Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 5 October 2016
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality
UN Summit on Refugees and Migrants: Discussion
The purpose of this part of the meeting is to have a discussion with the Tanaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality on the recent UN summit for refugees and migrants. I once again welcome the Tánaiste and her officials for this section of the meeting and I invite the Tánaiste to make her opening statement.
I attended the UN Summit on Refugees and Migrants on 19 September 2016 and the Leaders’ Summit on Refugees on 20 September 2016 on behalf of the Government. Both summits have highlighted the need for international co-operation to address the growing refugee and migration crisis and I share the concern at the scale of this crisis. A total of 65 million people are estimated to be displaced, 40% of whom are children. As the committee is aware, the Government voluntarily agreed to join the EU response to this crisis and to accept 4,000 refugees under the Irish Refugee Protection Programme. Progress was initially slow, and it has been slow across Europe because there were many logistical difficulties in registering the refugees, many of whom wanted to continue to Sweden and Germany and their relocation within Europe across every country. Some of the commentary has suggested this is unique to Ireland, and it is not. We are involved in a process within the EU. We are playing our part and these issues have been resolved in respect of the registration of refugees and the hot points, particularly in Greece. There are continuing problems in Italy because Italy is having problems with security vetting and does not want other countries involved in that. We are working on that issue too.
Both summits highlighted the need for international co-operation to address the growing refugee and migration crisis. The numbers are now increasing quickly, with 555 refugees having already come to Ireland. More are coming over the next few weeks. Each month, we anticipate a further intake. The aim is that between 880 and 1,000 people will have arrived before the end of this year.
Preparations are under way to bring a further 260 persons from Lebanon early in 2017 under the resettlement programme. My aim is to make a further pledge next spring to accept more refugees from those currently located in Lebanon. While the EU element for relocation has been slow, we have moved ahead to meet our commitment under resettlement, that is, people coming from refugee camps. We have to send officers out to meet the refugees to assess their various files and make arrangements. We have done that and are ahead of schedule in respect of the resettlement. That was in part to deal with the delay in relocation.
These pledges are in addition to the number of people due to come to Ireland from Greece. We have formally notified the Greek authorities that we wish to accept 1,000 relocated refugees by the end of September 2017. That programme is subject to change and acceleration as well. The success of our programme depends on international co-operation and on developing the international mechanisms that enable us to bring vulnerable people across Europe to a new home here in Ireland. We have seen now at first hand how differing systems internationally and implementation problems externally can delay a national programme. We have to operate within a system that has been agreed at EU level on responding to the crisis. That is what we are doing. We are not a front-line state - people do not arrive on our shores as they do in Greece and Italy - but we are working with the mechanisms there and want to develop and strengthen those mechanisms to tackle the refugee crisis.
Ireland co-facilitated the UN summit with Jordan, and there was much comment on the part our diplomats played in getting the refugee response framework together, which was agreed there. It is very important to have that in place. The framework sets out an extensive range of concrete actions which, once implemented, should bring about real improvements in the situation and the experience of refugees across the world. It is addressed to host countries, transit countries and third parties and covers issues such as reception, the immediate and ongoing needs of refugees, the importance of support for host countries and the action needed to achieve durable solutions. It commits countries to protect the human rights of all refugees and migrants, regardless of status. This includes the rights of women and girls, promoting their full, equal and meaningful participation in finding solutions to refugee situations. It aims to ensure that all refugee children are receiving education within a few months of arrival in their country of resettlement. We are ahead of other countries when it comes to access to education for young people who arrive here. They have immediate access to primary and secondary level education. Another aim is to prevent and respond to sexual and gender-based violence experienced by refugees and migrants. This is a very serious issue and women in these situations are very vulnerable. It commits to work towards ending the practice of detaining children for the purpose of determining their migration status. Some countries do this; we do not, but that was part of the goal. Another is to improve the delivery of humanitarian and development assistance to the countries most affected, including through innovative multilateral financial solutions, with the goal of closing all funding gaps. Another goal is to find new homes for all refugees identified by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, as needing resettlement, that is, the group we have been responding to, and expand the opportunities for refugees to relocate to other countries through, for example, labour mobility or education schemes. That is an area where Ireland could play a greater role.
