Thursday, 27 April 2006
Question 6: To ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of applications for asylum received in each year from 2002 to 2005 and to date in 2006; the number of applications approved by the Refugee Appeals Commission; the number of appeals submitted to the Refugee Appeals Tribunal; the number of such appeals upheld; the number of applications for leave to remain; the number of such applications granted; the number of deportation orders made; the number of such deportations carried out; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15659/06]
In recent years, considerable work has been undertaken in the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner and the Refugee Appeals Tribunal, as well as within the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service, to deal with applications for asylum and to speed up processing times. The work involved has resulted in a situation where processing has continued to move strongly in both agencies. By 31 March 2006, there were 2,609 cases on hands in both agencies compared to around 7,000 cases on hands at the end of January 2004. The number of applications over six months in the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner and the Refugee Appeals Tribunal by 31 March 2006 stood at 484 compared to 6,500 at the end of September 2001. The backlog of applications has been eliminated in ORAC with only 63 cases on hand over six months at the end of March 2006 and 421 in the appeal tribunal, a significant number of which are at an advanced stage of processing. There is continued momentum in processing timescales for asylum applications, with new arrangements for speedier processing of prioritised asylum applications from nationals of Nigeria, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia and South Africa, introduced from January 2005 with a 17 working-day processing time at first instance in ORAC and a 15 working-day processing time at appeals stage in the RAT. Currently, almost 40% of total applications fall into the prioritised category.
With effect from 1 November 2005, all applicants for asylum are notified of their interview date by the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner at the time they make their applications. The interview appointment is normally within 20 working days of application. However, for those applicants within the prioritised category, interviews in ORAC are held within nine to 12 days. The typical processing time in the ORAC for non-prioritised cases is in the region of eight to nine weeks. The average length of time taken to process and complete substantive appeals in the RAT is approximately 14 weeks. Substantial progress also continues to be made in effecting deportation orders as well as transfer orders to other EU member states under the EU Dublin II regulation.
In 2002, we received 11,600 applications, of which 894 were granted status at first instance. Of the 4,323 applications we received last year, 455 or 10% were granted status at first instance. Some 1,099 were granted status upon appeal, 832 in 2003, 708 in 2004, 511 in 2005 and, thus far this year, with a reduced number of appeals, 47 have been granted. In 2002, 2,430 deportation orders were signed by the former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Donoghue, and by me.
Approximately one fifth of deportation orders are actually executed. Over 60% of orders issued are deemed evaded, in that the persons concerned fail to report to the Garda National Immigration Bureau as requested in the notification letter sent to them. The legal effect of this is that the persons concerned can be arrested and detained pending their removal for failing to comply with the instruction to report but, in practice, the GNIB informs me, most of those evading are believed to already have left the State of their own accord and have been removed from the social welfare system.
|Table 1: Number of applications for asylum received and the number of recommendations by the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner to grant refugee status, at first instance, in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006*|
|No. of Applications received||11,634||7,900||4,766||4,323||1,156|
|No. of recommendations to grant refugee status (at first instance)**||894||345||430||455||132|
|*As of 31 March 2006.|
|**These recommendations refer to the year in which the recommendations were made and not the year in which the applications were lodged.|
|Table 2: Number of appeals submitted to the Refugee Appeals Tribunal and the number upheld at appeal stage in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006*.|
|No. of appeals received||5,149||4,993||4,785||3,976||927|
|No. of appeals upheld (granted refugee status)**||1,099||832||708||511||47|
|*As of 31 March 2006|
|**Substantive and accelerated appeals. There were also 84 manifestly unfounded appeals during this period and 53 appeals under the EU Dublin Convention and Dublin II regulation.|
|Figures include adjustments to cater for cases re-admitted to the RAT process in the context of judicial review proceedings.|
|Table 3: Number of deportation orders signed and number effected in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006*.|
