comment on that?
Ms Sophie Magennis:
With regard to Ireland's figures, there is a Government decision in place that was adopted in 2005 and that provided for a quota of 200 people coming to Ireland each year. That quota was pretty much met in 2007 and 2008 but, with a possible link to the financial crisis, the numbers dropped after that. Page 3 of the briefing document lists the numbers from 2010, which were relatively small but growing slowly. We now have a commitment to take 100 people this year, 120 next year and an additional commitment to take 300 people; that is the new commitment on the table.
We welcome this and we hope all those places will be filled. We already have progressed and Ireland undertakes selection missions to assist in the selection of people who are going to come. We have already started the arrangements for that and we hope one of those missions will take place this year. We hope refugees will be able to come in relatively quickly and we might be able to see if there can be additional capacity before the end of 2016 for more refugees. We welcome the trend but we are always trying to see if we can get some additional places.
I should also mention that it is not just about numbers when it comes to Ireland. The Irish authorities like to take in particularly vulnerable cases, so Ireland will typically take in approximately five medical cases every year, which would involve somebody with a very serious health issue. The Irish authorities have also taken in female-headed households, where people might be particularly vulnerable to sexual and other forms of gender-based violence where they are. The importance of the focus on vulnerability is also very important.
In term of potential at the EU level, the mandatory nature of the increase in the resettlement numbers was on the table in the European Commission paper. On 13 May, the European Commission published the European agenda on migration and in that the Commission proposed that Article 78 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union should be used to oblige people to take refugees on resettlement and asylum seekers on relocation, using a mechanism in the treaty that can bind member states by qualified majority at the Council - not by consensus - to undertake certain measures. That was a relatively new measure. As I am sure we all know, Ireland is not obliged to take part in any measures under the Treaty on the Functioning of the European, TFEU, as Ireland, the UK and Denmark have a general opt-out on measures relating to asylum and immigration. However, it would be open to the Irish State to decide to opt into that measure and thereby bind itself.
There has been much discussion on this measure by European member states, and some have come out firmly in favour of the use of Article 78 of the treaty binding members to take numbers. Some have come out against it and others are, as yet, unpronounced. The European Union leaders are meeting in Brussels today to discuss some of these issues. We have fully supported the European Commission proposals and the principle is important. A distribution key has been developed and is annexed to the document produced by the Commission. It takes account of a range of factors, such as the proportion of asylum seekers and refugees per capitaof a country and other measures taken by a state in a relocation or resettlement process and so on. With regard to the distribution key, a figure of 272 was indicated to Ireland, and Ireland has already indicated that it will go beyond that and take 300. The numbers have been accepted but the principle is really important. It would send a massive signal if a state that is not obliged to do so would take the positive step of seeking to bind itself. We will see what will be the outcome.
Ms Sophie Magennis:
Yes. At the moment it is clear that Ireland, the UK and Denmark would not be obliged to follow these measures. The UK and Denmark have indicated that they will not opt in and the Irish authorities have indicated they are still considering all the proposals in the round. The possibility is still there that Ireland could seek to opt into this measure and thereby bind itself.
That is very helpful in understanding the debate. I would be interested to hear a little about some of the components of the resettlement programme, and it would benefit the committee. In making the decision on the numbers, with 300 in one programme and 114 in another, is there a figure for the approximate cost? Does that come from the justice or foreign affairs budget?
Ms Sophie Magennis:
I will ask my colleague, Mr. Jody Clarke, to speak a little about the reception arrangements in the local authorities, as he has been out to see some of the most recent intake and how they are getting on in local communities. I will address the components of the programme. There is a very comprehensive reception arrangements programme in place, so resettled refugees would well in advance of arriving have information about Ireland and meet Irish officials. They would be provided with information about the society, rights and entitlements and the Department of Justice and Equality officials undertake much work at a local level with local authorities, GPs, schools and local religious institutions and sporting groups. That is to try to prepare the ground for their integration. Mr. Clarke will speak about how people are getting on in those different communities.