It is a menu for action by the international community. It is a current crisis. We need to see action now and it is intended as the foundation for a more global compact on migration. This was the first time that migration had been discussed by the General Assembly, in the same way as refugees have been discussed there. It is intended as the foundation for a global compact on migration, to be agreed in 2018, which seeks to develop a global response to the issue of migration more broadly. It names the issue of migration, which is so prevalent today with the movement of 200 million. We are well used to that issue in Ireland given our history of emigration and of migration into the country.
Ireland’s practice on resettling refugees meets the obligations of the refugee response framework. We enable refugees to access mainstream services such as health, education and social protection. This is not said often enough, although there are problems. Refugee children are enabled to attend school, for instance, from the time that they come to Ireland. We also fund resettlement workers to support the integration of refugees into their new communities. This is challenging for all front-line services but we have several hundred refugees who in the past few months have gone to live in various communities around the country and are receiving local services. They have been housed.
I would say that the UN summit process and the refugee response framework have confirmed that tackling the refugee crisis must be an international priority. This is an international priority for the years ahead. As a result, I anticipate that the Irish refugee protection programme will have to run beyond 2017. Ireland will be expected to continue to accept programme refugees in the years ahead. In light of the level of movement we are seeing, it is clear this is an ongoing crisis. Our ships are still rescuing people in the Mediterranean. The leaders' summit is intended to secure international co-operation towards three principal aims, the first of which is to increase funding to humanitarian appeals and international organisations. Ireland contributed €65 million to Syria last year and has made a contribution to the World Food Programme over a three-year period. We give a high level of international aid. The second goal is to admit more refugees through resettlement or other legal pathways. The third aim is to increase refugees’ self-reliance and inclusion through opportunities for education and legal work. We have joined the legal statement that is being issued from the leaders' summit. That statement commits participating countries to do more on humanitarian assistance and on the resettlement of refugees. It also commits participating countries to work together in support of the development of the global compact on responsibility sharing for refugees.
As I said at the summit, and I do not think anyone would disagree, we need a multifaceted international and global response because no single country can solve this issue. This response involves working with countries of origin on conflict prevention. I cannot let today pass without calling on everybody involved to take further action to resolve the appalling situation in Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria. Obviously, we need to deal with the core causes of this movement of people. In many cases, we can do this by focusing on conflict prevention. When I was at the summit, I pointed to the specific role that can be played by women and girls. If they are facilitated to join peace processes, this can lead to good and durable solutions to conflicts. I also reported on the establishment of the Irish refugee protection programme and referred to Ireland’s strong record on overseas development aid. Ireland committed €647 million to development aid in 2015, approximately €140 million of which was provided in the form of humanitarian assistance. I have already mentioned the amount of money we are contributing to Syria and the role of the Naval Service in rescuing 12,400 people. I think these summits are important as a signal of the international community’s determination to do more to address the refugee crisis and as an important next step in the international response to this issue. We certainly want to support those international efforts by providing humanitarian aid to specific areas and by vindicating our commitment within the EU to the refugee programme.
Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee and Deputies Alan Farrell and Clare Daly have indicated that they wish to speak. If other members want to do so, I ask them to communicate that to me. Perhaps we will do a little grouping to move things along. We will see how we get on.
I would like to ask the Tánaiste a number of questions about immigration and asylum. I will keep them as brief as possible because I know many other members want to make contributions.
The McMahon report, which was published last year, made a number of recommendations with regard to the direct provision and protection systems. The report was supposed to be fully implemented by July 2016. While some of the recommendations have been implemented, the more meaty ones have not been. I refer, for example, to the recommendation that individuals who have been in the asylum process for five years or more should be automatically granted leave to remain. Having spoken to practitioners in this area, it seems there has been a soft implementation of this recommendation on an ad hocbasis. Leave to remain is being granted to families, which is leaving many single men in a kind of limbo because they have not been granted leave to remain. Could the Tánaiste address that issue? The Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, indicated in the Seanad in July that this recommendation would be implemented when the Oireachtas returned after the summer.
On a related issue, the bifurcated system for asylum and subsidiary protection was supposed to be integrated into a single system. The Minister of State indicated that this was coming on stream fairly shortly. Having spoken to people involved in the processing of this, it appears that no progress has been made in this regard. I would appreciate it if the Tánaiste could give me some answers.
Does the Tánaiste intend to extend the remit of the Ombudsman for Children to children within the direct provision system? If not, can she explain why not?