|No. of Deportation Orders signed||2,430||2,411||2,915**||1,899**||670**|
|No. of Deportation Orders effected||521||591||599***||396***||74***|
|* As of 31 March 2006.|
|**In addition to the 2,915 deportation orders signed in 2004 and the 1,899 deportation orders signed in 2005, there were also 238 Dublin II regulation transfer orders signed in 2004 and 426 Dublin II regulation transfer orders signed in 2005. As of the end of March 2006, 87 such transfer orders have been signed.|
|***In addition to the 599 deportation orders effected in 2004 and the 396 deportation orders effected in 2005, there were also 65 Dublin II regulation transfers effected in 2004 and 209 Dublin II regulation transfers effected in 2005. As of the end of March 2006, 33 such transfer orders have been effected.|
|Table 4: Number of applications granted for leave to remain.|
|Parentage of Irish Born Child||3,113||172||0||See table 5||See table 5|
|Marriage to an Irish National||86||132||144||85||37|
|Dependent of EU Citizen||138||77||112||105||35|
|*As at 31 March 2006|
|**Under section 3(6) of the Immigration Act 1999 the Minister, in determining whether or not to make a deportation order, shall have regard to 11 specified considerations. The determination as to whether a deportation order is made or whether leave to remain is granted is not dependent on whether, in fact, the person has made representations for leave to remain. Thus, statistics are not maintained to distinguish cases where representations have been made for leave to remain and those where no such representations were made.|
|Table 5: Number of applications for permission to remain made by non-national parents of Irish born children born before 1 January 2005 and the number of such applications granted permission to remain.*|
|No. of applications for permission to remain made by the non-national parents of Irish born children born before 1 January 2005||17,917|
|No. of applications for permission to remain granted||16,693|
It is unfortunate that the relevant figures have not been circulated in the Chamber because they would be helpful to us in formulating our questions.
As regards children at risk, out of more than 4,000 young people who sought asylum in this State since 1999, at least 2,000 have been reunited with people claiming to be family members. An unpublished report by the HSE referred to on 27 March by The Irish Times indicated that hundreds of these children are vulnerable and at risk. Has the Minister entered discussions with the Minister of State with responsibility for children, Deputy Brian Lenihan, on these matters? What specific measures have been taken to ensure that unaccompanied children who arrive here seeking asylum are protected in all instances and are only reunited with families when relationships are confirmed?
Has the Minister explored alternative repatriation methods to chartering expensive aircraft and sending gardaí to the four corners of the globe? Does he agree that is an extraordinarily expensive way of conducting the matter? What voluntary repatriation mechanisms has he explored and to what end?
With regard to aged out minors, it is a cause of great concern that youngsters who have established educational and other affiliations to Irish society are summarily deported upon turning 18. I want to hear the Minister's philosophical views on how that matter should be dealt with.
In my experience, they have travelled here after having arrangements made for them by people traffickers. In general terms, they are of reasonably robust disposition, have travelled long distances to come to Ireland alone and secured passage here by paying substantial sums of money to traffickers. I would not be overly romantic about the fact that 16 and 17 year olds claim asylum here. In my mind, there is no great difference between a 17 year old and an 18 year old travelling from Nigeria to Paris to Dublin.
In many cases they are roughly comparable. However, because they are deemed in Ireland to be minors, they are dealt with differently in that they are taken under the aegis of the HSE. They are clothed and given a different level of accommodation to legally adult asylum seekers, who are accommodated in hostels operated by the RIA. Under 18s are educated and well provided for in general terms. Concerns have been expressed with regard to reuniting them with families and suggestions were made that some 16 and 17 year old non-national girls have been coerced into lives of crime and put at risk. However, these represent a tiny minority in a flow of people.
As regards Deputy Howlin's question about chartering aircraft, the great majority of deportees do not travel on chartered flights. Their fares are paid and the International Organisation for Migration frequently makes arrangements for them. In any case, they are encouraged to leave voluntarily by making their own arrangements. Frequently, people who have been convicted of criminal offences are deported and, in most cases, we do not await a flight before deporting them.
I would prefer to persuade most of the people due for deportation to voluntarily board a flight home but every European country has learned the lesson that it is necessary to uphold the law and put it into effect by compulsory means. Otherwise, people will simply prevaricate and disobey the law.