With regard to the cost question, resettled refugees generally receive mainstream supports. The local authorities try to ensure that when refugees arrive in communities, they are linked to schools and have access to a medical card, local GP services and schools. There would be a cost attached to it but it is difficult to quantify as it relates to mainstream support. There is some funding provided by European institutions, including a new asylum, migration and integration fund, known as AMIF. We understand the Irish authorities will bring forward a call for proposals, and I hope that will be in the coming months.
A certain amount of money is made available under that programme. It is normally approximately €5,000 to €10,000 per person brought in under the programme but that is a very small sum. We appreciate that, because of the quality of the Irish programme, more is invested in people when they arrive. We feel it is an important humanitarian contribution to make. There is something important about the State investing in people resettled in Ireland in addition to providing overseas resettlement aid. Our experience has been that resettled refugees make an important contribution to society. Mr. Jody Clarke might say a word or two about how people are getting on in the local communities.
Mr. Jody Clarke:
Typically people arrive in Dublin Airport and are met by officials from the Department of Justice and Equality. They are then brought to a direct provision centre called Balseskin in Fingal in north Dublin. They will typically stay there for a couple of weeks, although sometimes two or three months, while Department of Justice and Equality officials from the office for the promotion of migrant integration look for accommodation and a community in which to settle them. In 2013, we had 31 Afghans who came from Syria. Originally they fled Afghanistan in the 1980s, following the Soviet invasion, to Syria where they lived for the past 20 years or so. Given what is happening in Syria, we wanted to resettle them here and they are resettled in Tullamore.
There is a policy of dispersal where, to avoid the fear of ghettoising people in cities, people are placed in different parts of the country. There are south Sudanese in Kilkenny and Congolese in Monaghan, while the new intake of Syrians are in Portlaoise and in Thurles, Tipperary. People get on quite well but, as one can imagine, it can be a shock to the system to go to a completely new place. Communities take quite well to them. An integration officer is hired who helps them settle into the community and access services and so on. Department of Justice and Equality officials help people go through the sort of things we take for granted such as opening of a bank account. We think this sort of thing easy but someone who has lived in a refugee camp for 20 years has no idea of how to do it. Overall, that policy of distributing people around the country works very well.
The policy is probably no surprise. It is approximately 100 years since 3,000 or so Belgian refugees came to Ireland. They went to Monaghan, Cavan, Cork and Donegal. We have the same thing again today. We hear stories of Huguenot refugees in the 1600s. They were in Portarlington, which was once called Frenchtown, and they were in Dublin. Around the corner from here, we have the Huguenot cemetery. D'Olier Street is a Huguenot name. We had the Palatine fathers before that, who settled in Limerick. The idea that refugees come here and settle into new communities is not a new thing. Whether they are of a different religion or nationality or speak different languages, typically, after a short while, they integrate quite well.
I welcome our guests here today. Ireland is quite clearly playing its part in the international programme. Unfortunately, it appears from Ms Magennis's submission that we are one of only 30 countries doing that. Of the 11.5 million international refugees, Ms Magennis expressed concern that only 1% are resettled. She acknowledges the work Ireland has done and continues to do. Our navy, as she acknowledges, is at the moment in the Mediterranean and doing a fantastic job saving lives in the first instance. There is a parallel with Ireland in the 18th or 19th century when refugees from our country went to other countries, particularly the United States, where the parallels are significant. In Canada, thousands of Irish refugees died in Grosse Île from different diseases. It is a huge issue which crosses centuries, generations and countries and it is right and important that we play our full part.