I would also like to ask about the business permission visa system, which was suspended on 16 March last. The old version of the system allowed people to apply for residence if they were investing €300,000 and creating and maintaining at least two Irish jobs. What is happening in this regard? When will the system be reintroduced? A number of people in this country who are working on business proposals are in limbo. As a result, we are losing out on potential jobs and investment in business in Ireland.
My attention has been drawn to the requirement for a chef to be paid a minimum salary of €30,000 in order to be eligible for an employment permit. While there is a chronic lack of chefs in Ireland, the salary level of €30,000 at which this requirement has been set is far too high. Exemptions have been made for workers in other areas, including IT professionals and individuals working in the meat industry. I appeal to the Tánaiste to reduce the lower salary level to allow chefs to be employed under the work permits system.
People who make applications to the EU treaty rights section currently have to wait approximately ten months. This is in contravention of the directive, which states that applications should be processed within six months. This is having a significant impact on many people in this country. I ask the Tánaiste to address that issue.
The Tánaiste referred earlier to sham marriages. There are a number of issues with regard to the manner in which applications have to be made when EU nationals want to get married to non-EU nationals. There is now a special application process, including a personal interview with both parties. People are being racially profiled under this system. Some people have been refused permission to marry on the basis of statistics rather than individual assessment. More importantly, people who are deemed to have failed the interview are not being informed of the reasons for that failure. They are merely told they have 28 days to appeal the decision. It is not possible for people to appeal these decisions unless they are given correct information on the specific areas of their interviews on which they were failed. The timeframe I have mentioned does not allow people to get information from freedom of information requests. This needs to be addressed urgently because it is creating big problems.
I will call Deputy Farrell after the Tánaiste has responded to Senator Clifford-Lee. Given the complexity of some of the questions asked by the Senator, it would not be fair to ask the Tánaiste to come back to them.
Okay. We have ongoing meetings at which we review progress with the stakeholders involved in the McMahon report. The up-to-date position is that 91 of the recommendations have been implemented and 47 of them are in progress. We are conducting update on the audit now. I want to correct the Senator on one point. There was no question of an automatic entitlement to stay here. Obviously, every case had to be assessed. We are talking about the implementation of one of the main recommendations of the report, which related to people who were here for over five years. The Senator is right when she says that assessments have now been made in the vast majority of cases of people who were in direct provision for over five years.
It would be difficult to find anyone currently in direct provision who has been there for more than five years. I want to put that on the record. That is the reality. The people who are still there are those who are involved in judicial review applications. If they are not involved in a judicial review, they will be assessed and are eligible. Hundreds of decisions have been made and the vast majority of them have been given leave to remain.
I could not possibly say to anyone to drop a judicial review application. It is entirely a decision for the person involved. However, one of the main recommendations in the McMahon report relates to people who have been here more than five years. Issues in respect of security or other information that emerges during the assessment are obviously a separate matter. However, the implementation of that recommendation has been progressed. We hear about people who have been here for more than five years who are not in direct provision, but they have to make contact. They have to make themselves available. It can be difficult to find some of these people. They are not necessarily in contact and have left the country in many instances.
In terms of the main recommendation in the McMahon report, huge resources have been invested in examining and dealing with those cases. As stated, leave to remain has been granted in the vast majority of them, which has been for the obvious reason that people have been here for such a period of time. It is important to say that. There is not an automatic entitlement but there has been a serious focus on those people for obvious humanitarian reasons. People should not have to wait that long, which is why I introduced the International Protection Act. The Senator's question on that-----
That is a key consideration, as one would expect, but there is a full assessment and all of the factors involved are considered. One would be hard pushed to find someone in direct provision who has been there more than five years where there is not some outstanding legal or, perhaps, security reason. More likely it will be a legal reason. If, however, the Senator knows of someone in that position, I ask her to let me know the details.
I will not say that definitively because every case is assessed. However, an applicant in that situation, for the reasons I have outlined, is very likely to be granted leave to remain.
Senator Clifford-Lee also asked about subsidiary protection and the implementation of the International Protection Act. There is a huge amount of work ongoing on the Act so that we arrive at a point where what applies will be the provisions of that Act. That will happen towards the end of this year. As the Minister for Justice and Equality, I am happy to see the Ombudsman for Children go into direct provision centres and have communicated that position to him. I consider it the right thing to do in terms of the protection of children and am working on making it a reality. There is still an investment programme under way and I ask the Senator to write to me on the particular points she is making so that I can respond to her directly.