With regard to aged out minors, we treat the people who come here at the ages of 16 and 17 very generously. They attend secondary education, have different standards of accommodation, receive pocket money and are treated well by the State. The outgoing UN High Commissioner for Refugees praised the Irish system, describing it as one of the best in the EU.
When these people come to full age, there is no presumption that they should stay here if they were not originally entitled to refugee status. I will not go down the road of allowing someone who came here at the age of 16 and who spent two years in secondary education to be treated radically differently from an 18 year old who is sent back in a matter of weeks through an accelerated process. I will not be pushed into making such arbitrary and indefensible discrimination between two categories of asylum seekers.
I have been listening to the Minister for the past ten minutes. Does he accept that huge problems arise with the operation of the Refugee Appeals Tribunal, that many of the appointments he made reek of pure cronyism and that there are significant inconsistencies in the decisions reached by the tribunal's 35 members? Does he agree there has been a major increase in judicial review and that these cases are now clogging up the High Court? I gather approximately 700 such applications are before the High Court. Does the Minister agree——
Does he agree that we need to replace the refugee appeals tribunal with a small, full-time, professional body presided over by a judge or former judge whose decisions will be open, transparent and accepted as consistent, clear and objective by the public and those who appear before it?
I do not accept that there have been massive problems or any cronyism. The RAT is a fine group of men and women who have done the State some considerable service. There have been newspaper reports about their earnings, which are on a per-case basis. They have undertaken a massive backlog of appeals, which I mentioned earlier, and have virtually eliminated it. We are dealing with people on a real-time basis and processing their applications in a matter of weeks. Great tribute is owed to members of the RAT and ORAC for the way they have turned around the system. It has been suggested that there has been inconsistency and different approaches between members and that only those who are tough have received significant amounts of case work in the tribunal. I have investigated that point and one of the top earners is a person whose record was probably one of the most liberal, so I do not accept that view.
Deputy Jim O'Keeffe asks if we can have a different approach in light of declining numbers. Let us remember that this tribunal was established when there was a flood of asylum seekers and a large backlog of work. The time has come to review the tribunal.
I am disposed in the context of the immigration and naturalisation legislation that is coming forward, to consider making changes but this is not because the system has operated unsatisfactorily or unfairly. I reiterate that the UN High Commissioner, who has had constant access to both levels of the tribunal, said that Ireland's system was one of the best in Europe. No complaint has been made.
It has been suggested that every decision should be published. There are international obligations to keep the facts and the identity of the applicant in each case private. We received this advice from the UN. The Dutch considered making them public. If the facts could be made anonymous in every case——
This would take a great deal of time because one would have to deal with countries and their areas and political movements. If it were possible I would welcome the Irish public's seeing the stories that are put forward and rejected at both levels, unbelievable stories of human sacrifice and selection for cults. I see the files because the humanitarian leave to remain files for unsuccessful applicants come before me in considerable numbers. I wish Members of this House could see the nature of the claims for asylum here.
More than a third of applicants are deported on appeal according to the figures the Minister read out and it is a pity we do not have them in tabular form. How many asylum seekers who have been here for longer than five years are awaiting final decision? I know one or two, and if there are any it is a disgrace. How many asylum seekers have been refused permission to land, who decides this and what reasons are given? I thought such refusal was contrary to international law. Once a person reaches our shores they should have the right to seek asylum.
I am not in a position to say the number of asylum seekers refused permission to land because no such category exists. Ireland has one of the most liberal and generous asylum regimes in the EU. A group of people in Irish politics believes we run a draconian regime because we do not allow ourselves to be trampled over. The flow of asylum seekers to Ireland has diminished because I strengthened the law.
It is because across Europe the justice and home affairs ministers have been taking a co-ordinated line on this. Measures such as the Eurodac system and the Dublin 2 regulations are creating a climate that is less open to abuse by asylum seekers. Ireland still has a system that is generous to genuine asylum seekers who are fleeing persecution.
The system is also effective in sorting the genuine asylum seekers from the economic migrants posing as asylum seekers. I make no apology for the effectiveness of the system in distinguishing the two categories.