There are also concerns. If I were in Libya at the moment, the place I would love to come to is probably Ireland. There are tens of thousands of people in Libya and other countries which have been destabilised by American and British foreign policy, local dictators and ethnic conflicts. They all cannot come to Europe, notwithstanding what we do. As Ms Magennis says, the number of them resettled at the moment is 1%. It may not be the delegates' area and I accept that, but it seems to me that the countries which are responsible in many cases for the military interventions - America and the United Kingdom to name some of them - need to step up to the mark. In what way are they stepping up? If they remove one cut-throat dictator, what is their replacement? It seems they replace the dictator with absolute chaos. I believe the organisation called ISIS is a direct result of intervention by western forces in countries where they did not have a solution once they removed the disgraceful and appalling dictatorship. We need a European and worldwide policy to bring stability and investment and infrastructure to these regions. First, stability must be achieved. Then there must be investment in those countries in terms of employment, job creation and so on because we cannot and will not be able to take everyone who wishes to come here. Any actions we take as a nation should be to stabilise those countries and invest and support forces for investment and political education.
Concerns were expressed in this morning's edition of The Irish Timesabout the 700 refugees we have had in the past month alone. These are not United Nations refugees in the true sense. Concerns have been expressed in Government that 700 people have come to Ireland in the past month who are placing a significant demand on our resources. This might continue. The constructive positive development of increasing resources to people in direct provision is attracting more people here than it appears we can cope with. How do we resolve this issue? Would it be fair to say that every country in the United Nations should be stepping up to the mark and not just 30 countries? Should there be proportionality between the countries which have taken military intervention? Should they not be made to step up to the mark on this as well? What happened and is happening in Libya is the direct result of the dictator who was there and who thankfully is gone and the instability that is currently there. The United Nations has a key role in bringing stability to these regions. It has a power and an influence over all countries, which perhaps is not used enough in some respects to bring stability to these regions in order that people can live in the areas they are from. It is a huge issue.
We have to be cognisant of the fact that we have the Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade. We are dealing with the issues as they are right now. How stability might be put in place in those countries is probably a matter for the Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade rather than us.
I will let Deputy O'Dowd in again. At the same time, we have a situation where we have millions of people displaced across the world. The Pope recently spoke about a third world war, in effect, going on. We are facing the consequences of all that, which includes all these people. Ms Magennis mentioned the undocumented people arriving here, which is a very important issue as well. We see what is happening in Calais at the moment. Does Deputy O'Dowd want to make another point?
I am sorry, but I will let the Deputy speak again when I am finished. What I am saying is that another committee focuses on issues of foreign affairs and we do not usually cross over, although I accept that there are overlaps. I do not disagree with the Deputy at all. I am only pointing out that this matter is complicated.
Ms Sophie Magennis:
From a domestic point of view, the members have raised an important question about the broader picture. We need to raise awareness in Ireland about who these people are and try to allay any fear that some might have about any expectation that Ireland will take everyone who needs to come here. We have put in place a few initiatives, the most recent being the special Mediterranean initiative, which sets out a number of principles. Given what is happening in the Mediterranean, the most important principle is search and rescue. Ireland is making a significant contribution to that. Seeing Irish sailors saving women and small children who are in peril at sea is helping people at home to understand and feel connected to what is happening. Ireland is responding to this first and most immediate principle.
There are interim and longer-term measures. We are clear that, in the long term, there is no humanitarian solution to these crises. There must be political solutions. We are calling on all political actors to engage and try to resolve the conflicts that are at the source of this flow of persons. I am referring to the old conflicts that are rumbling on without solution in Somalia, Eritrea and the Democratic Republic of Congo, more recent conflicts and the failed states issue. The High Commissioner, Mr. António Guterres, has been forthright in his statement to the effect that the international community is not responding and there are problems in international global governance and at the highest level within the UN and member states as regards dealing with these situations. He has stated that the UNHCR cannot cope and that the numbers are of such a scale, as Senator Zappone pointed out, that we are struggling. We are calling on states to deal with the conflicts and, as an interim measure, to build capacity where possible in African states in order that people might at least be given some information about matters and anti-trafficking measures might be implemented. A range of measures exist and it is important we get the message across that we are discussing resettling people who are in desperate need while also focusing on solving the reasons for their moving in the first place.