On the issue of work permits for chefs, I ask the Senator to take that up with the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.
A number of court cases on the application of EU treaty rights are ongoing and we must wait their outcome before further action is taken. Approximately 10,000 people from Iraq and Afghanistan have applied for Irish citizenship and are using EU treaty rights as the basis for their applications. There is huge demand and we have to assess carefully and examine the precise nature of those applications, including their legitimacy. As noted by the Senator, this falls under EU treaty rights as they stand at present.
The Senator will have to direct any questions through the Chair. I am also conscious that time is moving on. There cannot be a continued exchange between the Senator and the Minister. If the Senator allows the Minister to conclude and there is time at the end, I will bring her back in. Deputies Farrell and Daly have indicated that they wish to speak and are waiting.
An Garda Síochána has strong evidence relating to sham marriages in the country. I was very concerned for the women being brought into the country, some of them from other member states. We focused on this issue as it can be closely connected to the trafficking of women. We had huge co-operation from registrars and the Department of Social Protection. Operation Vantage has been particularly successful and has resulted in a significant decline in the kind of applications that led to this situation. It is important that we focus on the issue of sham marriages and that we have procedures in place, whether it is with An Garda Síochána or registrars, to ensure these are real and not sham marriages used for the convenience of immigration purposes. We are careful in terms of training and ensuring that proper assessments are carried out.
I thank the Minister for her report. As the head of the Irish delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, I have the privilege of regularly meeting delegates of the 56 other members states involved. The vast majority of them are in Europe and they are suffering exactly the same difficulties we are having with regard to the numbers of migrants that have been committed to through various agreements at an EU level versus the numbers applying. As the Minister has identified, we are not unique. The vast majority of migrants crossing from Syria and beyond are applying for visas to remain in Germany, Sweden and elsewhere.
I spoke to my counterpart in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, which is not a member state, on Saturday. That country has approximately 200 migrants who are in limbo because of the agreements in the European Union. These migrants have no desire to be in that country but, because of a variety of agreements, they are being left in limbo. Regrettably, I only find out about this scenario after the Minister's attendance at the summit because it is a matter worthy of being raised and aired at such an event.
I have two short questions for the Minister, who was rather frank in the information she provided. We have a determined target in terms of the number of migrants we will accept. There is then the number of people who have applied or been processed. From an EU perspective, does the Minister foresee a scenario where we will make a determination on certain groups approved by Irish and/or fellow EU authorities in some form of arrangement which would allocate them into a specific country regardless - and this may be a bit of an issue - of their own desire? If we have a problem, particularly on the cusp of Europe, and it is a problem that is getting worse, where individuals do not wish to come to these shores for a variety of what I am sure are valid reasons, from a humanitarian perspective, even temporary settlement or resettlement in this jurisdiction would give them relief and would relieve the pressures on our European counterparts. I might add that this is not a matter the OSCE parliamentary members from across the globe have raised. It is rather one that might be seen as a response to and a move away from issues such as the crises we have in Calais and elsewhere across Europe.
My final question relates to migrants having access to third level education. It also applies to those wishing to become Irish citizens or remain in the State. I appreciate it is not within the remit of the Department but I would welcome the Minister's view on the matter. We give children and young people access to our education system. This is an excellent endeavour on our part and I imagine it is echoed in other countries. However, we deny these people access to third level education. Having put them through the Irish education system, especially given the legacy of delays within direct provision and so on, this is bordering on cruel. Many of these children have been brought up here and they are as Irish as my two children. This is something we really should address. I know there was a debate about the matter in the last Dáil. The question should be given another airing given the new environment in which we find ourselves.
The first issue raised by Deputy Farrell relates to the discussions taking place at EU level on asylum policy generally. There are divided views on the question of a mandatory quota and it is difficult to see where agreement will emerge. Effectively, under the relocation scheme a mandatory quota was not agreed but rather a quota for each country. Clear criteria were set out on how that was to be decided. They are published and take into account population, GDP and various other factors. Under that arrangement we have a quota. Of course it was optional for us; we were able to opt in. The figure of 2,622 is our effective quota and that is what we are working towards.
The mandatory question is a matter of ongoing discussion. Committee members will have seen the Hungarian response and other responses. Other countries have strong views on the matter and will not support it.