Does the Minister establish the welfare of each child and how he or she might be affected by deportation, separation from a parent or family and the service and protection afforded to him or her by the State? Does the Minister examine the relative safety of each child's destination country, the economic and political conditions and whether it is affected by armed conflict? Does he support the values of the Irish Constitution, particularly Article 41, the family article? Both the Irish Constitution and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child highlight the preservation of family life and the right of Irish children to enjoy the company of their parents or other family members. The figure of 396 deportations does not suggest a liberal regime.
I uphold constitutional values to the letter and in the spirit of the Constitution. Where parents come to Ireland with an infant child or have a child in Ireland, under our Constitution it is not only the right but the duty of the parents to look after their child. If the parents are not allowed to reside legally in Ireland it is their duty to take their child with them whence they came. I reject the notion canvassed recently in the newspapers that the Irish State has an obligation to every Irish-born child to have that child remain in Ireland. The Supreme Court did not uphold that proposition when it was argued before it and would make nonsense of our law. As the Deputy knows, I promoted a referendum on Irish born children who are Irish citizens, which was supported by 80% of the people. During that referendum I promised I would deal in a decent and commonsense way with those who have children in Ireland who are Irish born citizens. I established a scheme last year and 17,900 people, not the handful that opponents of the referendum said were an issue, asked to remain in Ireland on foot of the scheme. Including siblings and the like that will mean approximately 25,000 people will remain in Ireland on foot of that scheme. I have not been behind the door. I have shown common sense and have been fair and generous in the way I have dealt with this issue.
It should be noted that some aged out minors have no homes to return to, that they have fled war zones and in some cases their parents were slaughtered as they fled. The Minister used the term "flood". I ask that he withdraw that as it is an injudicious term to use with regard to migrants to this country. Will he consider carefully the case of aged out minors who have lived in Ireland for three years or longer? It is a small group and one quite different from many other categories of those who have come to this country. Will he look favourably on allowing them to remain?
I repeat what I said. Is there such a remarkable difference between a 17 and a half year old and an 18 and a half year old who come to Ireland when they come to be considered at the age of 19 as to whether one should go home or one should remain? I do not think there is a difference. I do not see a logical reason for drawing a major distinction between the two categories. Every case where humanitarian leave to remain is sought is examined by reference to a number of criteria which are set out in statute. However, the impression is created that the process does not examine these cases.
With regard to my use of the term "flood", at the beginning of the asylum seeking process Ireland was overwhelmed by a movement of people into Ireland.
That is now under control. We are now in a position to deal on a real-time basis with applications for asylum. I will not be cowed into using politically correct language or minimising language in regard to what was——
I reiterate the following point because the Deputies opposite who are making the most noise may not like to hear it. Each year the State is expending in the order of €370 million to deal with this problem so it is not an insignificant problem.
The Minister stated in his reply that he would like the Irish people to know what is contained in the files. Is the Minister aware that we, as public representatives, regularly have access to these files and regularly read verified medical opinion as to the kind of treatment that people were subjected to and that they are likely to return to in some, though not all, situations? Is he further aware of replies from his colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, in regard to the stability of the jurisdictions to which some of these people are being returned, wherein that Minister indicates instability and serious threat to life?
Is it true, as has been suggested, that some of the adjudicators on decisions on asylum or refugee status have never or hardly ever given a positive decision? If so, how does the Minister feel about having a person in such a position judging a case on the basis of international law? We need to know the answer.
In the past few days, the Minister, rightly or wrongly, deported a family who, I am informed, are living on the streets in an adjoining jurisdiction despite the assurances given in regard to compliance with international law. Is this the case?
I am aware that some people who might be regarded as more generous have in respect of the accelerated categories of asylum seekers themselves had 100% rejection rates. These are appeals from a careful system where the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner has already turned them down. It is not as if this is a random group of asylum seekers coming from nowhere.
It is not the case that because one lives in a country with an unstable government and a violent climate that one can come to Ireland to live here as of right. That is not the law and not what the 1951 convention means. If that were the law, half the world would have descended on Ireland. It is not the law and it is a great mistake for people——