Turning to the point on the number of asylum seekers coming to Ireland, we saw some figures on the front page of today's newspaper. Our understanding is that the figure is approximately 200 people entering Ireland per month, on which basis it would likely be 2,000 this year. It is difficult to predict based on these trends. Although people are coming to Ireland, the number is still very small compared with the European picture of asylum seekers going to various states.
If I were to make one appeal to the committee, it would be about how Ireland still does not have a single procedure for determining claims from people in need of protection. Any asylum seeker coming to Ireland will not get a final decision for years. We have highlighted this problem. The High Commissioner came to Ireland in 2012 and made a similar plea at this committee. I understand that the committee will handle the Bill's pre-legislative scrutiny phase. We made our submission at the end of March. If that legislation progresses and the recommendations of the working group on the protection process, which will be presented to the Minister next week, are adequately resourced, there will be a mechanism to respond to what has been discussed. If people are coming to the State but do not need protection, they can be quickly identified and offered assisted voluntary return. If they fail to take up that offer, they can be removed. The real concern the State should have is not necessarily the numbers coming in but the fact there is no legal framework in place to deal with them.
No, but I welcome Ms Magennis's comments and clarity. In particular, I welcome her final point. I know people whose children were born in this country and are now in secondary school yet whose cases have still not been decided. Clearly, they should be allowed to stay. I agree with Ms Magennis. It is a failure on our part not to deal with this situation with total clarity. There is ambiguity. If the UN has a legitimate, proper and transparent process, by signing up to it we would be providing clarity to public opinion on the question of, for example, refugees who may have been trafficked into Ireland and the major issues related to that.
The enrichment of society provided by the immigrant community in my area has been considerable. That multiculturalism and so on make us a real international country rather than the monochrome one we were for many years, although I say that in the broadest sense. We are a much richer country in every respect now. Our schools, particularly primary schools, are sources of fantastic learning for everyone, as all cultures and religions are represented. As Ms Magennis stated, we need clarity in policy, because this would lead to greater public acceptance of what is happening.
Earlier this year, I read that Ireland was the only country in the world that had a population smaller today than it had in the early 1800s. Ms Magennis will know this. Another statistic is that, according to a book written by Mr. Raymond Crotty, entitled Ireland in Crisis: A Study in Capitalist Colonial Undevelopment, half of those who survived childhood during the 65-year period between the foundation of the State and 1987 emigrated. Of all the states in Europe, it is shocking to think that we are the only country that does not allow the right to work for asylum seekers who have been in Ireland for more than nine months. Denmark has not opted in because it has better and stronger legislation. While Ms Magennis has reported that we will be taking in 300 refugees, we have an appalling record on this matter, considering our history. It reflects public opinion. Our committee has held debates. Commenting on these issues as a public representative is extremely unpopular. Consider sites like thejournal.ie. Reading the comments is utterly depressing. People are coming from places like Syria and the Horn of Africa in sheer desperation. They are not like Ireland's economic migrants who had to leave to get work in Australia and Canada. They must leave because they will be killed if they stay. They have no future. They are on boats drowning. Despite this, if one opens thejournal.ie this evening and reads comments from Irish people, it is depressing, given our history. I just wanted to get that off my chest. I thank the Chairman for this time. We must be honest - we in Ireland have a problem communicating these issues. There is a complete ignorance of our history in our approach to these matters.
Ms Magennis referred to a single application process for asylum seekers. Everyone in the Houses agrees with this idea. I hope that the legislation will be debated later this year. What are Ms Magennis's thoughts on the direct provision system? The McMahon report is due next week. If refugees are lined up outside Ireland, how do we better align this approach with Ms Magennis's?
Ms Sophie Magennis:
I thank the Deputies. As Deputy Mac Lochlainn mentioned, the largest factor in this issue will be the working group report, which will be published on 30 June.