There are choices for refugees at present in terms of country of destination. If family are in place already there is choice, to a degree. It is not 100% but this is taken into account when our teams go to Greece and the refugee camps there. If people there proactively indicate that they want to come to Ireland, that is helpful and we try to respond to that. As part of the assessment process if people already have members of the family in a given country, they get priority when it comes to going to that country. It is not an absolute right. Under international refugee practice, it is not seen as a definitive right for a person in that situation to choose the country in question. Although, if any of us were in that situation, I imagine we would like to go to the country with which we might identify ourselves. Choice is taken into account as much as possible.
Deputy Farrell asked about third level education. If a person has leave to remain, he or she is eligible for third level. A programme is in place for children in direct provision going to third level. The former Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, made a decision last year in respect of children who had been in direct provision and who were at that point ready to go to third level. She decided they could do that without having to pay foreign fees. Sponsorship programmes are in place. However, this area requires a more long-term policy from the Department of Education and Skills and that Department is working on the matter.
I found the introduction a little demoralising in some ways. It summed up for me the point made by Deputy O'Brien earlier to the effect that we get nice statements and lofty aspirations but the reality on the ground is rather different. We have heard a great deal from the Government about the thousands we are taking in, how the numbers are far beyond any commitments given and so on. The reality is, as the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, said last month, 486 people have been resettled in Ireland, 69 of whom came from Greece while none has come from Italy. The figure includes one unaccompanied minor. This is despite the Minister's public commitment that this would be a priority area.
I hate talking about numbers because we are talking about human beings, each of whom has to endure a horrendous journey to get to these outposts of Europe. They bring the legacy of a life almost annihilated. It is not even clear to me what the figures are. For example, the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, said previously that of the 4,000 only 2,622 persons would be relocated from Italy and Greece, while the others would come on the family resettlement programme. That is deeply troubling given the manner in which we are implementing that programme already. For example, I am aware of a Syrian who lives here with Irish friends and who has been trying to relocate some of her family to Ireland under family reunification provisions. Such has been the concern of some friends in Ireland that they have travelled to Greece to assist this woman to be reunited with her family. They have been through extreme trauma. Anyway, they have been unable to do what they set out to do.
The stories from the people on the front line do not back up the points made to the effect that it is a bureaucracy operated by the Greeks and Italians and it is all their fault. Moreover, they do not correspond to Deputy Farrell's version to the effect that no one wants to come to Ireland anyway. That is not what Irish volunteers are saying. They have been in Greece and Lebanon. To a man and to a woman the story they come back with is that no one there is aware of Ireland. There is zero recognition of Ireland as a destination. Irish volunteers have gone to every camp in Lebanon. They have seen hardly any presence of Irish people there, albeit they are not there all the time. They have interviewed people with the help of interpreters. In the case of each of the sites, the people there simply did not know about Ireland, the type of country it was, whether they would be welcome or anything like that. Deputy Wallace and I went to Calais. Given the geography and given that Ireland is a small country, many people do not realise that Ireland is an English-speaking country. However, language is one of the key reasons the people in Calais want to go to England. They do not realise how the system works.
The approach taken to family unification has been adversarial rather than a sensitive or sympathetic approach. I put it to the Minister that she has considerable latitude in this regard. Ultimately, the decisions are taken by the Minister and she has discretion. Why does she not intervene and exercise that discretion?
The Minister has made public statements to the effect that addressing the question of unaccompanied minors would be a priority. This is a real area of concern, especially given the decision of the French Government to shut down "the jungle" later this month and the fact that France has said it cannot accommodate more than 250 of the unaccompanied minors there. There is potential for hundreds of children to be lost and unaccounted for. I want to know what we are doing in that regard. What accommodation is available for these children? We have tried to pursue this with Tusla and we have asked how the agency is dealing with these matters. The Minister has spoken publicly of the extraordinary and generous offers by the public of accommodation and taking on children. All of that is true but it is not being processed. Where are the log-jams in that placement? For example, Tusla has said it has vetted three people for foster care arrangements. I and others have said publicly that we would be happy to put ourselves forward to care for an unaccompanied minor and to be vetted and so on. If we were to publicly advertise these schemes I believe there are large numbers of Irish people who would be willing to participate and it could happen at no extra expense to the State. It could alleviate the trauma those children are experiencing. Why not establish a temporary consulate and humanitarian visa scheme? We could bring some of those children here. They are in imminent danger.
I am conscious of the time and I would like to discuss this more. We have not done enough and there are things we could do if we had the will. It would be great if we did something to stand out in terms of our dealings with the hot spots. For example, there are 18 places for unaccompanied minors at the moment. That is completely and utterly inadequate when it comes to the assessment of facilities here. There should be at least 100 places. Berlin, which has a population of 3.5 million people, has 900 residential places for unaccompanied children. We need to do far more. I am embarrassed and ashamed as an Irish person because of how little we have done.
I do not think it is bureaucracy or that people do not want to come to Ireland. They know where it is and if we went out and promoted ourselves, there are many who would take the arm off you for the right to come.
The Deputy is questioning the commitment of Ireland to respond to refugees but she must understand that we are part of the international response. We are working with an international and European response and we have given a commitment to bring in refugees. The Deputy is not alone in her feelings and every one of us who sees the work our Naval Service is doing and the plight of unaccompanied minors, wants to respond as fast as possible. We all care and want to do the very best we can.
The Deputy is wrong about a number of things. We have people on the ground and Ireland has the fourth or fifth highest staff numbers working on our current response. Calais is not included in our resettlement programme.
It raises hugely complex issues. According to Greek figures and in terms of numbers taken for resettlement up to 28 September 2016, Lichtenstein is ahead of us, as are Norway, Luxembourg, Austria, Finland, Iceland and Malta. However, we are not a front-line country with people arriving on our shores. However, we are absolutely committed to taking the numbers I have outlined within the structures of the EU. It has been a slow start and I regret that but it is outside my control or that of Government. Nevertheless, the procedures are in place and staff teams from the Department of Justice and Equality are going out to refugee camps to identify people. We are working with Greece to ensure that people know Ireland is an English-speaking destination. The numbers are increasing now and will rise very significantly.
We have only dealt with several hundred to date but those people have come into our emergency reception centres, they have received English language training and have been put in contact with local services. They have moved out to communities across Ireland and they are now beginning the integration process. There is an absolute commitment to meet the targets we set. I take the Deputy's point that the scale of this is appalling. We must ask if there is more we can do and also what else we could be doing. We are open to reconsidering the numbers next year but our first commitment is to take the numbers we said we would take within the EU scheme. We have spoken to the Greek authorities about identifying young, unaccompanied minors. Deputy Clare Daly has the numbers for Calais but we are not working in Calais.
We are, however, working with the Greeks to identify young unaccompanied minors. Some significant issues arise in respect of unaccompanied minors. The first one of these is identifying them and many of those who were initially identified as unaccompanied minors were actually 19, 20 or 21. This is a problem that is recognised by all groups carrying out assessments in Greece. I have spoken to the CEO of Tusla and that organisation has a commitment to take unaccompanied minors. We are in the process of identifying them and we want to do the very best for them. We believe the best thing would be to have foster homes for them but there is a shortage of foster carers in Ireland at the moment. We must do everything we can to encourage more people to become foster parents. I am advised that unaccompanied minors will begin to arrive shortly and will be placed in foster care.
The Deputy said that nothing had been done in terms of a public response but that is incorrect. I chaired a meeting on Monday at which the Red Cross was represented. That organisation has worked with all the people who have offered pledges and it has identified people who are willing to supply housing. Some very difficult issues arise in the context of pledges which come in from the public. It is not the role of this committee to go into huge detail on them but the Red Cross has done very significant work in the past number of months with people who have given pledges, many of whom offered accommodation for three months or a year. We need to consider the sustainable issues around that and where refugees go afterwards. They will be citizens at that point, actually, but the question remains of where they go when their accommodation ceases to be available after a year or so. Local authorities were also at the meeting on Monday and they are giving a very significant response, as evidenced by the numbers who have already gone through the emergency reception centres. Insurance issues arise and there are health and safety issues.
The Red Cross has now got to the point where it can say there are a certain number of houses available for the refugees who are coming in. A total of 640 have been supplied already and I think the figure for pledges from the public is approximately 160. The Red Cross is working assiduously with the Department and other stakeholders to make sure that, as refugees arrive, they will be in a position to utilise those pledges. The Deputy is wrong to say that the work is not being done. The work is being done by the Red Cross. There is a huge amount of detail in this work. It is one thing for the public to respond to what they saw on the beaches of southern Greece but it is quite another thing to put in place a system whereby we can use the pledges we have received.