There has been some reporting in the media but the report is not in the public domain yet so I will not go into detail on that. The single protection procedure is the most important element in order to make all the expected recommendations come together and to prevent long stays in the direct provision system in the future. It can be bad on two levels. When somebody who comes into the State has a protection need that does not fit the refugee definition but does fit the subsidiary protection definition, it can take years to get there, so there is a gap during which the person's protection need has not been identified. During that time the person cannot work or access third level education, and he or she is on €19.10 per week and living in an institutionalised setting where there are difficulties with privacy and a lack of catering. We are mindful also of the report of this committee, which was an important contribution to raising awareness of the issues. The real challenge is to come up with a set of solutions to deal with the issues facing long-staying people in the centres and to ensure this does not happen again. The report, which is due next week, will deal with the people in the centres at the moment.
I will now turn to the single protection procedure. This will identify a person in need of protection at the earliest possible point. It will also preserve the asylum space. If a procedure for determining those in need of protection is not in place at national level, then it is difficult to be clear on messaging. It becomes hard to counter the type of sentiment referenced by this committee, because there is a perception that anybody who comes to Ireland is going to be staying forever. People who need protection become mixed up with those who may not need protection. The UNCHR's appeal to all member states is to put measures in place that can quickly identify those in need of protection so that within a period of six months or less their need is identified. People who are refugees or in need of subsidiary protection can get protection status and then move on with their lives. Those who do not meet the criteria in terms of protection needs and who do not have any other humanitarian reason to stay would be assisted - in full dignity and respect for their human rights - in returning to their country of origin, where there is no harm. When there is a system that functions like this, it becomes easier to get the message across.
Our appeal to this committee and to Irish parliamentarians is to advance this legislation as quickly as possible. We are anxious about the fact that only the general scheme of the Bill has been published. My colleague Enda O'Neill has worked on comments, and our views have been submitted to this committee. There is concern that the legislation might not be enacted before another general election is called. The biggest contribution this committee can make towards resolving the situation for the future and for current legacy cases is to expedite the pre-legislative scrutiny and to complete the drafting as quickly as possible in order for the Bill to be enacted. We have confidence that there are solid recommendations from the working group on the protection process report, which we played a key role in. We hope there is a time frame now for this committee to advance the legislation and for the current administration to implement it.
Will Ms Magennis indicate how we as parliamentarians, and the UNCHR, could communicate issues such as the length of time that people spend in direct provision without increasing the alarm? Speeding up the application process is part of it, but how do we communicate better with our own people? Ireland has had the highest contribution per capitain the world towards overseas development aid. It is as though we are two people: we are the most generous, decent people in the world, but when people come here in small numbers and resettle there is alarm. What can be done collectively to communicate the facts and not the myths? This is not unique to Ireland - many political parties are elected on anti-immigration policies across Europe. In what ways can these matters be better explained to our population?
Ms Sophie Magennis:
We do have a challenge in Ireland, but the UNCHR offices in other European countries have a more difficult challenge. The political space and discourse on these issues is very good at the moment in Ireland, but the Deputy raises an important point. The Irish Timesran a poll recently which contained unfortunate wording. It said: "Should Ireland offer to resettle migrants rescued in Mediterranean?" It was not clear that what was on the table was the resettlement of refugees even prior to their taking these journeys. The general sentiment was clear in the question and just over half of those polled said "No." For those who said "Yes," the number of migrants acceptable ranged from small to medium figures. Our work is cut out for us and we could work more with parliamentarians, providing information, facts, graphics and materials which could help deliver the message. Our external relations section could have something to add to this.
We find that personal stories of individuals in communities can get a message across very well. We run events such as the annual football cup with Sports Against Racism Ireland (SARI). Teams are from all over the country and are made up of asylum seekers who have lived in asylum centres for years, locals and refugees. The aim is to raise the immigration profile through community stories and events. The garden party with the President also makes refugees and asylum seekers feel very involved. The initiatives on citizenship are important. The high-profile citizenship ceremonies are handled very well; the State grants citizenship to tens of thousands of people who enjoy the event and it is communicated positively in media coverage. Maybe there is more we can do to tell the personal stories of refugees and asylum seekers in a positive light, and that might help.