The churches are also involved in offering accommodation and that is also being worked through with the church representatives. I held a meeting with them and the Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy Stanton, is doing a huge amount of work in this area. There has been a slow start, not to our resettlement programme but to our relocation programme. People are now arriving every month, however, in increasing numbers. This will test the systems and we will have to make sure that our education system and our health system respond locally to the needs of the refugees. These needs are complex, as anybody who has met Syrian refugees in this country or any group of families will know. Young men who have spent four or five years in refugee camps and are now trying to rebuild their lives have very complex health needs. We have met the Departments of Health and Education and Skills to ensure we have a proper response to all these issues.
I understand the Deputy's frustration and that she wants to do more but the work is under way and we will meet our commitments. We are meeting them now in an accelerating way. The Deputy also asked about family reunification, for which people who arrive here are eligible. Many of the 4,000 who are arriving are families and a ratio is built into the system for applications made for family reunification on the part of people whose families are not with them.
I wish to correct the record on one point. People can be doing things but getting nowhere and that is the point I am making. I am not saying that people are doing nothing but I am saying that the Irish presence in the camps is not visible enough, in Greece or in Lebanon. I do not say there is no one there but they are not advertising Ireland. I am not saying, either, that no work was done. However, we have to look at the outcome of the work.
We have 10% of the committed numbers. That is all we have taken.
If one takes the Red Cross, well over 800 people made offers but now we have 160, which shows there is a roadblock. Many people made offers for unaccompanied minors. It is not just that there are not enough foster carers. There have been no advertisements to seek them.
I have no hesitation in saying the relocation and facilities provided for the small number who got here under the scheme are excellent. I could not fault a single thing with the manner in which the people have been treated when they got here. However, the issues are the numbers are not getting in and there are roadblocks which need to be removed.
Irish people working in Calais have done an assessment of the situation. We have given a report on this to the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. While we are not compelled to do anything, we can consider it for humanitarian reasons and circumstances.
There is one correction I want to make. There are 383 currently active accommodation offers which include 280 shared accommodation properties. The balance consists of self-contained properties. This is on the Irish Red Cross side.
Deputy Daly claims there are barriers. Some of these are international. No country can take people in without some vetting. There are issues with vetting in Italy, for example. I have explained the international context. Within these constraints, we are working to ensure our pledges are met as quickly as possible.
The information I gave to the committee highlights the fact we have the background work done. I am glad the Deputy acknowledged our facilities are excellent. The experience of the couple of hundred refugees who have come here has been very good. The agencies are responding and the numbers will accelerate. The barriers have not been in Ireland but in the hotspots. This is about getting the vetting process working effectively and efficiently. Next time I report to the committee, there will be many more numbers involved.
The Department of Justice and Equality has the primary responsibility for asylum and immigration. There is a target for 4,000 refugees to be brought in under the Irish refugee protection programme. So far, 439 have come from Lebanon. The quota for 2016 of 500 is expected to be reached. Up to 260 refugees will be added to that in the first half of 2017. All of these developments are welcome.
However, when we look at the Greek situation, my information is that, up to last week, we have 69 Syrians with 40 more cleared for arrival, as soon as the International Organisation for Migration has the travel arrangements made. It is a small number in that regard. The Tánaiste touched on the Italian situation. I am conscious of the efforts of officials and the Minister of State, the former Chairman of this committee, Deputy David Stanton, and wish them every success. Deputy Daly is not just expressing a personal view. There is a sense among many that we need to move up a gear. I am of one mind with that. I welcome the fact the Tánaiste has said that is her intention and expectation. We are not at loggerheads here but about getting the job done.
On the issue of unaccompanied minors, I note the Tánaiste said Calais is not included under the Irish refugee protection programme. Only last week, the French President, François Hollande, indicated he intends to disperse the thousands congregated in the Calais camp in three weeks to 164 new and different locations across France. There are a significant number of young children and minors at this camp. We know up to 10,000 minors have disappeared across Europe, are untraceable and we are not able to determine what has happened to them. We have questions about a number of minors and children who presented in Ireland and it is not known where they are. My concern is that this dispersal planned by the French President, François Hollande, will add to that number and we will lose young people and knowledge about them into the ether. Is there anything we can do about this specific cohort of unaccompanied minors?
The House of Commons recently passed an amendment to its Immigration Bill, tabled by the Labour peer, Lord Alf Dubs, committing the British Government to accept a significant number of unaccompanied minors. As to whether the current Prime Minister there, Theresa May, and her Government have shown any appetite to follow it through is another matter. The critical point is that it has made the decision and it is passed into law. Are any amendments required to existing legislation here that could contribute positively to our focusing with greater intent on the relocation of unaccompanied minors from across the various sites in Europe to Ireland? It demonstrated itself in the neighbouring island. Is there any such need regarding legislation on our Statute Book?
Tusla's preference in this regard is for the 13 to 15 year old age group. We are advised that Ireland has requested four unaccompanied minors from Greece in the next tranche to be interviewed by Irish officials in October. Deputy Daly indicated we have had only one from Greece so far. Essentially, only one child has met the requested profile. Is the requested profile prepared and presented by Tusla? Is it limited to age or are there other factors involved in the profile? Do other factors militate against other children coming to our shores? Is there anything that can be done in a re-examination of Tusla's preference which might accommodate a greater take-up? Can the Tánaiste offer us any information in this regard? It is to be hoped we are all on the one page in terms of our collective intent.
Both the Chairman and other Deputies are pointing out the huge vulnerability of unaccompanied minors caught up in the refugee crisis and who disappear in the system. I know this is a significant concern internationally. They are difficult to identify in the first place and clearly are not being registered. Accordingly, it is difficult to reach out to them and ensure we can take them in Ireland or elsewhere. The UK decided it would not participate in relocation. It is introducing its own measures and is involved in resettlement by taking people from the refugee camps.
The French President, François Hollande, has recognised the situation in Calais is intolerable and unsustainable. The people there, for the most part, want to go on to the UK. He has signalled his intention to disband the camp completely and have the people living there provided with accommodation in other parts of France.
Many people will welcome this because, given what we have all seen, the situation there is intolerable. The migrants in Calais have the same rights to apply to the French authorities for asylum as they would have in Ireland. Many want to travel to the UK.
We are focusing our resources in the areas of greatest need. We are taking people from, for example, the camps in Lebanon. Lebanon has taken in the equivalent of one third of its population, as has Jordan. A large percentage of people in Lebanon are refugees. There is a huge need to take people from its camps. That is what we have done and by the end of the year, several hundred will have come from there.
As we must under the EU agreement, we are prioritising our focus on asylum seekers in Greece, given the large scale of the problem on its islands and mainland. I meet the Greek justice Minister regularly at the Justice and Home Affairs Council. Greece wants us to do this and we have made it clear that we are prepared to take hundreds more refugees. That is our policy. This work will accelerate. Now that the system is working more effectively in Greece, people are registering because they cannot go to Sweden or Germany in the same way as before. A part of the context that we need to understand is that people were simply moving through Europe. That has stopped because individual countries have taken action. Our focus must be on the programme to which we are committed, as opposed to Calais. From a foreign affairs point of view, though, there will be discussions on the issue between the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, and the relevant Ministers in France and I will bring the committee's concern to his attention.
To answer the Chairman's question on unaccompanied minors, there are no legislative barriers. We do not need any legislation to address this issue. It is a question of identifying the unaccompanied minors. The age issue is not a barrier because we and Tusla will take any children who are under 18 years of age. Age is only a barrier in so far as many of those who were named as unaccompanied minors turned out on investigation to be much older, but that is a different issue. Tusla is committed to taking some unaccompanied minors. Many children are coming to Ireland as a part of family groups, but our people on the ground in Lebanon and those who will return to Greece are making it clear that we will take unaccompanied minors. We have done that from the beginning. The process has been slow for everyone, but we are committed to taking unaccompanied minors as part of the broader group. If they can be identified to us and Tusla can respond, I hope those numbers will increase.
I thank the Tánaiste. With no other members showing, I thank the Tánaiste and her officials for this engagement with members of the committee. That concludes this part of the meeting. We will move on to the next item on our agenda. I appreciate the members remaining. Two motions will be before us before we move into private session. I have allowed members across the board to participate fully. This is the explanation for our running over time. I would like it if allowing everyone could always be the case, but people have to consider whether, if we find ourselves strapped for time in future, we should limit contributions in terms of time. I would like to avoid that if possible.