Mr. Jody Clarke:
We would certainly be interested in exploring new ways of doing things. Reference was made to our own history, and ironically, the word "Éireannach" comes from refugee scholars in the Irish College in Leuven who fled Ireland in the years following the Flight of the Earls. We could look to Ireland's own history even before the 1800s.
For World Refugee Day we had 500 posters on Dublin buses with two profiles. One was a Vietnamese man who came here in the 1970s and has a restaurant in Parnell Street. The other profile was an Iraqi lady who lives in Cork. Under each image there was as short quote from the person and three words. The Iraqi lady's poster said that she was forced to flee but that Ireland had given her a home. It then states the three words "Iraqi," "Mum," and "Bioscientist." She works at University College Cork now.
In other countries, such as Hungary, the UNHCR has a similar poster campaign showing the contribution refugees have made there. It had a similar campaign in the United Kingdom recently, showing the enormous contribution refugees have made there.
This is something those in the UNHCR have always done, as can be seen from any of our public information materials. For example, T-shirts for sale on our website advertise that Einstein was a refugee. We are interested in exploring new ways of providing information and any way this committee could assist in that would be much appreciated.
I attended the Syrian refugee event in Cork at the weekend and some of the stories I heard were horrific. However, the system set up in that regard seems to be working well.
I have just a few questions. How will the people who are to be resettled here be selected and where does that selection process happen?
Ms Sophie Magennis:
The Irish authorities run two types of selection processes. One is dossier based. In that case we in the UNHCR prepare a file containing all of the information about a person and this is sent to the authorities to be reviewed here. The other system is what is called a "selection mission" and Ireland is now doing this more often. For the most recent selection mission for example, the Irish authorities went to Amman in August last year. What the UNHCR does in that case is, it identifies people who might be in need of resettlement. We look at the most vulnerable refugees, those who are struggling where they are and who do not have the financial resources to survive in Amman. We send their files or dossiers to the Irish authorities in advance so that they can read through them and they then come to Amman and meet them. To some extent, this is a two-way process, in that the authorities can explain to the refugees concerned what Ireland is like and can check if it will be an appropriate match for them. The interview takes place and then the Irish authorities make a decision on the cases before them. When they decide to accept those cases, those people are formally informed and within a couple of months they arrive.
The Irish authorities have some selection criteria. These criteria tend to be around family units, because they find these are easier to integrate when they come to Ireland. They look for family units, for a small number of medical cases, for particularly vulnerable groups and also try to bring a group into Ireland whose members will in some way support each other. They try, therefore, to try to identify groups with families with a leader style that might have some coherence around them and will use those criteria to assist in selection.
So, the selection process has been well worked out. In regard to the Dublin Convention and the Dublin regulations, does that process work at all? The convention provides that where people land in a member state, that is where they should make their application and they should not move on to another member state. Am I correct in saying that this regulation does not seem to be working at all?
Mr. Enda O'Neill:
The Dublin system will be reviewed by the Commission in 2016 and the response to the Mediterranean crisis is probably throwing into light some of the difficulties with that system. What is being considered is a system of relocation, where people will be taken from some of the Mediterranean countries and dispersed more widely around Europe. If this system runs at the same time as the Dublin system, where people are sent back to the country they initially entered, it is counter productive. Therefore, we must wait to see what the Commission proposals lead to and whether they will be accepted.
In regard to how the Dublin system works currently in practice, the new regulations - referred to as Dublin Three - have been in effect since the beginning of this year. These have introduced a stronger emphasis on issues such as reuniting family members and refocusing the implementation of the regulations on some of the more positive measures. There is some flexibility built into the regulations and countries do not return people to Greece because of the systemic difficulties there. The states also have discretion in regard to implementing the regulation to return refugees to other countries facing difficulties, such as Italy. There is also the flexibility to reunite family members when they are present in other member states.
As they stand currently, the Dublin regulations have some flexibility built into them, but there may be cause to review those regulations when the Commission comes up with its proposals.
Thank you. We have completed our discussion. I thank the witnesses for attending today and for engaging with us on this important issue. I am sorry there were not more members present, due to other demands on their time.